Downtown dirt inspires Dix design

Downtown dirt inspires Dix design

Staff WriterJuly 19, 2005 

Someday you may attend a concert or have a picnic overlooking the Raleigh skyline on heaps of dirt dug up from the site of the city's new convention center.

The city is dumping tons of the dirt at the Dorothea Dix Hospital campus, atop a former landfill across Western Boulevard from Central Prison. Instead of crude piles, however, workers are sculpting the soil to make way for a future amphitheater, soccer and playing fields and a knoll with views of downtown.

The ideas for reusing the dirt came from a public design workshop in April. Nearly 50 people, including residents of the nearby Boylan Heights and Pullen Park Terrace neighborhoods, took up pens and moved tons of dirt around on paper.

"It went from kind of a generic plan of 'Let's just put a bunch of dirt there' to all of a sudden we have the makings of a park," said Aly Khalifa, a Pullen Park Terrace resident who helped organize the workshop.

The dirt -- about 350,000 cubic yards -- is going to a corner of the 300-acre Dix campus that will remain undeveloped because of rules against building on former landfills. The city operated a landfill from the 1950s until the 1970s on land it leases from the state.

City officials say the dirt should not interfere with whatever the state decides to do with the rest of the campus after the psychiatric hospital closes in 2007. A consultant the state and the city hired to draft a redevelopment plan for Dix will recommend turning the landfill site into a public park.

The city already leases some of the old landfill to the Capital Area Soccer League for several fields. City officials decided early on that dirt from the downtown convention center site could be used to create at least one additional soccer field, said Dan Howe, assistant city manager.

But the design workshop, or "Dix dirt charrette" as it was called, came up with other possibilities, Howe said. The final design includes earthen berms around the new soccer fields for spectators and a "vantage peak," a broad, 15-foot-high mound on a hillside overlooking downtown.

"It will be a great place to go on a nice evening," Howe said.

Linda Dallas of Raleigh was struck by how quickly she and other workshop participants agreed on basic elements of the plan. Her personal favorite: the vantage peak, which could double as a sledding hill in the winter.

"Being a transplanted Detroiter, I spent quite a bit of time banging into other children as a young person," said Dallas, head of exhibits at the Exploris museum.

City officials insist that none of the dirt going to Dix from the convention center site is contaminated. They also say the old landfill, which includes construction debris and some household garbage, poses no dangers to soccer players or other visitors.

All told, the city will dig about a half-million cubic yards for an underground parking garage and a basement exhibit hall at the convention center. The city had planned to truck about 200,000 cubic yards to Dix and send the rest to another former city landfill off New Hope Road on the east side of town. But after the dirt design workshop, the city realized it had room at Dix for an additional 150,000 cubic yards, Howe said.

Except for the soccer fields, the dump site won't become a park right away. The city must decide what kind of trails, signs and other extras to include and get City Council approval, Howe said. In the meantime, the dirt will be planted with grass.

"Nobody calls it a park yet," Khalifa said. "Right now it's going to be a sculpted landfill."

Staff writer Richard Stradling can be reached at 829-4739 or

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