Gov. Bev Perdue is expected to present a plan as soon as next week to convert the Dorothea Dix Hospital campus in Raleigh into a major urban park.
The outgoing Democrat’s administration is negotiating two potential options with Raleigh leaders to vacate the property and draft a 75-to-99-year lease to the city for a yet-to-be-determined price. The decision is likely to come before the Democrat-dominated Council of State at its next meeting, tentatively scheduled for Dec. 4.
“We think a lease to the city of Raleigh provides the best method to preserve that land and to partner with the city of Raleigh to develop a park for the citizens of this region,” said Kevin McLaughlin, Perdue’s deputy chief of staff.
Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane said Tuesday she is hopeful action will occur before Perdue leaves office Jan. 5.
“The will is there to make something happen,” McFarlane said. “I’ve worked on it really hard since I was elected a year ago. When I ran, it was one thing I heard consistently. People always asked me about it. I’m really hopeful that it will work out.”
As part of the deal, Perdue is pushing a plan to build a new campus for the state Department of Health and Human Services, consolidating offices on the 300-acre property with two dozen other state health offices in the area.
State officials are in the middle of negotiations with a potential builder for a new campus with up to 1 million square feet of office space. The price tag is uncertain, but Perdue administration officials say the consolidation would create efficiencies and save taxpayers about $90 million.
“The reason we think it’s appropriate to move forward at the December Council of State meeting is this has been an 11-month process and we expect the Department of Administration to present a plan to save close to $100 million – the construction prices are as low as they are going to be and we think it’s the right time to move forward,” McLaughlin said.
The state would need to retain the current Dix office space until at least mid-2014 while the new campus is constructed – a proposal that would give the city time to draft plans for the property’s new look.
If the Council of State decides not to build a new DHHS campus, the state would remain in the current Dix offices for another 10-plus years until it decides how to move forward. The city would still lease the remaining land for a park.
The details remaining in the negotiations include the length of the long-term lease and its cost, which is likely to fit between the state’s $58 million current appraisal value and the city’s estimate for the property, which is $35 to $40 million.
Republican lawmakers have expressed caution about the deal. State Rep. Nelson Dollar, a House budget writer, has said the Republican Pat McCrory’s administration should make the decision – not Perdue.
Advocates for the deal see a rare opportunity to create a large public park close to downtown – Raleigh’s version of New York City’s Central Park. Mental health advocates have urged the state to sell the land for full market value and designate the money for new and expanded care programs.
McFarlane declined to give specifics on negotiations between the city and state. The mayor said she hopes to reach an agreement in the remainder of Perdue’s term, but McFarlane left open the possibility of taking up discussions with the incoming governor.
“She (Perdue) has said for the last year she wanted to see this happen,” McFarlane said. “I’m hoping she can make it happen. I would hope the incoming governor would be supportive, too. As a former mayor, he would understand what a great amenity this could be for a city.”