Dix vision decision

December 3, 2012 

The proposal from Gov. Beverly Perdue to lease the prime Dorothea Dix Hospital property to the City of Raleigh for a destination park had barely made it out the door before it was being attacked as a giveaway of an immensely valuable public asset.

On the face of it, the deal would be a sweet one for the city. Rather than having to come up with tens of millions of dollars to buy the property, where the hospital is being decommissioned, the city could ensure its preservation for a relatively modest lease payment. The annual amount due would be $500,000, with a 1.5 percent increase each year, compounded, to account for inflation. The deal would run for 75 years.

Critics say the lease revenue would not adequately reflect the property’s value, which the state has pegged at $58 million. They say that selling the picturesque, strategically located campus for development would guarantee the highest return for the taxpayers. No doubt.

The flaw in that argument is this: The 300-plus acre Dix campus is not just any old piece of raw land. Besides being a symbol of North Carolina’s historic commitment to caring for the mentally ill, its potential as beautiful open space in the heart of the state’s capital city casts its value in an entirely different light. The Central Park analogy can be overused, but who could sensibly argue that Manhattan would be a better place if no such park had been created?

A park with the Dix campus’ location and size could become an amenity that helped define, and enhance, this region’s character in a way that could never be replicated. Any deal, within reason, that saves the property from development is one that deserves a very sympathetic ear.

Perdue today is scheduled to ask the Council of State to approve the lease. The council’s meeting is the last scheduled before the governor’s term expires, and there is pressure to hold off on a decision until Gov.-elect Pat McCrory takes over.

If terms need to be reworked – to generate more money for the state, some of which should be channeled into mental health programs – then Perdue should try to make that happen before she leaves office. It would be a shame to let the Dix park vision slip away.

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