Perdue, Raleigh mayor ink terms of Dix deal

jfrank@newsobserver.comDecember 28, 2012 

— Gov. Bev Perdue and Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane signed a lease Friday giving the keys for the Dorothea Dix Hospital property to the city, the final step in a decade-long effort to preserve the 325-acre property on the edge of downtown.

The outgoing Democratic governor signed the document with ceremonial flourish in the old House chamber using 10 pens and an antique, hand-press stamp to emboss the lease. “There it is,” she exclaimed, beaming as she held it aloft for the television cameras.

“We understand that preservation of God’s best resources, like Dix park, is part of the common good,” Perdue said. “I’m proud of this for all the people of the state.”

The 26-page lease outlines the $500,000 annual rent the city will pay for 75 years, increasing each year at 1.5 percent. The lease allows the city to renew the terms for an additional 24 years, making the 99-year deal worth potentially $112 million to the state.

For the first 15 years, the city will pay less as the state maintains its presence on 34 acres where Department of Health and Human Services and other state entities maintain offices. The state remains in talks to move those offices to a centralized campus.

The document acknowledges that the lease terms are below-market rent, a controversial point that Republicans and a conservative advocacy group used to try to quash the deal earlier this month when the Council of State approved the transaction. Critics contend the property would fetch a higher price on the private market.

But Perdue sought as one of her final acts as governor to preserve the land.

At the signing ceremony, she quoted President Teddy Roosevelt, a passionate conservationist, and asked the granddaughter of Jim Goodmon, the chief executive of WRAL-TV’s parent company and a Dix park advocate, to stand with her at the front of the room as a way to emphasize how the deal is aimed at future generations.

As she signed the lease, Perdue handed 7-year-old Claire Jordan the first pen. “It’s decisions like these today that ensure … this land will be held in sacred public trust for all the Claires of the future and the people of North Carolina,” Perdue said at the ceremony.

Starting Thursday, the first day of the lease, the pressure shifts to the City of Raleigh and Dix park advocates, who must develop a master plan detailing the property’s future and devise ways to pay for the lease and the millions of dollars in renovations expected, all amid an austere budget climate.

McFarlane said she expects the planning to take roughly two years, and the price tag for upgrades and development is unknown.

“We are going to work very hard and turn it into something the state will cherish for years to come,” she said.

Gregory Poole, a leading advocate for the park, said the money is secondary to the vision for the park.

His group, the Dix Visionaries, pledged to raise $3 million to help the city conduct a master plan for the property. But a funding source for the development is still undetermined, he acknowledged.

“The money is important, but it’s not something we worry about,” he said. “You can’t worry about it or you would never get to first base.”

The prospect of state money for the park seems unlikely at this point given the fact that prominent Republican lawmakers control the purse strings and opposed the lease deal.

Republican Senate leader Phil Berger is seeking to nullify the lease, though he hasn’t offered details on how he would do so.

Perdue acknowledged that the legislature could use its powers negate the deal but she is confident the deal will stand.

Frank: 919-829-4698