Martinez: An arena, not Dix, as a Raleigh destination

January 2, 2013 

Last week I witnessed Gov. Bev Perdue sign a 99-year lease that hands over the Dorothea Dix property to the City of Raleigh. The plans are to develop the property into a “destination park” as a gift, in part, for future generations of North Carolinians, like the Pamlico County child she pointed out in the audience. Perdue added that the opportunity to develop 300-plus acres in central Raleigh simply won’t exist in the future given the capital city’s projected growth.

I won’t question the governor’s intentions, but I just can’t shake the notion that developing Dix into a New York City-like Central Park is more a nostalgic look backward than a visionary look forward.

First, I wonder, is there such a thing as a “destination park”? Yes, we all know people who have raved about visiting Central Park, but I don’t know anyone who went to New York specifically to see the park. It was always a side trip, not the destination.

Will families from Pamlico and Buncombe counties travel to Raleigh just to commune with nature? I doubt it. North Carolina is known for its incredible beauty and geography from border to border. We tout it as a reason to live here. I don’t see folks outside the Triangle traveling to get to Raleigh’s new “destination park.”

Even from my home in nearby Orange County, I would drive by past entrances to the Eno and Umstead state parks before I ever got to Dix.

North Carolina has needs. Parks are not among them.

Unless the legislature steps in, converting Dix to a park is a done deal. If that happens, it will be the biggest planning mistake in the Triangle since the placement of the PNC Center away from downtown and next to Carter Finley Stadium with little land for outside development.

I’ve been bugging Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane since her election in 2011 to correct that mistake and build a downtown sports arena. Given that she is more inclined to invest in electric-vehicle charging stations than a stadium parking lot, we have had some fun with the idea.

But after a day trip to Charlotte last week to see my beloved Duke Blue Devils fumble away the Belk Bowl trophy, I’m no longer kidding around.

I dropped a pretty good dime at Charlotte restaurants, the Mint Museum (two excellent exhibits on glass and wood are being featured), at the game and at a bar afterward to drown my sorrows. While tabulating my expenses during the walk back to the hotel, I lamented that I should have been spending this money in Raleigh.

On the drive home, I counted up the trips I’ve made to Atlanta and Washington, D.C. to see sporting events. Though I’ve visited Atlanta’s Freedom Park, the reason I return to the city is to get into Turner Field. Even when I make family visits to Phoenix and Los Angeles, I plan them so I can also take in ball games.

The impact from visitors is only the tip of the economic iceberg.

Sporting events attract business people. Each game is a recruiting opportunity for business owners to relocate or expand in the locality hosting the event. The jobs that can result from these visits are the benefits that accrue to folks who wouldn’t be caught dead attending a sporting event and would rather spend time at a publicly supported museum.

In reality, a sports arena adds just as much to an area’s quality of life as a park does. Taking my granddaughter to a game is just as memorable as taking her for a walk in the park.

Finally, at the Belk Bowl, the announcer asked veterans to salute during the national anthem. I didn’t because I was under the impression that only active duty personnel are allowed to do so. Over the weekend, I learned from a speech by former astronaut and Air Force Col. Buzz Aldrin that veterans are now authorized to salute thanks to the Defense Appropriations Act of 2009. Now you know, too.

Contributing columnist Rick Martinez ( is news director at WPTF, NC News Network and

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