Dix park fundraising hits halfway mark

ccampbell@newsobserver.comFebruary 12, 2013 

— A group of business leaders who pledged $3 million to help plan a park on the Dorothea Dix campus is about halfway to its goal.

The promise from the Dix Visionaries came two months ago as Raleigh leaders entered lease negotiations with state government. The $3 million figure is expected to cover the cost of a master plan that will guide development of park facilities and determine which of the historic Dix Hospital buildings should remain.

“We’re very pleased with our progress,” said the group’s chairman, Gregory Poole Jr. “It’s exciting to see that kind of commitment being made.”

The bulk of the money raised so far has come from two major donors. Barbara and Jim Goodmon of Capitol Broadcasting kicked off the effort in December with a $1 million contribution through the AJ Fletcher Foundation. Late last month, Poole’s son, Gregory Poole III, chipped in $250,000.

The younger Poole, who now leads the family’s 850-employee equipment company, said he was drawn to “the opportunity to invest in something I consider to be more foundational and more of a legacy for this community.”

Poole said he has been inspired by his father’s work lobbying for the city’s future Central Park. “He’s the one who’s worked tirelessly for the last six or seven years,” he said. “When the vote went through in early December, I wanted to step up as well.”

Then-Gov. Bev Perdue and Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane signed the lease to the city as Perdue prepared to leave office in late December. The vote was the final step in a decade-long effort to preserve the psychiatric hospital campus. The city will pay $500,000 a year, plus 1.5 percent annual increases, in a deal worth $68 million over the 75-year life of the lease. State offices will remain in many of the Dix buildings for a few more years.

Poole III said his contribution doesn’t mean he’ll get involved with Dix Visionaries’ work – running the company keeps him busy. “It’s really a show of good faith in the board and their vision,” he said. “Long term, (the park) will prove to be something that will be a draw for companies that are looking to expand or relocate.”

And while big donations such as Poole’s have drawn the most attention, smaller donors are pitching in too – with amounts ranging from $50 to $15,000, the elder Poole said.

“We’ve got a lot of people that want to be a part of this,” he said. “We are in a position to accept contributions from everybody.”

Planning for the park is getting under way now. Poole Jr. says he’ll be meeting soon with Raleigh Parks and Recreation Director Diane Sauer as well as John Hoal, a consultant on urban parks from St. Louis.

“There are a lot of good minds working on this, and we’re very excited,” Poole Jr. said. “We’re right out of the chute. The gates have flung open and out we go.”

Campbell: 919-829-4802 or twitter.com/RaleighReporter

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