Raleigh mayor touts transit in annual State of the City speech

ccampbell@newsobserver.comMarch 4, 2013 

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Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane delivers her State of the City address during a Raleigh Rotary Club meeting Monday afternoon, March 4, 2013, at the Raleigh Convention Center.

TRAVIS LONG — tlong@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

— Offering numerous transportation options is the key to the city’s future growth, Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane said in a brief State of the City address Monday.

The talk was McFarlane’s first State of the City since taking office in December 2011. Her predecessor, Charles Meeker, years ago started the tradition of the annual speech at meetings of the Raleigh Rotary Club.

Meeker often used the speech to unveil a new idea – he proposed the soon-to-be-completed Neuse River Greenway in 2007 – or lobby for a controversial project, such as the Lightner Public Safety Center, which was later scrapped.

McFarlane’s speech listed countless city accomplishments and ongoing projects from the past year, including the lease agreement for the Dorothea Dix park and the bluegrass festival coming later this year.

The 10-minute address ended with a call for more transit options, eventually including light rail. But the mayor didn’t go into specifics or mention the half-cent sales tax increase she supports to fund transit.

“How we plan our future growth will revolve around how we get around,” she said. “What people want are options. We are dedicated to becoming a multi-modal city.”

Here are some other highlights from the speech:

Dix plans need input: McFarlane touted the city’s lease agreement to turn the grounds of the Dorothea Dix psychiatric hospital into a park. The next step is planning what Raleigh’s version of Central Park will look like, she said.

“This really is a once in a lifetime opportunity ... and our process is really going to get input from everybody. We know this is a place that is going to be central, not only for Raleigh but for North Carolina.”

The mayor also mentioned other park improvements, including the nearly complete restoration of the Chavis Park carousel and the new House Creek and Neuse River greenway trails. “Our accomplishments in this area have never been stronger,” she said.

An arts hub: McFarlane said festivals such as Artsplosure and Hopscotch – along with events at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts and Raleigh Convention Center – have been a big boost to downtown business and tourism. Those successes, she said, will bring the International Bluegrass Music Association awards and festival – the genre’s equivalent of the Grammy Awards – to Raleigh in September.

“That’s especially nice because we stole it from Nashville,” she said. “I think we are well on our way to becoming the Southern capital of arts and culture.”

New jobs, new growth: So far this year, the mayor said, Raleigh and Wake County have landed 11 new and expanding companies, adding 425 new jobs and $55.4 million in investment. And between fiscal years 2011 and 2012, the city’s tax base grew $448 million.

“Raleigh is a great place not only to start a business, but a great place to grow,” she said.

Faster Internet: McFarlane mentioned Raleigh’s participation in an alliance of North Carolina governments and universities that aims to build an ultra-fast Internet network 10 to 100 times the speed of typical service.

The N.C. Next Generation Network would also include Cary, Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Durham and Winston-Salem, along with Duke, N.C. State, Wake Forest and UNC-Chapel Hill. The plan is under development with Gig.U, a national campaign to jumpstart high-speed Internet. Getting the service in Raleigh, McFarlane said, “will position us at the forefront of economic development.”

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

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