New deal for Dorothea Dix property?

May 23, 2013 

At least it’s something. And if the city of Raleigh and the state are able to work out a land swap or sale for the Governor Morehead school site near Pullen Park as a part of a lease deal for the Dorothea Dix property, it will be better than something.

Ah, the Dix deal. Before she left office, then-Gov. Beverly Perdue signed a deal with Raleigh wherein the city was going to lease the 300-acre-plus Dorothea Dix Hospital property near downtown for $68 million over 75 years. It was a chance to preserve some beautiful green space with a spectacular view of downtown.

Once Republicans gained the governor’s office and control of the General Assembly, however, the deal’s days were numbered. GOP leaders said Perdue made a bad deal. Democrats said Republicans were flexing their muscle and that GOP moves to kill the deal using condemnation laws were entirely partisan.

Republican Rep. Justin Burr of Albemarle, sponsor of what he calls a “reset” button on the Dix deal, says there should be a delay of a year, during which the city could renegotiate with the state. Raleigh then still could get most of the property, with some remaining with the state Department of Health and Human Services for offices.

In addition, the city might get a chance to buy the property that’s housed the Governor Morehead School for the Blind since 1923. The school is across Western Boulevard from Dix and adjacent to Pullen Park, which would be a nice connection for the city to have. The state has been looking for ways to use some of the Morehead property in order to maintain the school. The Wake Young Women’s Leadership Academy is intending to lease space at Morehead, or rather Wake schools are, on behalf of the academy.

Gov. Pat McCrery on Thursday rightly endorsed the deal and urged both houses of the legislature to support it. But Senate leader Phil Berger of Eden, vociferous in his long-time criticism of all things Perdue, said there should be no delay. One hopes leadership will trump partisanship and that Berger will lift his heels from the dirt eventually.

Should the House pass this “compromise,” then negotiations would commence with the Senate. This latest, more creative approach is better than no deal, of course, though the original Dix deal seemed fine for the city and the state. Some GOP legislators, in addition to looking for a way to repudiate the Democratic governor they despised, also sounded at times as if they believed Raleigh was somehow an enemy.

Have Republicans had a change of heart? Is House Speaker Thom Tillis, in his last term as the leader and likely to seek a U.S. Senate seat next year, looking to draw more mainstream support instead of focusing on his party’s arch conservative base, which likely would favor selling the property to the highest bidder?

Whatever the reason, House Republicans are giving their senators a chance at reasonable compromise here, a chance to get off the hard-line the party has walked since taking power. Here is a chance, for once in an incredibly contentious session that has frustrated and at times embarrassed North Carolinians, to achieve productive compromise.

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