Raleigh mayor pushing governor on Dorothea Dix park

November 18, 2013 

It didn’t take long for Republicans in the state Senate to try to take apart a deal reached by former Gov. Beverly Perdue during the end of her term. The governor had pushed through an agreement to lease the former Dorothea Dix state hospital property to Raleigh for a park overlooking downtown. The deal called for Raleigh to pay $68 million over a 75-year lease, but Republican lawmakers challenged the deal saying it wasn’t good enough the state.

The real reason was that Republicans wanted to get in one final slap at Perdue, whom they had battled for months after they took control of the General Assembly.

The deal was perfectly good. It was not done overnight, and the money for the state was substantial. And the park, of course, being in the Capital City, could have been enjoyed by citizens from all over North Carolina.

A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is what Raleigh leaders called it, and they were, and are, right.

McCrory’s role

To his credit, Gov. Pat McCrory jumped in with House leaders and worked out a “standstill agreement” that postponed action for a year while the city and state worked on a new deal for the park. The thought was, perhaps the city would pay more, or the state might want to modify the amount of land turned over or change other terms. But McCrory said he supported the idea of the park.

Unfortunately, little has happened in the last few months. Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane now has written the governor (his aides say they also have talked) urging him to take a “more direct role” in pushing along a new agreement. The problem, says the mayor, is that state agencies that would be involved in processing things like a new environmental assessment required by the agreement aren’t moving much. The city will not be able to meet the deadline for that assessment, and it’s unclear what effect that will have on when the overall standstill agreementexpires in June.

This step is needed as part of determining what it will cost to clean up buildings on the former campus of the mental hospital. But if there are too many delays in the various stages of working through a new agreement with the state, Raleigh could lose out on a truly golden opportunity.

The site of over 300 acres includes one of the most spectacular views of downtown Raleigh, and acres and acres of rolling hills. As a park, it would be enjoyed by generations of people, including people of all ages. Concerned citizens in Raleigh have been working on the park idea for years, and these are people with no interest other than the preservation of green space and the improvement of their city.

Good for GOP

The governor and members of the General Assembly could take a positive step here. That step would help them overcome some justifiable criticism that their early goals on taking over the legislature and the governor’s office have been driven solely by ideology.

This, however, is an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to the environment, their ability to compromise, and the triumph over partisanship of reasoned, constructive discussion. The governor, after all, was one of the ones who intervened before Senate Republicans rushed through what amounted to a cheap shot at a Democratic governor.

McCrory’s instincts, and those of his allies in the House, were better. The establishment of a magnificent park close to Raleigh’s center would not be a monument to Democrats or Republicans, although GOP legislators who supported the idea could take a share of credit.

Rather, the opening of “Dix Park” would be a monument to foresight, imagination and, in the end, cooperation.

Here is a grand chance as well for the governor, who had two vetoes overridden by the members of his own party, to demonstrate leadership and to win a significant point. This does not have to be a contentious debate. There is not really a way to frame it that does not result in a “win-win” arrangement for both the city and the state.

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