The state's counter offer on Dix property is unreasonable

April 10, 2014 

If this is a case of two negotiators doing what negotiators do, that’s fine. One side starts low, the other starts high, they meet somewhere in the middle. But the negotiations over the Dorothea Dix property are troublesome.

The City of Raleigh wants to turn the 300-acre-plus property into a signature park that will overlook the city’s downtown. It is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. In fact, the city struck a good deal for itself and the state in the waning days of the administration of Gov. Beverly Perdue. The city agreed to pay $68 million to lease the property over 75 years.

When Republicans took control of the governor’s office and the General Assembly, however, they claimed Perdue had made a bad deal and nixed it. The truth was, the nature of the deal had little to do with it, and everyone in the General Assembly knew it. The GOP legislative leaders, who had battled with Perdue over voter ID and other issues, just wanted to repudiate her one last time. Petty politics at its worst.

Gov. McCrory seemed to demonstrate some statesmanship by putting a hold on everything, giving Raleigh time to negotiate some more with the state. He claimed he wanted a park.

An unreasonable proposal

Alas, so far the negotiations aren’t going well. The city has offered $38 million to buy the property at roughly its appraised value. It also offered to lease back to the state for a nominal sum the hospital buildings on the property that would serve for 15 years as offices for the Department of Health and Human Services.

McCrory – doubtless with his Republican legislators in mind, and they have demonstrated they don’t mind pulling the reins on the governor – came back with a proposal that is unreasonable. He wants the state to keep 64 prime acres, including buildings for DHHS, and in return the city would pay about $52 million for the remaining property.

The land McCrory wants to keep for the state is at the highest and most scenic point on the property. He further rejected the idea that the state would cover the cost of environmental cleanup, which could run from $10 million to over $20 million. That wouldn’t be needed, the governor’s office reasoned, if the city didn’t want to turn the land into a park.

That’s a little like selling someone a car without tires at the full price and saying, “Well, if you didn’t want to buy the car, it wouldn’t need tires.”

Chance to make a mark

GOP legislators didn’t say so, but they didn’t want Perdue to have the Dix park as a legacy of her administration. But if McCrory can do a clean deal, without claiming a huge chunk of property and with agreeing to a cleanup, the park will be part of his legacy, and a big one. After so much talk about tax cuts and harsh partisanship, this could be a unifying achievement for him.

Republican Nelson Dollar of Cary, who as a Wake County resident ought to be a park advocate, said the governor’s deal might be more acceptable to Republicans in the General Assembly. So that’s the measure of whether to do what’s right? What might be something that Republicans in the legislature could accept? That kind of logic just underlines the transparent partisan politics in this process.

Lawmakers ought to be thinking beyond that, of the benefits to the state and the city of having a spectacular park in the Capital City for visitors and residents.

To keep 64 acres and to decline to clean up the state-owned property mean this deal falls far short of what Raleigh should accept. Republicans do run a political risk here. If they don’t do the deal with Raleigh and instead sell the property to developers, they’ll pay a political price for it and leave their failure on the Dix park as part of their legacy.

Let us hope instead that the city and the state are in the early stages of typical negotiation here and that in the end there will be a satisfactory outcome for all. This is a major chance for McCrory to turn things around in his administration. Surely he recognizes that.

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