Gov. Pat McCrory and Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane signed the $52 million sale agreement for the Dorothea Dix property during a festive ceremony there Monday morning.
The event followed a unanimous vote from the Council of State last week and ends years of negotiations over the 308-acre former psychiatric hospital.
McCrory and McFarlane signed the paperwork – and the mayor handed over a check for the required $2 million deposit – under a tent overlooking the rolling meadows of Dix and the downtown skyline. A disc jockey spun smooth jazz music while dozens of city and state officials munched on gourmet cupcakes.
“It’s a team effort,” McCrory said. “It was a long process, but it was a long process with a very successful ending.”
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While McCrory and McFarlane have occupied the headlines in recent months as the deal neared completion, Monday’s event sought to recognize the other players involved. The leaders of three Dix park advocacy groups – Greg Poole of Dix Visionaries, Jay Spain of Friends of Dorothea Dix Park, and Bill Padgett of Dix306 – got praise during the mayor’s remarks.
McCrory even thanked his predecessor, Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue, for her role in the process. She’d developed the $500,000-a-year lease signed in 2012 that Republicans sought to scrap, leading to the latest round of negotiations.
Longtime city attorney Tom McCormick served as the master of ceremonies Monday. He’s rarely in the spotlight but served as Raleigh’s lead negotiator during lengthy meetings with the governor’s legal team. McCormick noted that more ceremonies are still to come as Raleigh secures financing and closes on the sale later this year.
“Hopefully we’ll gather back here in a few months,” he said. “The mayor will have a larger check and the governor will have a deed.”
The next step toward that final signing will come May 19, when the Raleigh City Council meets to review its options for borrowing $52 million. One option is a voter referendum this fall.
Chief Financial Officer Perry James said those choices will be outlined in the council’s agenda materials, which will be released Friday afternoon.
“There’s multiple options, and there’s no right or wrong option,” he said, adding that the city will likely enjoy low interest rates. “It’s still a low-interest environment.”
Once Raleigh closes on the purchase, the park planning process will begin. “You just have to look around you to see why we fought so long and so hard,” McFarlane said at Monday’s event. “It’s exciting, and it’s a little overwhelming. ... We want to hear all of your ideas.”
Meanwhile, the McCrory administration will be deciding how to use the proceeds to benefit mental health services – a requirement of the deal. The governor said he wants to address what he called a “crisis” in mental health nationwide.
“We can no longer sweep this issue underneath the rug, and this provides some much-needed funding,” he said.
Terms of the sale
▪ The state will lease back from the city about 109 acres. The state Department of Health and Human Services would be able to maintain offices on the Dix campus for as long as 25 years, although the city would gain some of the acres after 10 years.
▪ The city and the state will share in the cost of cleaning up contaminated soil on a former landfill, up to $1.2 million.
▪ If the city decided to sell or lease any part of the property, the state and city will share equally in the proceeds for no longer than 17 years.
▪ If the city decides to fund the purchase through a bond issue, voters must decide in a referendum by the end of this year.
▪ The city will get an easement for a walking and biking connection through the Governor Morehead School for the Blind campus to nearby Pullen Park.