Hold the laurels. There’s really no time to reflect on the hard-won (and that’s putting it mildly) agreement for Raleigh’s purchase of the 308-acre Dorothea Dix property south of downtown Raleigh. Now that the deal is done, Mayor Nancy McFarlane, who kept the faith, may have earned a bit of a breather.
OK. That’s enough, Mayor.
First there’s the need to set a bond referendum to raise the $52 million to buy the park. But assuming citizens will support the idea, and all indications are they will, the tough duty comes in organizing a way for orderly but broad input into just what to do with this spectacular scenic vista.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance for Raleigh to create something special, and so care must be taken before a bulldozer rolls or a brick is laid. And the buildings on the property, which can be there a while according to the agreement between the state and the city, present a challenge to work around.
But how many cities will ever have this chance, will ever have a beautiful, large piece of property near the core of downtown to design and shape and set a course for all to enjoy?
There must be public input, and plenty of it. But city officials have to organize meetings and the like in a way that can notify citzens and give them ample opportunity to have their say. And they’d do well to call in the design experts from N.C. State University, which is going to be a tremendous resource here. (The university also has property adjacent to the park land.) Where else could a city find, on the same campus, one of the world’s foremost schools of design and also one of the top environmental management and forestry schools?
Raleigh’s also not short of artists, and one of the best in the world when it comes to large, outdoor pieces is Thomas Sayre. He’ll have some ideas of his own, as will others.
In short, the Dix property is an opportunity, but it’s one the city much cherish and nurture and study. For the shape it takes, the decisions that are made over the next months, will have an impact over several generations.
Initially, the city should stay away from commercial or residential development. Letting that bar down for even a portion of the property would lead to an avalanche of requests. For now, recreational facilities and others that can blend in with the beautiful natural surroundings are best. And the city should as well encourage the state to move the offices on the Dix property sooner rather than later.
In the meantime, Raleigh residents ought to take a drive out to the park-to-be and get out and walk around and consider their own ideas for what the property should look like and how it can best serve all the people of this region (and the tens of thousands who’ll be visiting from around the state). The best is yet to come for the Dix property, and the best ideas for its future may have yet to be discovered.