The following editorial appeared in the Greensboro News & Record:
The Dix Visionaries website says it’s dedicated to creating “North Carolina’s Central Park in the heart of the capital city.”
That lofty goal is a step closer after the Council of State voted Tuesday to endorse the sale of the 308-acre Dorothea Dix property to the city of Raleigh.
This is a big story in Raleigh, but it’s good news for all North Carolina taxpayers. Raleigh will pay $52 million and allow the state to lease portions of the property used by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services for just $1 a year until DHHS finds other offices.
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Gov. Pat McCrory wants to put the $52 million into a trust fund reserved for programs and facilities serving the mentally ill. It’s fitting, because the closed Dorothea Dix hospital on the grounds provided care for mentally troubled patients for 150 years. It has been replaced by a new facility in Butner.
Raleigh saw an opportunity to preserve a largely green property in its urban landscape. Although developers might have paid more, former Gov. Bev Perdue, a Democrat, supported the vision and worked out a 99-year lease deal with Raleigh before leaving office in January 2013. The Republican legislature and McCrory, the incoming Republican governor, thought the state could do better and halted the deal.
McCrory was committed to the concept, however, and he might have worked out a better arrangement. The legislature, after some grumbling, now agrees and withdrew its objections.
“The Dorothea Dix property sale will allow the creation of a destination park in our state capital, protects the taxpayers and provides much-needed funding for mental health services,” the governor said in a statement after a deal was signed April 24.
Raleigh is spending a lot of money for a park – much more than the $30 million the city of Greensboro will pay for its share of a downtown performing arts center. Arguably, Greensboro will get more for its money.
Raleigh, however, isn’t looking for immediate returns on its investment. “It’s really all about the next generation,” Mayor Nancy McFarlane said. The next generation might pay, too: Raleigh likely will have to borrow the money it owes the state by the end of the year.
McCrory, who still thinks like a mayor sometimes, said the Dix land transaction is a first step in changing state government’s footprint in Raleigh’s center city. Other state facilities are in need of repair or replacement. They would be aided by a $1.5 billion bond he wants to put on the ballot in the fall.
Downtown Raleigh should be a “showcase” that can attract more tourists and business travelers, the governor said earlier this year.
Every city aspires to that, although ambitions can be hampered by the legislature’s efforts to reduce city revenues. Raleigh may be the only North Carolina city that could pull off a $52 million deal for a park with its strong financial position and borrowing capacity.
If it does create a Central Park, like New York’s, it will have a valuable treasure for many generations – one that other North Carolinians also can enjoy.
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