Raleigh City Council gets Dix Park master plan. Why some want the city to go slow

The details will not be worked out for years, but one Raleigh City Council member is already expressing concern about what Dix Park could cost and what gets built there.

“We have a lot of unmet needs in this city,” council member Stef Mendell said Monday. “As it is now, it’s a really wonderful space. We need to go really slowly. I am sensitive to gentrification around the park.”

Mendell spoke as Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, the New York-based design firm that Raleigh hired to plan the park, presented its master plan for the park the the City Council.

The presentation came after months of public comment, including a virtual walkthrough that Van Valkenburgh led at Union Station last fall.

“Communities the size of Raleigh, it’s a rare opportunity,” Van Valkenburgh said. “It’s pretty unique. Not very many cities faced with the growth pressures of Raleigh can think of the future and what a park like this can mean to the city.”

Raleigh bought the park from the state for $52 million in 2015. The city raised the property tax rate by 1 cent per $100 of assessed property value to help cover the cost of the park in 2016.

The city is taking public comment on the master plan until Jan. 18. Several people, including some like Mendell who want to talk about cost and appropriate development of the park, have signed up to speak at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.

The City Council next has to adopt the the master plan, which could happen in February.

The plan is not a binding document. There still are many steps along the way requiring council approval before construction begins.

“It is the beginning of an extremely long process,” Van Valkenburgh said. “We won’t know if Dix Park is world class until we’re done in 20 years and everybody in Raleigh loves it.”

The first part of the park that could be developed in Phase A is along Western Boulevard. Even with swift council approval, it would be many months before progress could be seen, Kate Pearce, Dix Park planning supervisor said.

Funding options

The master plan does not include any cost estimates, but city staff did provide several funding options the city can use to pay for operation and maintenance of the park.

Staff introduced the concept of “value capture” as a new way of paying for some of the park amenities. That would let the city lease some of the buildings for commercial purposes. Many of the buildings on the property are still occupied by the state, and it would be at least 2025 before the council could entertain any type of lease agreements, said Pearce.

There currently 80 buildings on the property. The master plan does away with about half of those buildings. The buildings saved would have some significance and history, Pearce said. The park will will have 96 percent open space if the master plan is followed.

“We’re going to do something amazing with those buildings,” Van Valkenburgh said. “There is profound potential in those buildings.”

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