Wake County

Should Raleigh build a new government campus or upgrade city hall?

City Hall and other city-owned properties could need $80 million in major repairs if Raleigh doesn’t replace them with a new government complex.

City staff laid out long-term maintenance needs for the 35-year-old building on Hargett Street downtown. They say it would cost taxpayers about $32 million to redo the mechanical and electrical systems and replace the roof at least twice over the next several decades. It would cost about $28.5 million to do the same upgrades at One Exchange Plaza, which also houses city employees.

“Can we stay as we are? Is there a cost to that?” said Raleigh Assistant City Manager Jim Greene. “Absolutely.”

The City Council has been talking for months about possibly building a $165 million municipal complex on the downtown block bounded by Morgan, McDowell, Hargett and Dawson streets.

The issue became a sticking point during last year’s mayoral election when challenger Charles Francis criticized incumbent Nancy McFarlane for supporting a “Taj Mahal City Hall.” After a runoff election, McFarlane won a fourth term as mayor.

The Raleigh Municipal Building was built in 1983 and has about 15 viable years left, Greene said. It’s not big enough for all city employees, and some council members say a centralized campus would be more efficient. They also say the project would improve the technology and security of the buildings, enhance customer service and save money in maintenance and consolidation costs.

Raleigh has about 500 walk-in customers per day, and 130,000 per year.

“It’s a priority that we want a safe and inviting space – inviting to the public to attend and participate in activities and meetings at the civic campus,” Greene said. “And we want security measures that protect elected officials, city employees and departments.”

About 1,050 city employees work downtown, and the number could jump to 3,000 in the next 30 years. The maintenance estimates doesn’t include roughly $160 million the city says it would need to lease properties in the downtown area to house a growing city workforce.

Raleigh spends just over $1 million per year for 112 employees who work at three other downtown sites.

A new campus would be a “public civic heart” that faces Nash Square and connects major downtown destinations, according to the city. Early plans also call for some retail and office space.

Raleigh agreed to partner with Chicago-based Skidmore, Owings & Merrill to design the master plan for the government campus. The firm designed the One World Trade Tower and similar government projects across the country.

The consultants have already held “pop-up events” for community members and made some presentations during meetings of Citizens Advisory Councils. A community survey and more public meetings are in the works.