Wake County

Raleigh leaders consider building new government campus

Raleigh leaders are in the early planning stages of developing a new government complex. It’s unclear how much the project would cost, or where it would be located. City Hall is currently on Hargett Street near Nash Square.
Raleigh leaders are in the early planning stages of developing a new government complex. It’s unclear how much the project would cost, or where it would be located. City Hall is currently on Hargett Street near Nash Square. snagem@newsobserver.com

City leaders are considering plans to sell some Raleigh-owned downtown properties and build a centralized government campus.

About 1,100 city employees work in downtown offices, mostly in six properties valued at roughly $100 million, according to staff. The city also leases office space at three downtown sites.

Consolidating workers into one location would improve customer service, save money on rent and maintenance costs and give city government room to grow, according to a staff presentation to the City Council this week.

Building a campus would be difficult, expensive and possibly controversial, said City Manager Ruffin Hall.

“However, there are significant impacts in the choice of doing nothing,” Hall said. “We need to put this on the table and start making decisions.”

Three locations have been identified as potential sites for the campus: Hargett Street by Nash Square, where the current City Hall is located; the “gateway” area south of downtown; and east of Moore Square.

It’s unclear how much the project would cost, but redeveloping the current 4-acre municipal block on Hargett would be the cheapest option. Infrastructure is already in place there, and staff expect City Hall could last another 25 years.

That idea would be in line with the 10-year downtown plan the council adopted in September, which calls for redevelopment around Nash Square.

The area near Moore Square would cost the most. But city staff said the city has an opportunity to help spur economic development by relocating its headquarters.

“I would like to look at other sites, too,” said councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin. “I’m not married to staying here (on Hargett Street), but historically City Hall has been here, and there is a nostalgia to being at this site.”

Raleigh’s original City Hall opened in 1911 on East Davie Street and burned down in 1930. The current City Hall is 33 years old and cost $6.5 million when it was built in the 1980s.

More efficient

Most city staff members work in the main municipal building on Hargett, One Exchange Plaza off Wilmington Street and the Dillon building on West Martin Street. The buildings are between 30 and 50 years old, and the city expects to spend $5.5 million on maintenance in the next decade.

Raleigh spends about $500,000 a year to lease additional office space.

Residents can pay some city-related bills and fines online, but the city serves 500 walk-in customers each day at nine locations spread across three buildings.

Staff say a consolidated campus would improve customer service and engagement.

The city also hosts 400 meetings a year. The council chambers can hold 220 people, and the city has five conference rooms with space for 20 to 50 people.

A new and improved city campus could accommodate neighborhood meetings, special events, public art and community performances, according to staff.

Lightner tower project

Early plans for a city government complex do not include headquarters space for the police and fire departments.

The Raleigh Police Department headquarters is in a temporary location on Six Forks Road.

In 2013, the City Council scrapped a plan for the Clarence E. Lightner Public Safety Center, which would have housed the police and fire departments and emergency management.

The 17-story tower was expected to cost $208 million. A proposed 8 percent property tax hike to pay for the tower and other public works projects angered some residents as the city continued to recover from the economic downturn.

A government complex could also raise financial concerns for residents, although it’s unclear if the project would require a tax increase.

George Sharpley, a board member for the Wake County Taxpayers Association, said he thinks some people will take issue with the city’s early plan.

“The council members never tell themselves what their debt is at this point in time,” Sharpley said. “That (debt is) for our kids to pay, not us. That’s why we get out of joint when they want to buy and spend more.”

The Wake County Justice Center, the county court house that opened in 2013 at a cost of $185 million, met little public resistance. It was completed under budget and did not require a property tax increase.

“We have to sell the public on why this is needed,” councilwoman Kay Crowder said of a city government complex. “They might not understand our need to build.”

Knopf: 919-829-8955, @tayknopf