State government will soon demolish three run-down buildings along Dawson Street in downtown Raleigh – with no plans for what will become a vacant lot in a hot real-estate market.
The demolition was approved by the Council of State last week without discussion in a batch of other state property matters. Back in 2016, a medical office developer was in the process of buying the site for $1.75 million and restoring several of the buildings – one of which is a century old – but the Council of State tabled the sale in December 2016, and Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration later canceled the sale without giving the developer an explanation.
The buildings facing the wrecking ball include a century-old building that was originally a broom and mattress factory employing students from the state’s school for the blind and deaf, which at the time was located next door. That building was later used as a heating plant for the state government complex.
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The state will also raze two smaller buildings next door to the former factory: the one-story “old film library” at the corner of Dawson and Lane streets, and the “Oral Hygiene Building” that later housed a research annex for the N.C. Museum of Natural Science. The odd name stems from the building’s original use: Headquarters for a dental hygiene education program that launched in the 1940s. School children visited the building’s dental health museum, known as “Little Jack’s House” because of the star of a puppet show performed there.
Once the demolition is complete, the land at the northern gateway to downtown will sit vacant.
“There are currently no plans to rebuild on the Old Film Library and Oral Hygiene Building property,” Department of Administration spokeswoman Aldesha Gore said in an email. “There are also no developments concerning the sale of this property.”
Plans to sell the long-vacant buildings were part of Gov. Pat McCrory’s “Project Phoenix” initiative to revitalize the state government complex. The sale was delayed after preservationists criticized the move over concerns that the property would become the first of Raleigh’s original five public squares to transfer into private ownership.
The buildings sit on the former Caswell Square, which was a park space early in the city’s history but now houses a number of state government buildings.
The medical office developer, Milan DiGiulio of Cary’s Performance Orthopaedic Surgery & Sports Medicine, said he worked with preservationists after the Council of State delayed the sale. He revised his plans to keep the Oral Hygiene Building and former broom factory/heating plant. “These buildings have tremendous character and history, and we intend to preserve and reuse them to provide services that our growing downtown community needs,” DiGiulio and his business partner, Robert Jones, wrote to Cooper in May 2017. “Once restored, they can serve a dual purpose to the community – preserving their historical significance and beauty as well as providing an unmet healthcare need in Downtown Raleigh.”
But instead of bringing the proposal back before the Council of State, Cooper sent DiGiulio notice that the governor had canceled the sale. No explanation was provided, DiGiulio said.
“It was a pretty big disappointment,” he said, adding that the pending demolition of the historic buildings is “a shame.”
Asked why the Cooper administration scrapped the sale plan, Gore said in an email that “our focus remains on ensuring the best use of state property for the taxpayer, thus, the sale of the property was ultimately cancelled to re-examine real estate efforts concerning state property in downtown Raleigh.”
She noted that Cooper has requested funding from the state legislature for “a master plan to conduct a cohesive and comprehensive review of current state property use as well as for future developments.”
DiGiulio said he remains interested in developing a medical office complex in downtown Raleigh, but “I’d be hesitant to work with the state again. It was a waste of everyone’s time.”