That was one unhappy Mayor Charles Meeker today when he called for a vote on the proposed Clarence E. Lightner Public Safety Center ... knowing it would lose. And lose it did, 4-4, as Councilor John Odom joined the trio (Thomas Crowder, Bonner Gaylord, Russ Stephenson) who've questioned it for weeks. So the Lightner plan stalls. But Meeker refused to call it dead; it goes on the shelf, he said, until one of the opponents changes his mind or there's a new Council.
And just to be sure no one puts a stake in it, Meeker blocked any consideration of the trio's ideas for a Plan B, which could be better and/or cheaper than Lightner, who knows? But Meeker knows, and just to be sure he's not wrong, nobody's going to price any alternatives if he has anything to say about it.
The idea of a Plan B: Split the Lightner project into two parts:
Part 1, the Emergency Operations part, is the one that's needed immediately, requires expensive "armoring" to protect critical equipment and personnel against any and all threats, and should therefore be in a remote location, probably underground. It's also the much smaller part, at about 34,000 sf out of the 300,000-sf total included in the Lightner plan. It's needed immediately because the existing EO facilities are (I'm told, and no one on either side of this debate says anything else) ridiculously old and inadequate.
Part 2, the Administrative Part, is needed as well, everyone says, though not with the urgency of Part 1. It would house the police and fire departments' top brass. The police have already departed their old building on Nash Square in anticipation of Lightner replacing it. But in the interim, they've moved into two other buildings--one downtown, one on Six Forks Road--that are not bad given the fact that they've been extensively renovated for the purpose. It may be that Part 2, whittled down to say, 10 stories instead of Lightner's 17, should be built on the Nash Square site in the near future. It may be that a better site can be found, and the Nash Square land put to a different, more active use. Postponing it allows time to consider the alternatives.
I'm not saying Plan B is better than the Lightner plan. What I would say is that enough good questions were asked about the Lightner project that it made sense to pull back and answer them and weigh the alternatives. Meeker didn't want that when it was still possible that Lightner would be approved. OK. But now that's it been voted down, what's the harm in thinking about a different approach? It would seem, from what everyone's saying, that moving ahead on Part 1 is imperative.
Updating the debate over the proposed Clarence E. Lighner Public Safety Center since our Indy story 12 days ago. That the proposal's rollout was bungled is now a given; but the question remains, who bungled it? Was it City Manager Russell Allen's fault? Or Mayor Charles Meeker's? Or both?
It was Allen's job to shepherd the Lightner plan through the bureaucracy. But it was Meeker, along with Allen, who decided the plan ready for the City Council's rubber stamp of approval when clearly it wasn't.
Since the rollout, a trio of City Council members has pushed back against the Meeker-Allen combo and their hurry-up-and-vote approach, raising a series of questions that go not just to the details of the building (e.g., the fitness center, the circular stairway) but also to its basic premises -- i.e., its scale, function(s) and location.
Councilors Crowder, Gaylord and Stephenson are asking why this ought to be a single, 17-story tower when it appears that it contains two quite different functions, one of which (emergency operations and technology) requires a very expensive, "hardened" building while the other (police and fire deparment administration) doesn't.
Moreover, the police/fire administrative part of the building is envisioned as a public-friendly space, with easy access -- and a cafe -- for anyone who wants to enter. That's exactly the opposite of what's described for the other, emergency-center portion of the building, which is that it's supposed to be secure -- i.e., difficult to enter or attack.
So, the councilors observe, while the public-friendly space should certainly be located on an accessible downtown site, the secure-from-attack space should probably be somewhere else.
The City Council's public works committee held its long-awaited meeting on the issue last night. The verdict, by unanimous decision: There should be bike lanes on all of Hillsborough Street from downtown to the Fairgrounds. No exception for the Hillsborough Street Project (Phase 1, remember) in front of N.C. State. For a city trying to move from car-dominated sprawldom to walkable-bikeable metro, it's a huge step forward -- assuming it holds. Hillsborough Street has great symbolic importance for Raleigh. It's also a place where bikes could one day be the dominant form of transportation if given a chance.
What took them so long? But today, the Wake Republican Party chairman, Claude Pope, called on the Raleigh City Council to hold a referendum on the proposed $205 million, 17-story public safety center. (There's a nice gallery of the architect's renderings up on the N&O's website.) Bonner Gaylord and John Odom, the two new (or in Odom's case, renewed) Council members, have questioned the project since taking office in December. Odom's a Republican; Gaylord, officially unaffiliated, came in with a lot of Republican backing. There are a bunch of issues surrounding the plan -- the cost, the location, the wisdom of tearing down an existing building so it can be replaced with a giant tower on-site -- but whether the Council should decide them or let the public in iit hasn't been part of the equation until now.
No one, to my knowledge, is doubting the need to replace the old public safety center -- including Claude Pope. Still, it never hurts to check with the voters on big-ticket projects, if only just to show them you care. If borrowing $205 million is such a good idea -- as City Manager Russell Allen and Mayor Charles Meeker say it is now that interest rates are at historic lows -- surely the voters will see its wisdom too, no? Or maybe it isn't such a good idea, and not because a new center isn't needed, but rather that it's the wrong building or it's in the wrong place or it's just the wrong year to be reaching into the public pocket.
If the city planned to issue general obligation bonds to pay for the project, under the state constitution it would need the voters' OK. Instead, however, it plans to issue "certificates of participation," which are just like G.O. bonds except that they're not due to a legalistic fatuity dreamed up by the bond lawyers and their good friends in the various legislatures of America. The theory of a C.O.P. is that if Raleigh should fail some day to pay on the bonds, rather than go bankrupt, Raleigh would turn the building over to the bondholders -- the "participants," as it were. Yeah, right.
The real purpose of C.O.P's, back in the day, was to avoid the voters while drawing on their credit anyway, albeit at a slightly higher interest rate for them to repay. Yes, I know everybody does it; but you know what your mother said about that.
Assuming, as I believe is the case, that Gaylord and Odom support a referendum, and Meeker and fellow Democrats Mary-Ann Baldwin and James West don't, and are ready to approve the tower, that means two of the three other Council members would have to join the Gaylord-Odom bandwagon to force the question to the ballot.
(Or it may be that if four Council members insist on a public vote, the project will be postponed or relocated out of fear the voters would say no.)
The GOP press release is below the fold.
Raleigh Wide Open 4 will be the first time all of Fayetteville Street really is wide open all the way from the Capitol to Memorial Auditorium.
For previous RWOs, only the four blocks closest to the Capitol were open. The rest were under construction some way of other. But with the underground parking for the Convention Center completed and City Plaza completed -- it's getting there; not to worry -- the construction fences can come down. A 10 a.m. parade will mark the event.
What does everybody think of the Jim Gallucci-designed light towers? I was downtown last night and saw them with the LED lighting switched on -- one tower's red, one blue, one green, one yellow. They do make an impression. (The renderings always showed them as pale yellow.)
City Plaza's debut, with its four glass-box shops (donuts, a sub shop), lights, lighted water-fountain and so on -- I'm curious to see how it works. (And RWO, with its swarming masses, won't be the test of that question.)
And yes, there will be fireworks -- at 10:45 pm.
10:00 am - Parade down Fayetteville Street
11:00 am - Festival opens, food and art vendors, street performers
Fireworks Main Stage – City Plaza
7:30 – 8:30 – Tao Rodriguez-Seeger
9:00 – 10:30 – Delbert McClinton
Cherry Bounce Stage – Hargett Street
12:00 – 3:30 – TBA
4:00 – 4:45 – Schooner
5:15 – 6:00 – Peggy Sue
6:30 – 7:30 – TBA
8:00 – 9:00 – Man Man
Acoustic Stage – City Plaza
11:30 – 12:45 – Chuck Phillips Duo
1:15 – 2:30 – th’ Bullfrog
3:00 – 4:15 – Eric Scholtz
4:45 – 6:00 – Chuck Phillips Duo
Raleigh Rocks – Davie Street
12:00 – 1:00 – The Shucks
1:30 – 2:30 – The Design
3:00 – 4:00 – Adam Pitts
4:30 – 5:30 – River City Ransom
6:00 – 7:00 – Airiel Down
10:45 pm - Fireworks
The big pro-Obama health care reform rally you're going to read about in the printed Indy today when it hits a coffee shop near you -- the Let's Get It Done: Raleigh National Bus Tour Stop (Health Insurance Reform Now) rally that was scheduled for Thursday night, 5-7 pm at the WakeMed North campus -- well, they've changed the venue. No, really. I just talked to Lindsay Siler, who is state coordinator for Obama's Organizing for America operation. (She's in Greensboro today, btw, delivering petitions to Sen. Hagan. She's got a lot on her plate.) The WakeMed site fell through at the last minute, she said. OFA will have people out there re-directing folks to the new site, which is:
The Progress Energy Center plaza (in front of Memorial Auditorium)
2 East South St. (south end of Fayetteville Street)
"A Face of the Uninsured, A State of Denial."
The HCAN website, incidentally, lists the location as "steps of the State House," wherever that is. Pay no attention to that listing. HCAN -- Health Care for America NOW -- is the coalition of labor and activist groups pushing hard for reform with a "robust" public option. OFA, reflecting President Obama's diffident p.o. stance, is for a public option, but not that insistent, if you get my drift. But ... they're allies ... same rally ... somebody tell HCAN Central where the Progress Energy Center is.
Let's Get It Done: Raleigh National Bus Tour Stop (Health Insurance Reform Now)
HCAN is holding rallies around the country, including in Raleigh.
Can HCAN's North Carolina organizers turn out the troops?
How many equals "big"? (Or, "huge"?)
(OK -- stop it.)
Better question: Is the Triangle's big city big enough for car-sharing a la zipcars?
(Update: Per the comment below, there's more than one car-sharing vendor in the land, not just the zippy one.)
Topic's on tap June 18, 1 pm, at the Urban Design Center. (h/t: Urban Planet.)
Downtown Raleigh Alliance and Triangle Transit also involved: Details below.
We've had bad plans for Moore Square before that, mercifully, came to naught. So when the city announced yet another Moore Square renewal effort, suspicious minds went immediately to Defcon Uh-O. But let's approach this from the other direction: If the participatory, juried & competitive process described by the Planning Department (first meetings June 17 and June 27; details below) works the way they tell us it will, it could produce a very good plan for Moore Square. And a good plan, if executed, would block all the bad plans from ever again rearing their ugly adornments.
(Excepting, of course, the acorn. And yes, ever is a long time, so make that any time soon.)
This, at any rate, was my thought after the kickoff press event yesterday with Mayor Meeker and landscape architect Rod Swink (disclosure: close friend) , and especially after talking with Trisha Hasch, the department's lead on the project. Three things she said really registered with me.
First, parks and green space create equity in cities. Absolutely right, especially if your city is out to supersize itself with towers of condos.
Second, Moore Square is Raleigh's best example of the first point. Historically, it's been a communal gathering place for East Raleigh and West Raleigh, black Raleigh and white Raleigh, downtown Raleigh and neighborhoods Raleigh. Today, it's at the center of every cultural cross-current in town. (The city put together a neat little summary of Moore Square's past -- did you know, for instance, that from 1865-71 African-American soldiers of the U.S. Army lived there in barracks? Highly recommended reading.)
And third, a juried competition like this is a first for Raleigh planning -- and potentially is a huge step forward process-wise for a city that's used to taking what developers offer and saying, "Gee, we wish it were better, but -- move approval."
The unanimous City Council vote today in favor of having a public competition to redesign Moore Square put me in mind of the last time city officials wanted to mess with Moore -- back in '01 -- and how that came to naught. A big issue then was that citizens weren't consulted before the Parks Department rolled out a redesign of its own, and a dreadful redesign at that. This time, the planning department's in charge, and it's all about citizens' input, with "an open call for design ideas," etcetera, etcetera. (See below for the city's press release.)
But a better process still begs the question, does Moore Square really need a redesign? Or just a clean-up and some fresh plantings? That's the first question the "competitors" should address, before anybody starts packing new stuff into one of the downtown's last open spaces.
And to the blogger at NewRaleigh who worried that the real idea here is to drive out the homeless so big-time development can come in, well, your worst fears have been realized: Someone is calling for a "world-class" public square, per the press release:
CITY COUNCIL APPROVES PUBLIC COMPETITION TO REDESIGN MOORE SQUARE
The City of Raleigh will have an open public competition to redesign Moore Square into a world-class public space. The City Council voted unanimously today to approve the project.