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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Legislature wants to renege on Dix park deal

Posted by on Thu, Mar 14, 2013 at 4:01 PM

Apparently, when you sign a contract with the State of North Carolina, the ink never dries.

In December, then-Gov. Bev Perdue and the North Carolina Council of State voted to lease Dorothea Dix campus to the City of Raleigh for 99 years, so the city could create a massive public park.

But on Thursday, several lawmakers (none of whom represent the Triangle) introduced a bill that would rescind the deal.

“It would be a sad day if the word of the State of North Carolina has become worthless,” Raleigh City Councilor Bonner Gaylord wrote to INDY Week in an email.

Mayor Nancy McFarlane said she was “shocked.”

“So many people saw this as such a positive step moving forward,” said McFarlane. “It took nine years to get it done. To think about all that hard work it took to get us to a great place is heartbreaking, actually.”

McFarlane said Dix Visionaries, one of the many groups that banded together to preserve the park, have pledged to raise $3 million from local businesses to support designing the new park.

She said much of the money has already been raised. “Not acknowledging the contract is a scary thing to tell the private sector, which is willing to step up and give money.”

McFarlane said the city’s attorney is examing the legislation to determine the legality of rescinding the lease.

Until the bill has been reviewed by the city’s legal team, it’s unclear what the City Council’s next step will be.

According to WRAL, officials from Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger’s office said the bill would:

• Direct the state Department of Administration to re-lease a portion of the Dorothea Dix campus to Raleigh at fair market value, allowing the city to move forward with its vision of a world-class park for residents and visitors.

• Designate proceeds from the new lease agreement will fund mental health programs in the state.

• Preserve a portion of the property to house the consolidation of 2,500 DHHS employees on-site, saving North Carolina taxpayers the expense of moving them elsewhere.

• Instruct DOA and DHHS to study recommended uses for the remainder of the property identified in the 2007 State Government Facilities Master Plan and report their findings to the General Assembly by March 2014.

• Maintain the purpose for the property outlined in the original deed from 1848, which said the land was to be used for the benefit of North Carolinians with mental illness.

“I’m kind of speechless,” said McFarlane. “The City of Raleigh entered into a contract with the State of North Carolina, and that contract is signed and sealed, and so it is our assumption that is a binding contract.”

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Apparently, when you sign a contract with the State of North Carolina, the ink never dries.

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