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Senate votes to seek new deal with Raleigh for Dix

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RALEIGH, N.C. -

The North Carolina Senate voted 29-21 Tuesday to renege on a contract between the state and the City of Raleigh to lease the Dorothea Dix campus to the city for use as a park.

Senate Bill 334 directs the state and the city to enter into a new lease on a portion of the Dorothea Dix campus "at a fair market value" for use as a public park.

In December, the Council of State, under Gov. Bev Perdue, signed a contract to lease the Dorothea Dix property to Raleigh for $500,000 per year for 75 years with a 24-year renewal option after thousands of supporters across the state urged officials to turn the campus into a park.

However, Republican lawmakers have raised questions about the deal and believe the state didn't get fair market value for the property.

"We are keeping our agreement to allow Raleigh to have a large destination park, so long as city leaders pay their fair share and comply with the law," Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) said in a statement.

Under a new agreement, the city will be able to lease around 200 acres of the Dix property's 325 acres of land for use as a destination park. Also under the new agreement, "all revenues from leases of the Dorothea Dix Property [will] be held in a special fund for appropriation by the General Assembly for mental health purposes."

The portion of the Dix property that the city does not lease can be used by the Department of Health and Human Services to house the consolidation of 2,500 DHHS employees working in Wake County. Dix Visionaries, a community group that supports a park on the campus, argues that a hospital and a park cannot co-exist on the land.

"I don't think the delivery of any kind of health -- mental or otherwise -- needs to be in the park," Greg Poole Jr., with Dix Visionaries, said.

Political watchdog group Americans for Prosperity, which has been outspoken against the Dix deal, applauded Tuesday's vote, saying, "Today, the Senate showed real leadership for all North Carolina taxpayers -- not just the ‘inside the Beltline' lobby."

"The City of Raleigh is not entitled to an under-value, special deal so that it can create one more park to add to its collection of more than 200 city parks already in existence," said Dallas Woodhouse, with Americans for Prosperity.

"All North Carolina taxpayers deserve a better deal for state-owned property. This is about fairness for all of the rightful owners of this property."

During a hearing on the bill last Thursday, Sen. Tommy Tucker (R-Union) said the property was designed for mental health use, and therefore the Department of Health and Human Services should have a new office complex on the campus. He also said that open space already exists in Raleigh.

"We are keeping the state's commitment to using the Dorothea Dix property to benefit the mentally ill," Berger said.

Democratic Sen. Dan Blue said he was reluctant to go back and renegotiate, saying, "It is a sad day when one government unit cannot rely on another government unit to abide by the terms it makes."

Sen. Martin Nesbitt, a leading Democrat, added that "people in the state deserve continuity in government," and that the government cannot simply void contracts because it doesn't like them.

Poole said he thinks lawmakers don't understand the depth of support the Park has.

"We met our financial goals in seven weeks," he said. "We pledged to raise $3 million in seven weeks, and we met that goal. It just shows you the people of North Carolina are behind this project. They're ready to go."

But some at the hearing said the new park would short-change the area's mentally ill.

"I want to challenge the people who support Dix Park to rethink things because they don't know there were blueprints drawn up to put a hospital there, but it was moved to Butner at the last minute strictly on a political decision," said mental health advocate Martha Brock.

Four Republicans -- three from Wake County -- joined all Democrats in voting against the measure, which now goes to the House.

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