- Associated Press - Monday, January 12, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Gov. Pat McCrory and Raleigh leaders announced Monday that they’ve reached a new $52 million deal to sell to the city land where a state mental hospital long stood, a tract Raleigh wants to use to build a large park near downtown.

At a news conference, McCrory and Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane signed a tentative agreement for the nearly 308-acre Dorothea Dix property, where the hospital operated for more than 150 years. The renegotiated deal came 18 months after the city and McCrory put on hold the original deal signed by then-Gov. Beverly Perdue with McFarlane in 2012 when Republican legislative leaders opposed the terms.

The new arrangement, like the old deal, still allows 2,000 Department of Health and Human Services employees currently working on the campus to remain while state government figures out where to move them. McCrory told a gathering at the Executive Mansion that he’d also work with legislators to ensure proceeds benefit mental health.

“This agreement allows the creation of a destination park in our state capital, protects our state taxpayers and continues to honor the legacy of Dorothea Dix,” McCrory said, referring to the 19th mental health advocate the hospital was named after.

City boosters originally unveiled in 2006 the park concept for the Dix property. McFarlane said it will increase the quality of life in the growing city, thus attracting new business and people.

“It’s exciting we think to have this opportunity not just for Raleigh … but now it’s going to be for our entire state,” said Gregory Poole Jr., a longtime leader of the Dix Visionaries group spearheading the idea. “It’s going to be our Central Park.”

The agreement still must be approved by the 10-member Council of State, comprised of McCrory, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and other statewide elected officials. The legislature also could step in if it still doesn’t like the terms.

McCrory said he’s had “very positive conservations” with Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and likely House speaker Rep. Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, and felt confident they wouldn’t try to force more negotiations. Veteran Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, said Monday’s terms were better than the 2012 agreement. Berger’s office said late Monday it was still reviewing agreement details.

The legislative and executive branches and Raleigh city leaders have been grappling for years with the future of the property, where the final patients were moved out in August 2012.

Just before leaving office, Perdue finalized a deal to lease to Raleigh the acreage looking down upon the city’s skyline for 75 years. Raleigh would have paid $500,000 a year, plus 1.5 percent annual increases, or a deal worth $68 million. But Republican lawmakers said that cost when adjusted for inflation and other factors would have been equivalent to one-third that amount.

McCrory succeeded Perdue, and in summer 2013 the lease was put on hold to assuage lawmakers threatening to cancel the deal. Protracted negotiations that got snagged in part over who would pay for environmental cleanup.

The deal requires the city to find funds by the end of 2015 to purchase the land. As part of the transition in moving state workers off campus, the city must lease back to the state about 90 acres where hospital buildings are located for 10 years for $1 per year. Another 27 acres - primarily where Health and Human Services headquarters are located - will be leased back for 25 years at the same price.

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