Last month, after Raleigh Magazine went to press, City of Raleigh parks administrator Kate Pearce sent a memo outlining several changes to the draft of the Dix Park Master Plan intended to clarify elements that deal with private development on the land and to position the plan as neutral on the question of how many buildings to preserve on the property. City officials removed references to future buildings on eight acres along Lake Wheeler Road that could have been sold or leased to raise money for the park; they also removed all references to “revenue generation” from the plan, except for in the section that presents various options on how to fund the park.
An introduction explaining the master plan as a framework and proposal of a long-term vision to be implemented gradually by future City Councils was added to the plan, as was more information highlighting the community engagement process and language suggesting stronger connections from Dix Park to the downtown core, Fayetteville Street and the Convention Center.
“We welcome the changes to the draft Master Plan for Dix Park as outlined by city staff…and consider them a positive response to our concerns,” said leaders of Dix Park advocacy nonprofits Dix306 and Friends of Dorothea Dix Park in a statement. “We will continue to oppose any effort to generate revenue for Dix Park by cannibalizing it with private-use leases of land or buildings.”
The final Dix Park community meeting takes place Feb. 6 at the Raleigh Convention Center and the draft goes before the Council Feb. 19. Read the draft master plan at.
Raleigh’s City Council will vote to adopt the Dorothea Dix Park Master Plan this month. While there’s near unanimous agreement to move forward with designer Michael Van Valkenburg and Associates’ first proposed design phase—including restoring Rocky Branch Creek, expanding the meadow and creating entrances along Lake Wheeler Road and Western Boulevard—a group of longtime Dix visionaries has raised concerns about commercial development on the property, and parking.
They would like to see less of both in favor of more green space in addition to what will already be preserved and expanded. Even if that means demolishing more of the buildings on the property (some of which are considered to be historically and culturally significant) than the plan currently calls for, buildings, they say, will be expensive to restore and maintain. They opposed proposed future buildings along Lake Wheeler. They’d also like to see input from more local experts and look at how to connect the park to downtown and NC State. Some have called for the development proposals in the plan, including a hotel, brewery, event space and, potentially, housing, to be removed before the Council gives its approval.
State offices don’t leave the property until 2025. If the plan is approved, city officials will then have to figure out how Raleigh is going to pay for it.
Kate Pearce, a City administrator who has led community outreach efforts during the park planning process, emphasizes that thousands of people have weighed in thus far, and that the plan is a guiding document meant to “preserve opportunities” for parking and certain development projects if the community decides it wants these features as Raleigh gradually builds the park over several decades.
“I have concerns about gentrification of the surrounding neighborhoods as well as finances and priorities. [The city] has a lot of unmet needs, and I would like us to go slowly with this park. Phase A of the plan is compelling, but I am not prepared to support the development aspects at this point in time.” — Stef Mendell, Raleigh City Council
“This park will be phased in over decades and the community, as we do each phase, will weigh in and decide what they want to see and how we will fund it. All of that will determine what will go in the park. This is a guiding framework and [development proposals] are options that the community will consider in the future.” —Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane
“[When city officials] were debating whether to purchase the land for a park 15 years ago, they said the most precious thing we will have in the not-too-distant future is square footage of green space. People would have made a bundle up there if they developed that whole piece of property, but they decided we all need to just have a place to get away. That is what makes this park so special.” —Will Hooker, landscape architect and member of the Dix Park Conservancy
“It’s a lot easier to get rid of parking lots and turn them into green spaces than it is to realize after the fact, “uh oh, we don’t have enough parking and it’s keeping people from coming to the park.’” —Diane Sauer, City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Director
“A missing piece is the connection to downtown, where high intensity development is coming. To connect that to Dix Park is a challenge that should invite the imagination of a lot of different people we haven’t heard from yet.” — Anne S. Franklin, member of the Dix Park Conservancy
“We are planning the park for the future, not the present, so some things in the plan may evolve over time. Until we start talking dollars and committing them to certain time periods, we need to not get so hung up on those items.” —Corey Branch, Raleigh City Council
“[The plan] is an attempt to illustrate through text and maps what we hope the vision will be, so we won’t get too caught up in ‘will there be a building here or not.’ It will give us a roadmap, so as we move forward we can study areas that might be critical for support and what will that look like in 20 years, not tie the hands of future councils or city officials on what it can and cannot be.”—Kay Crowder, Raleigh City Council
“These buildings can help generate revenue for the park, and park activities, so they serve a useful function in how the park works now and how the park will be funded in the future. It makes a ton of sense to have mixture of public and private use on the property.”—Myrick Howard, preservationist and member of Dorothea Dix Park Conservancy
“You have to make a decision if [all the buildings the plan calls to preserve] are worth saving. I don’t think so and others do. It’s unknown whether they will generate enough revenue [to fund the park]. My personal opinion is they will not, and that we will wind up in a downward spiral where we renovate a building and don’t get our money back for it, so we have to renovate another building and don’t get our money back for that, and then we have to sell off some land, and that doesn’t quite make up the cost, and then we have more buildings to renovate. We will be chasing an ever-increasing number and never catching up to it.” —Bob Geary, Dix 306
“I am not entirely clear how much people know about the plan. In general, people support the idea of Dix Park and using that space as a park. I have not heard much support for development in the park.”—David Cox, Raleigh City Council
“The park is not serving any one individual of us, it’s serving all of us, regardless of our income, color, it is supposed to serve all of us. Does [the plan] support Dorothea Dix’s original goal for this property and does it support the mental health community? That has been one of our really big efforts.”—Jay Spain, Dorothea Dix Park Conservancy
“I love what a diverse space it is [in the plan]. Someone defined it to me as a democratic gathering space and that really resonates with what I see. It’s a wonderful vision for how different groups of people can enjoy the same space.”—Nicole Stewart, Raleigh City Council