A Bipartisan Legacy

If you envision the Dix property in downtown Raleigh as a 306-acre park, there are small signs that a vision which began as early as 2003, when the General Assembly decided to move Dorothea Dix Hospital to Butner, could become reality.

Dorothea Dix Property and Raleigh Skyline

But to fulfill this grand dream, a powerful coalition is needed to propose a plan to address the needs of mental health, conservation, Raleigh city officials and state government as well as to drive and focus the effort.

The potential coalition has the ability to bring together vision, activism, moral authority, money and access – all key ingredients to a powerful lobby. The timing isn’t so bad either -– the remaining Dix patients will be moved by August, there is general agreement that mental health program in NC needs resources, Raleigh is going through a renaissance and the latest appraisal of $60 million is lower than the $86 million before the recession.

Some important questions remain – when and to where will over 1,200 state government employees on the Dix campus be moved, and at what cost? Can all stakeholders agree that money from the sale be dedicated to our state’s mental health program? What can the City of Raleigh really pay and over how many years?

And the most important question – can the Republican-led legislature, the Council of State and a lame-duck governor in an election year find their way to an agreement? The legislature is now poised to give itself final authority over the decision to sell the property so the idea that Governor Perdue and the Council of State can make this decision on its own is now likely moot.

Can this grand vision of an open space so close to an urban center – for rejuvenation of the spirit, for solitude and gatherings, for family, for friends, community and for nature – form the basis for a bipartisan legacy?

Crazier things have happened – but not without advocates that believe it is possible and are hungry to make it so. A coalition of park and mental health advocates could be a legitimate force, sparking the imagination of North Carolinians to support the effort, while working closely with city and state officials to focus the conversation on getting to the deal.

Here’s a starting point for state legislators – picture yourself telling your grand children about this awesome place you made happen and how it also helped those in need of mental health services.



  1. Jeff S

    April 16, 2012 at 5:15 pm

    I can see it now. The Republicans sell the land, give 60 million to mental health, cut MH budget by 80 million and AFP adds a new entry to their billboard truck.

  2. Laurie Coker

    April 16, 2012 at 5:40 pm

    I would rather remember not that this grand legacy was sold, but that it has continued to be used to improve the lives of those who live with mental illness and in ways that have state-wide welcome and utilization. Dorothea Dix was a visionary, and we still need such vision as hers in this state! Why not use this space to continue her vision of compassion for those who deserve a better life! Rather than using funds (I am told a far lesser amount than the property has value) for more of the same of what is already not working well in our state–IF THOSE DOLLARS STAY with funding mental health– what about applying once again the vision Ms. Dix had for changing how we regard and help people with mental illness? What if that lovely location could still be the locus for which it was intended: current and improved practice that help North Carolina citizens recover and live better lives?
    Because if Ms. Dix were here, she would be on the front lines of reforming how ours and some other states are still using old thinking about people with mental illness. She would focus on their strengths, their potential, and their abilities to grow and recover meaningful life. She would be breaking glass ceilings, which still remain very thick in North Carolina!
    Hopefully, some of our legislators are giving serious thought to this historic legacy. Enough of the original acreage has already been turned into golf course and other venues. Meanwhile, when I am in Raleigh, I already find much of what remains on Dix Hill the most serene space to go to get away from the noise. With its array of birds and other wildlife and lovely old homes and buildings, it is, to me, a park even as it is.
    We can use Dix Hill as a moral foundation for our system’s future and an incubator for some of its progress, or we can give it away for fast money and a lovely park and whatever other avenues might well be sought to further exploit this historically dedicated place.

  3. Lisa Finaldi

    April 16, 2012 at 7:18 pm


    Thank you for your thoughts. The decision to close the hospital has already been made so I am delving into ways to get the best situation possible for stakeholders. I was not suggesting that the funds from the sale would be the base mental health budget but supplemental to the annual budget. Of course there are no guarantees that funds wouldn’t be raided by the legislature or Governor, but if the City were to pay for the property over several years, there would be an ongoing source of funding that could help protect the raiding of a large trust.

    Also, there are many aspects to a mental health program that do not involve hospitalization and more must be done at the early signs of illness to help people who can avoid this option.

  4. Martha Brock

    April 16, 2012 at 7:46 pm

    Laurie did not outline some of the concrete proposals now being fleshed out by a workgroup, but we are working on these. I am part of that group and we are looking at alternative uses for the Dix campus that do not include hospitalization, but other options that would still benefit directly those in NC (across the state,) who are diagnosed with a mental illness.

    Laurie has take ,the lead in developing these options and presenting them to members of the Legislative Oversight Committee on DHHS at the NCGA. I think the need is greater for these optional uses than the need for yet another Raleigh park.

  5. Betsy Levitas

    April 16, 2012 at 8:57 pm

    Yes! and don’t forget the public health advocates who are helping folks MOVE We desperately need more safe and inviting places to get exercise. This would be a wonderful resource for citizens as well as employees of state and local government and business working nearby.

  6. Deby Dihoff

    April 18, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    The vision of many mental health advocates is to use the funding from the sale to preserve Dix’s legacy by building up evidence based practices (EBP) in the state, offered in the community. Just as a state hospital was the best model and the most innovative one in the mid l800’s, so are EBP in 2012, but they are costly, so they are not uniformly available throughout our state. This would be in addition to base funding, and would reward those who truly move to make innovations workable throughout our state. We might help solve our housing crisis for those with mental illness by funding some supported housing projects.
    Deby Dihoff

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