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.
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.