by Bob Geary
That was one unhappy Mayor Charles Meeker today when he called for a vote on the proposed Clarence E. Lightner Public Safety Center ... knowing it would lose. And lose it did, 4-4, as Councilor John Odom joined the trio (Thomas Crowder, Bonner Gaylord, Russ Stephenson) who've questioned it for weeks. So the Lightner plan stalls. But Meeker refused to call it dead; it goes on the shelf, he said, until one of the opponents changes his mind or there's a new Council.
And just to be sure no one puts a stake in it, Meeker blocked any consideration of the trio's ideas for a Plan B, which could be better and/or cheaper than Lightner, who knows? But Meeker knows, and just to be sure he's not wrong, nobody's going to price any alternatives if he has anything to say about it.
The idea of a Plan B: Split the Lightner project into two parts:
Part 1, the Emergency Operations part, is the one that's needed immediately, requires expensive "armoring" to protect critical equipment and personnel against any and all threats, and should therefore be in a remote location, probably underground. It's also the much smaller part, at about 34,000 sf out of the 300,000-sf total included in the Lightner plan. It's needed immediately because the existing EO facilities are (I'm told, and no one on either side of this debate says anything else) ridiculously old and inadequate.
Part 2, the Administrative Part, is needed as well, everyone says, though not with the urgency of Part 1. It would house the police and fire departments' top brass. The police have already departed their old building on Nash Square in anticipation of Lightner replacing it. But in the interim, they've moved into two other buildings--one downtown, one on Six Forks Road--that are not bad given the fact that they've been extensively renovated for the purpose. It may be that Part 2, whittled down to say, 10 stories instead of Lightner's 17, should be built on the Nash Square site in the near future. It may be that a better site can be found, and the Nash Square land put to a different, more active use. Postponing it allows time to consider the alternatives.
I'm not saying Plan B is better than the Lightner plan. What I would say is that enough good questions were asked about the Lightner project that it made sense to pull back and answer them and weigh the alternatives. Meeker didn't want that when it was still possible that Lightner would be approved. OK. But now that's it been voted down, what's the harm in thinking about a different approach? It would seem, from what everyone's saying, that moving ahead on Part 1 is imperative.