by Bob Geary
You'll recall that the idea of building a new 17-story Clarence E. Lightner Public Safety Center on the site of the current police headquarters (on the north side of Nash Square) ran into a 4-4 City Council deadlock. Questions were raised about the wisdom of putting all of the city's public safety functions into a single high-rise building; the cost of making such a building ultra-secure; the additional security costs associated with putting public spaces — a cafe, e.g. — on the first floor; and whether there might not be a better place for such a facility than on less than 1-acre fronting Nash Square.
Not to mention the $200 million-plus pricetag and the associated tax increase. Ouch.
So now, let's try to crowd-source this new idea: What about taking approximately 2 acres of the 8-acre site that the Raleigh Rescue Mission has for sale on New Bern Avenue, a few blocks from downtown, and building the Lightner Center there — in phases? Without a tax increase. And in all likelihood, at a much lower overall cost.
Some City Council members are discussing ....
The picture above of the LA public safety center came to me from Councilor Russ Stephenson, who says the entire complex is built on roughly two acres of land; rather than a single high-rise, it breaks up the various functions so that the public space — that's a cafe in front — can be accessed without bringing people into the secured spaces of the police and emergency operations units.
Stephenson's thought is that if the Lightner Center were located on New Bern, it could serve as a focal point for redevelopment there, including mixed-use development of the other 6 acres. That would be a boon to Southeast Raleigh and a fitting legacy for Clarence Lightner, Raleigh's first and so-far only African-American mayor.
One big advantage of having 8 acres instead of less than one:The Lightner Center could be built in stages, and financed on a pay-as-you-go basis, in contrast to the initial Lightner scheme, which called for an estimated $205 million up-front.
Another advantage: A campus approach would allow the emergency operations parts of the facility to be separate and "ultra-hardened" without having to go the expense of ultra-hardening an entire 17-story building.
Finally, it's the emergency operations parts that are most needed now (the police have been moved into two other, renovated buildings). The E-ops parts are the smallest; they're also the ones that need to be the most secure from attack. Best to put them in a separate building anyway, no?
Here's a street view of the 8 acres — on the southeast corner of New Bern and South Swain Avenue: