by Bob Geary
Seven years of advocacy, and tomorrow the prize will be won if the Council of State votes to approve a lease giving the city of Raleigh constructive control of the 306-acre Dorothea Dix Hospital tract. The advocates, members of the allied groups called Friends of Dorothea Dix Park, Dix306 and the Dix Visionaries, are cautiously or incautiously optimistic about the vote. The dream of a great destination park up on Dix Hill, overlooking downtown Raleigh from the south, is within reach.
There's opposition to it on the political right from Americans for Prosperity, the Koch Brothers-Art Pope group known to some as "Americans for the Prosperous." Conservatives are against a public good — what else is new? But unless something terrible happens overnight, says Dix306 leader Bill Padgett, a majority of the Council of State should vote to approve the lease.
So this afternoon, the Visionaries did what they could to hasten a positive vote. Greg Poole Jr., the first visionary and still their chair, pledged to raise $3 million for park planning once the lease is approved. The first $1 million will come from the A.J. Fletcher Foundation — Capitol Broadcasting money — thanks to his fellow visionary Jim Goodmon, Capitol Broadcasting's CEO, and his wife Barbara Goodmon, who is president of the foundation. The V's made the announcement at a press event held on the high ground of Dix Hill with the Raleigh skyline — thanks to a cloudless blue sky — shimmering in the background.
True, the skyline has just a few tall buildings to show so far. But Jay Spain, head of the Friends group, suggested that we think about what Raleigh's skyline will be — and what the city of Raleigh will be — in 100 years. Our decision to preserve Dix Hill as a park will be celebrated then and hailed as a wonderful gift from us to the future, Spain said, one that was vital to the great city Raleigh can and will be.
Goodmon made a similar point, recalling that when he started working at Capitol Broadcasting, the Raleigh-Durham TV market was 63rd in the country — not very big, in other words. Today, it's the 24th biggest. We've moved ahead of Charlotte. (!) "This is a big place," Goodmon said, "and it deserves big ideas."
The Dix Park vision, Goodmon added, is a very big idea — as big as any he can remember around here ... ever.
Poole acknowledged that the park movement began with the Friends and with Dix306, Padgett's group, and he came to it later. But not a lot later, and it must be said that when Poole signed on and started the Visionaries, he brought the business leadership of Raleigh into partnership with our civic and neighborhood leadership ... and even with that combination, it took seven years to reach the verge of success.
The park can be Raleigh and the state's jewel, Poole said. "North Carolina has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to save this jewel."
For his part, Goodmon expressed confidence that the Council of State will come through and back the lease that Gov. Bev Perdue's staff negotiated with Raleigh. But that's just the first step, Goodmon said. The critical next step is putting together a great plan to get the park going over the next quarter-century. "Good results without good planning is good luck," he said, "and I don't believe in good luck."
Yes, planning is critical, for the next quarter-century and beyond. How the park will be run — by the city? A private nonprofit? A public authority? And what will be in it? Which buildings will be preserved and which ones removed? All these questions and many more must be answered. The park can be connected to downtown via an existing railroad corridor — who's going to do that and when?
It'll be nice to move on to these very interesting questions once the foundational one — will the park exist? — is answered. Seven years on, it's about to be.