Raleigh strikes deals so conservancy can raise money for Dix Park

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A group of local business leaders and philanthropists have the city’s blessing to collect donations that will go toward planning and developing Raleigh’s Dorothea Dix Park.

The Raleigh City Council on Tuesday approved a Memorandum of Understanding with the nonprofit Dix Park Conservancy, allowing the group to raise money for the 308-acre park that the city last year bought from the state government for $52 million.

“All great parks have conservancies and partnerships like this,” Mayor Nancy McFarlane said in an interview. “It can’t be the best it could be if we’re relying solely on taxpayer money.”

The 5-year deal outlines the conservancy’s relationship with the city and sets fundraising expectations.

The conservancy’s initial focus, as stated in the contract, will be on raising $2 million to $3 million to help pay for the park planning. That could include picking up part of the tab for a consulting firm or paying for inspections of old buildings that still occupy the site, McFarlane said.

And the best news about this deal, says Conservancy President Jim Goodmon: donors like A.J. Fletcher, the Sloan Family Trust, Gregory Poole, Assad Meymandi and Ann and Jim Goodnight have already given a total of about $3 million.

“We’re ready to provide the money when they’re ready to go,” Goodmon said in an interview.

Once the Master Planning Process is complete, the conservancy will likely turn its attention to raising money for specific projects.

Raleigh this year is in its “planning to plan” stage with Dix Park, where four tenants still occupy about 57 percent of the property. City staff will work with the City Council over the next few months to set up executive and advisory master planning committees that will work with consultants – who have yet to be hired – on developing a vision for Dix Park over the next two years.

The memorandum of understanding establishes some committee members and outlines how others will be selected.

The executive committee will have eight members: Mayor McFarlane, a council member of her choice, two city staff members, three members of the conservancy and the N.C. State University Chancellor, Randy Woodson. McFarlane will serve as chair, while the conservancy will pick a vice-chair.

The executive committee will have final say over how conservancy money is spent, while advisory board will be responsible for engaging the public with the planning process and leading topic-specific work groups.

The advisory committee will have 45 members who are picked by the Raleigh City Council after an open application process. The application period will open in May and the council is expected to make its recommendations in July, said Kate Pearce, a city staffer who’s in charge of the process.

The city hopes to appoint a diverse group of community members that boasts an array of skills and backgrounds, Pearce said. It’s unclear how many conservancy members will get preference. The memorandum of understanding states the advisory board will have “strong” conservancy membership.

The conservancy includes about 40 people, from politicians like state treasurer Janet Cowell and business leaders from News & Observer Publisher Orage Quarles III to Myrick Howard, president of Preservation North Carolina.

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