Looking over a scale model of the future Dorothea Dix Park at Union Station last week, people saw different things. Some envisioned a scenic retreat. Others said they were more drawn to the park’s amenities—athletic fields or concerts at the amphitheater and in on-site event halls. 

And that’s the point: Downtown Raleigh’s much-heralded destination park is supposed to have something for everyone. Yet in trying to be all things to all people, the city will have to navigate a broad range of concerns, from transportation accessibility to how Dix will affect nearby housing affordability.  

The city unveiled the park’s draft master plan last week as part of a community session to solicit public input on the park. The city purchased the 308-acre site of the former mental hospital for $52 million in 2015 and retained the firm Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates to design it. While there’s no hard price tag yet on the park’s development, the firm’s previous projects have cost about $1 million per acre, according to city planning supervisor Kate Pearce.  

The plan divides the park into six distinct sections sewn together by a one-mile pedestrian loop. The first is the Downtown Gateway, a transitional area with playscapes and picnic areas. The second is The Valley, which will focus on large-scale events with a seven-thousand-person-capacity amphitheater. The third is called The Ridge, which will transform some of the site’s historic buildings into a hotel, event space, and visitor center. The fourth is The Creek, which will widen Rocky Branch Creek and provide access to natural habitats. Fifth, there’s The Grove, which will have recreation fields, botanical gardens, and a dog park. And finally, there’s The Meadow, a large field for residents to hang out, smell the flowers, and throw Frisbees. 

About half of the buildings on the property, including the administrative offices for the state Department of Health and Human Services, will be torn down. (The DHHS lease extends to 2025, Pearce says.)

Residents have the next couple weeks to provide feedback before a master plan is presented to the city council in February. If it’s approved, work could begin on some of the unleased parcels as early as 2021. Construction will happen in phases over the next two decades, “depending on resource ability,” Pearce says. 

Resident Ruby Green says she’s excited about the project, but she has some concerns, including what would happen to DHHS services such as vocational rehab. “Where are they going?” Green asked. A DHHS spokesman could not be reached for comment, but Pearce says the agency is actively exploring options for a new, consolidated campus somewhere else. 

Jackie Turner, meanwhile, said she was impressed by the scope of the plans but worried that the park could price out residents currently living in surrounding neighborhoods. 

“[The city needs] to be more aggressive to mitigate the impacts of those who feel they may be displaced,” Turner said. “But the answer is not to do nothing. It’s a delicate balance.”

“Great urban parks do positively impact property values,” Pearce says. The city’s planning department is looking into what exactly that impact will be. Proactive measures could preserve affordable neighborhoods around the park, Pearce says, and she expects that an affordability study will be brought before the city council next month. 

For Tom Simon, transportation planning will be key to avoid the park turning into a nightmare. Simon said he hoped plans would include multiple public transit options for accessing the park. 

As detailed as the city’s presentation was, nothing is set in stone, Pearce says. 

“If we’re mindful in ensuring this is equitable for all, then this can continue to be a great place to live for everyone,” Pearce says. 

To learn more or submit feedback, visit dixpark.org.