Gov. Pat McCrory was jovial at his last Council of State meeting this morning, even cracking a few jokes, but he was also blunt and made no concessions about his feelings on developing dilapidated state buildings.
What he didn’t make clear at the meeting were his feelings about conceding the election and leaving his job after one term. Many of his colleagues at the table made small speeches at the conclusion of the meeting, thanking the Governor for his hard work and letting him know that he would be missed.
He smiled back at them, shaking his head a few times and then adjourned the meeting and quickly moved around the crowd, shaking just a few hands, before disappearing without taking any questions.
Most of the meeting was spent discussing the potential sale of three properties: a vacant Charlotte Correctional Facility; the Personnel Training Center across from William Peace University in Raleigh; and three buildings on Caswell Square on North Dawson Street.
Council members expressed concern about the vetting process and the procedure for which the buildings were put up for sale. McCrory grew frustrated about how long the process was taking and the bureaucracy of it all.
“We’re almost playing a chicken and egg game in bureaucratic process,” he said. “We’re just making it hard for them.”
McCrory has spent much of his term as governor pushing for the repair, sale or demolition of dilapidated state property as part of a plan dubbed “Project Phoenix.” The state owns about 12,000 buildings, many of which are unoccupied or underused, according to the Governor’s Office.
The Republican Governor called the Charlotte prison, which has been vacant since 2011, a blight and an embarrassment to the state. He said there was no reason not to sell it and allow for the private sector to redevelop the area.
“The state has a responsibility to deal with these buildings,” he added. “This is a huge problem across the state [and] we don’t have the money to demolish them.”
The Council agreed to sell the 49-acre property for $6 million, with only State Treasurer Janet Cowell objecting.
Council members voted to table the sale of the Raleigh properties, expressing many concerns about construction and development.
The Training Center sits on 1.77 acres and currently houses 12 state employees, who, if it would have been sold, would have moved to another building across the street.
The state received several offers for the property, with Council members considering an offer of $4.75 million from a group who wanted to demolish it and build an 8- or 9-story retail building with multi-family housing above it, according to John LaPenta, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Administration.
“It’s a win, win, win,” he said of the deal, adding that it could cost upward of $40-50 million if the state chose to renovate the building instead of selling.
Secretary of State Elaine Marshall said she would vote against it because there was already so much development in that area, she didn’t think it would be pedestrian friendly.
“That piece of land is the biggest damn eyesore,” McCrory replied. “It’s a piece of crap building. It’s government at its worst.”
He went on to say that from an urban planning standpoint, cities want density downtown, and that there wasn’t enough density in downtown Raleigh. He said the state should not be in the zoning business, and that the sale would be money back in the state’s pocket – money for schools and to pay police with.
Five of the 10-member council voted against the sale, but the group later unanimously voted to instead table it. They also voted to table the sale of three buildings on Caswell Square.
The buildings have been vacant for 20 years and LaPenta said there have been problems with homeless people starting fires in them during the winter.
Lt. Gov. Dan Forest was the first to speak against the sale, and said he didn’t think there could be a price tag put on the buildings just yet. He and Marshall said they would like to see the state work with the City of Raleigh to develop the area into a public, green space.
“A lot of goals could be accomplished if that kind of deal worked out,” Marshall said.
McCrory called the area an embarrassment for the city and the state, but said he also understood the need for more discussion.
“You don’t even notice how crappy it looks,” he said. “It looks like a slum. … I don’t know why the state’s getting a pass on this for a hundred years, and now we’re giving them another pass.”
McCrory, toward the end of the meeting, did mention the incoming administration, and said he hoped they could continue to transform the old state buildings in a beneficial way for the cities in which they occupy.