Dorothea Dix Park PlanThe AJ Fletcher Foundation cares a great deal about mental health. We have long supported organizations that provide quality mental health services to those in need of care. One organization, The Healing Place, located on the Dorothea Dix property since 1999, operates as an emergency shelter and detoxification center for people enrolled in recovery and transition programs.

We also care a great deal about public recreation and community building – two things achieved by the development of a world-class destination park on the Dorothea Dix campus. This location is quite simply one of the most splendid pieces of property in Raleigh. The land surrounding what was once Dorothea Dix Hospital is uniquely ripe for development into a park – being so close to the center of a thriving city.

Late last year, the state signed a contract to lease the Dix property to the City of Raleigh. It was the culmination of many years of hard work by people from across the state. Folks in Raleigh were ecstatic to start working on building a destination park for the Capital City. New York has Central Park, Atlanta has Piedmont Park, and we would now have ours too. The park will serve as a connection and hub – uniting downtown to places like NC State’s Centennial Campus and the NC Farmers Market, both once part of the original Dix property.

The Dix property is in the news again this week because the NC legislature is considering reneging on the lease contract. Click here to see Jim Goodmon (Chairman of AJF’s Board) spell out why he thinks this is a terrible, dishonorable move. Click here to see Jimmy Goodmon (Member of AJF’s Board) speak on why he thinks this is bad for business in NC (he speaks at the 9:00 mark).

One of the more disheartening dynamics that has played out is the false dichotomy between mental health supporters and park supporters. The good people fighting for mental health reform have had a tough row to hoe in this state. Funding for psychiatric services has never been up to par and often the stigma around mental health issues makes it difficult for advocates to get traction. And the people fighting for this park understand that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to do a very good and very big thing. They are not divided in their intentions to serve the community. They are all good people fighting for important matters.

The fact is, the state of North Carolina for years has gone back on their word to support the mentally ill. If they pass this bill and go back on their word to lease this land to the City, mental health funding is not guaranteed to increase, but the reputation for not keeping promises certainly will.

Rather than go back on its word again, the State could be using the time they have in the General Assembly to really get to work on mental health reform. They could start tomorrow by passing a law that ensures any proceeds from the dix lease entered into last year would go directly to improve mental health services.

Caring deeply about both the park deal and mental health, I know that the fight here isn’t between these sides and it’s irresponsible to suggest otherwise. Both groups are worried about their state not keeping its promises. In working together on this, both groups can win.

Photo Above: A proposed schematic of what the Dix property could look like as a public park – from Dix306