Facing Affordable Housing Crisis, Raleigh City Councilors Look to Upgrade... Their Own Offices???

By Brent Woodcox

During last year's Raleigh City Council elections, a subject of great debate was the proposed $165 million renovation/reconstruction of the existing city council offices and campus. At least one candidate took to referring to the plan as the "Taj Mahal City Hall." Now with last year's election in the rearview mirror, councilors are moving forward with their plan for the expensive upgrade.

As a refresher...

City Hall could last another 15 years, but Raleigh leaders say they want to tear it down and build a new government campus with commercial office and retail space.

City Council members say they don’t want to renovate the City Hall, vacant police station and parking deck on the downtown block bounded by Morgan, McDowell, Hargett and Dawson streets. Instead, they want to demolish them and start over on the site.

“This whole block is an anti-civic block,” Councilman Russ Stephenson said. “This building is an anti-civic building.”

Last year, the city hired Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, which designed the new One World Trade Center buildings in New York City, as its primary consultant to create a master plan for a municipal campus. Council members on Tuesday offered tentative guidance on how to proceed with the project, which the city expects to complete in the next five to seven years.

The six-story City Hall, which opened on Hargett Street in 1983, could serve its purpose for more than another decade, according to city staff. But council members described it as an eyesore that fails to meet the needs of government or residents.

“This building needs to come down,” Councilman Dickie Thompson said.

A new campus should have more windows, more green space and more reasons for residents and downtown workers to engage with City Hall, Councilman David Cox said.

“One things I’d like to avoid is a lot of office space with no windows,” he said.

It’s unclear how much of the campus would be devoted to the private sector. ...

City staff estimated last year that the project could cost more than $165 million.

Raleigh hopes to sell off some of its other downtown properties to raise money and help offset construction costs. It owns property around Moore Square, One Exchange Plaza off of Fayetteville Street, Charter Square and the Dillon building on West Martin Street, among other sites.

The properties likely won’t go on the market until the master planning process for the new campus is complete, City Manager Ruffin Hall said last year. Raleigh could make at least $38.2 million from selling about a half-dozen of its downtown properties, according to a city staff estimate. ...
— Andy Specht - N&O

At today's city council work session, the issue of the $165 million upgrade resurfaced. ITB Insider had the preview.

A new conceptual master plan for Raleigh’s consolidated civic campus is set to be unveiled later today at a City Council work session, offering a glimpse into what could be one of the largest downtown public projects of the 21st century. The new campus will be located on the site of the current Municipal Complex at 222 West Hargett.

Many core issues, such as whether the existing building should be remodeled and expanded or torn down entirely, are expected to be addressed. ...
— James Borden - ITB Insider

Those issues that need to be addressed made it onto the council's agenda for that portion of the meeting. They included:

What goals should this development achieve beyond providing additional and quality office space?

Should the Civic Campus Master Plan preserve and repurpose - or demolish and replace - the existing Raleigh Municipal Building?

What type of non-city program should be a priority in the Civic Campus Master Plan?

What kind of development approach should be considered by the Civic Campus Master Plan in order to leverage assets?
— Raleigh City Council Work Session Agenda - 2/13/18

It remains to be seen what direction the council will go in as the planning process continues. What is clear though is that at a time when the city of Raleigh is facing an affordable housing crisis, it seems pretty distasteful for councilors to be complaining about the luxuries and amenities available to their taxpayer-funded offices.

As previously covered on this site, the city is only managing to fund affordable housing needs at a rate of $7.24 million per year. It would take approximately 23 years at that rate for the amount the city spends on affordable housing to match the amount the city plans to spend on their own council chambers. 

This is a case of misplaced priorities and out of touch politicians running up the bill on taxpayers while ignoring critical infrastructure needs and abandoning their duty to ensure equitable access to housing. City council should abandon this project, stop wasting time and taxpayer money on it and refocus on solving the critical issues that Raleigh citizens are facing. What we shouldn't do is take our eye off the ball on affordable housing to focus on building an unaffordable new city complex.

Brent Woodcox