Aug 12, 2022 - News

Dix Park in Raleigh readies for new growth

A rendering of the picnic grove at Gipson Play Plaza.
Rendering of the Gipson Play Plaza's picnic grove, courtesy of Dix Park Conservancy

Construction on Dorothea Dix Park's Gipson Play Plaza begins this weekend, kicking off one of the first major infrastructure projects inside Raleigh's 300-acre signature public space.

Why it matters: Dix Park has been pitched by city leaders as a rare chance to build a grand central park in Raleigh, acquiring the former home of Dorothea Dix Hospital from the state in 2015 for $52 million.

  • The urban design website Curbed once called it the nation's most exciting park project, since few major cities have had a chance to build a park on such a large scale near their downtowns.
  • Currently, the park attracts 400,000 visitors per year, according to the Dix Park Conservancy. Among its major attractions: its scenic sunflower fields as well as J. Cole’s Dreamville Festival.
  • But leaders have a much larger vision for the park, one that attracts tourists from all over.
The view of the Raleigh skyline from Dix Park.
View of Raleigh's skyline from a meadow in Dix Park. Photo: Zachery Eanes/Axios

Driving the news: Pat and Tom Gipson, the founder of Thomas Gipson Homes, have given $10 million to the plaza project, a donation that is part of a wider effort to use private funds to defray the costs of building out major attractions in Dix Park. The naming rights are for 30 years.

Details: The plaza will feature a picnic grove and terrace, a water feature with a waterfall wall and extensive play areas for children.

  • It will sit on 18.5 acres of land near the entrance to the park off Lake Wheeler Road.
  • Construction is expected to take two years.

Dix Park Conservancy CEO Janet Cowell, the former state treasurer, said private funds are important for an ambitious project like Dix.

  • "We're a park that has not been designed as a park," Cowell said of the investments needed in Dix Park. "This is the first heavy infrastructure piece."
  • "It's 300 acres, so it's super big," she told Axios in an interview at the park. "It is going to take a lot of investment, and it is the type of thing that you can get private dollar donations to, you know, reduce the amount of taxpayer burden."
A rendering of a waterfall wall.
A rendering of the Gipson Play Plaza's waterfall wall, courtesy of Dix Park Conservancy

What's next: Raleigh City Council has proposed a $275 million bond to fund parks for this fall’s ballot — a portion of which would go toward Dix Park.

  • The play plaza is considered part of Dix Park’s first phase of development. Much of Dix Park's future infrastructure cannot be built until the Department of Health and Human Services moves its headquarters from there. DHHS hopes to move to a new headquarters on Blue Ridge Road, and it has leases at Dix Park ending in 2025 and 2040.
  • Future additions could include an improved greenway around Rocky Branch Creek, an amphitheater, restaurant and retail space and improved pedestrian connections to downtown.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to remove an incorrect reference to a dog park in Dorothea Dix park relocating. The park has already moved.

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