Could the future of Dix Park include a boutique hotel? An old hospital might be just the spot.

Could Dix Park have a boutique hotel?

That’s one of the more intriguing ideas raised by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, the firm picked by Raleigh to design a revamped Dix Park southwest of downtown.

It would be housed in the 1856 hospital designed by Alexander Jackson Davis, on the brow of the park’s highest hill.

It’s not a new idea. Myrick Howard, Preservation North Carolina’s president, has been enamored with the concept for years.

When looking for inspiration, there are at least two recent examples of 19th-century-mental institutions successfully converted into boutique hotels.

One is the Hotel Henry in Buffalo, N.Y., where an 1870s insane asylum designed by Henry Hobson Richardson was recently redesigned and converted into a hotel by architect Deborah Berke. She’s the dean of the Yale School of Architecture who redesigned the 21c Museum Hotel in downtown Durham.

The other is the Blackburn Inn in Staunton, Va. It was designed in 1828 by architect Thomas Blackburn, who worked under Thomas Jefferson on the Grounds at the University of Virginia. Not surprisingly, the material palette for the Western State Lunatic Asylum in Staunton was red brick with white columns, similar to U.Va’s. That redesigned mental hospital opened up as a 49-room boutique hotel in June.

But could a boutique hotel make sense for Dix Park? Yes – but physical, financial, emotional and political hurdles remain.

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(News and Observer, 8/25/18)