If all goes accordingly, over the next week there will be numerous stories in the national and international media about the relaunch of Research Triangle Park.
After years – and years – of talking about overhauling its master plan, the Research Triangle Foundation, which manages the park, will unveil a new vision Friday. That event will be followed by a much more elaborate one in Raleigh on Tuesday and, yes, a bus tour around the state that is likely to confuse beleaguered voters who thought for sure campaign season was over.
Although much will be made of RTP’s new vision for itself, from a real estate standpoint it’s unlikely to include anything earth-shattering. In many ways, the new vision is simply a belated acknowledgement of a trend that long ago began transforming real estate markets in the Triangle and around the world.
Workers, particularly highly skilled ones who have a choice in where they work, want to be surrounded by more than just their fellow employees. They want amenities like restaurants, bars, stores, hotels – all the things that help create a vibrant street life and spur innovation among talented people.
For all its strengths, the park is basically the antithesis of this, and it has suffered in recent years because of it. Employment levels in RTP have remained largely flat over that period, and a considerable amount of the park’s real estate has become outdated and thus less valuable.
The success of the park’s new master plan will largely depend on whether private developers see opportunity in turning the new vision into a reality. On Friday, the foundation will announce the selection of a private partner to support its redevelopment efforts, and reports are that it will be a large and reputable firm.
This isn’t surprising, particularly given the massive amounts of institutional real estate money that has been pouring into the Triangle over the past 15 months. While RTP is still the brand most closely associated with the region’s economic vibrancy, that vibrancy has since spread to other areas, most notably the downtowns of Durham and Raleigh.
RTP, with its 7,000 acres, will never be confused with an urban center. But it does offer developers a unique canvas on which to build signature projects.
The park wants to be synonymous with innovation, but innovation shouldn’t be limited to the type of work being done there. It should be evident in the architecture, and in the public spaces that will be created as part of any redevelopment.
“I think that there will be significant developer interest if they play their cards right,” said Jim Anthony, CEO of Colliers International in Raleigh. “I don’t know what the cards look like yet. But there’s no reason in the world why the center of RTP can’t become a whole new downtown city. And that’s what it needs to be.”