New RTP master plan promises more density, amenities

RTP master plan foresees future redevelopment efforts likely focused on three areas within the park

dbracken@newsobserver.comNovember 9, 2012 

— The Triangle’s economic engine took its first step toward remaking itself Friday as the Research Triangle Park unveiled the first update to its master plan since its creation 53 years ago.

The 68-page document lays out a vision of a more densely developed park with a wider range of amenities. The Research Triangle Foundation, which manages the park, also announced Friday that Hines, a Houston-based developer, has been selected to spearhead the redevelopment efforts.

“We’re looking to make the park more attractive for a new generation of innovators and entrepreneurs,” said Bob Geolas, the foundation’s president and CEO. “They want physical density, but they also want a density of ideas.”

The new master plan describes three main areas within the 7,000-acre park where future redevelopment efforts are likely to be focused.

The first area to be redeveloped will be a 300- to 400-acre area at the northern, Durham County end. The project, tentatively called Triangle Commons, is to be the commercial heart of the park with a mix of shops, restaurants and residential developments. The plan calls for Triangle Commons to contain as much as 7 million square feet of new development, including a hotel and conference center.

Hines has already begun the site and land planning, and over the coming months will work to identify development partners and line up financing.

Many of the changes outlined in the new master plan are designed to address two pressing issues: RTP’s dwindling supply of developable land, and its near total lack of amenities.

The park’s previous approach to development – selling large chunks of land to major companies for sprawling campuses – is no longer sustainable.

“Under the old model, RTP’s out of land,” said John Alschuler, chairman of HR&A Advisors, one of the firms the foundation hired to help develop the new master plan.

RTP has only about 600 acres of vacant land left for sale, and Alschuler said under current rules the park can accommodate only 45,000 jobs and about 26 million square feet of development. The park is already home to about 39,000 employees and 22 million square feet.

The new master plan seeks to make more efficient use of the land by reducing setback requirements and loosening other land-use restrictions. Much of the park’s existing real estate is large, single-tenant buildings, but the master plan envisions more flexible real estate options that will make RTP more accessible to a wider range of companies.

Alschuler said the new plan would allow the park to accommodate 150,000 jobs and 84 million square feet of office and research space. While RTP already contains ample open space, Alschuler said the master plan seeks to make more of it accessible to employees and visitors through the creation of parks and other public spaces.

The decision to add more uses within the park is an acknowledgement that high tech workers – and the companies that employ them – want to be surrounded by more than just their fellow employees. The bulk of the new shops, restaurants and residential areas would be in Triangle Commons, which would be near a planned commuter rail station. About 15,000 employees now work within walking distance of the proposed station.

The master plan envisions turning Park Center, an aging and largely vacant office park at N.C. 54 and Davis Drive, into a business-support center with a limited number of shops catering to surrounding employees.

The third development area is Kit Creek Center, which would become a cluster of research facilities in the southern, Wake County portion of the park. Kit Creek would encompass about 850 acres. The plan calls for as much as 5.5 million square feet of new development in an area that now has about 3.3 million square feet.

Kit Creek also is likely to include a limited amount of retail and restaurants near the proposed transit stop in that section of the park.

Most of the details of the new master plan have been in place for a year, but Geolas said the foundation wanted to make sure all the park’s stakeholders were on board before making it public. Their support is crucial, particularly since a number of companies now own land in the area that is to become Triangle Commons.

Bracken: 919-829-4548

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