The not-for-profit that manages Research Triangle Park has tapped Liz Rooks, who retired at the end of last year after more than a quarter-century at the organization, as interim chief executive. Smedes York, chairman of the Research Triangle Foundation, announced at a Durham County commissioners’ work session Tuesday that Rooks will serve as the interim CEO beginning next week.
The commissioners had requested an update on the foundation’s leadership and the progress of the first phase of redeveloping Park Center in the wake of last month’s surprising development – the news that Bob Geolas was stepping down as president and CEO after nearly five years at the helm of the nonprofit organization. Geolas, who oversaw the development of a master plan designed to transform the 7,000-acre park that boasts 240 companies and 50,000 workers, said in an interview last month that he was ready to do something else but didn’t have a definite plan.
Geolas, whose departure date wasn’t set when his plans became public, officially departed the foundation within the last week, York said in an interview following the meeting.
York said no timetable has been set for naming a permanent replacement for Geolas.
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“We’re sort of doing this one step at a time,” he said, adding that Rooks was a natural choice for interim CEO because “she is so familiar with everything.”
Asked if Rooks is in the running for the permanent job, York replied, “That is something we will certainly consider.”
He also said that the interim job won’t be one that lasts for just a month.
“I think she’d be there for awhile, but we don’t know the exact timing,” he said.
Over the years Rooks worked on many of the park’s long- and short-term projects, including implementing a master plan for the southern portion of RTP, overseeing the construction of three lakes in the park, and taking the lead in adding recreational amenities. She also worked closely with outside organizations on the development of the Park Center plan in 2014 and 2015.
“Liz Rooks is an institution,” Geolas said in a statement last year when her retirement was announced. “Her guidance throughout my first few years with the foundation has been incredibly beneficial. Without her insight, the RTP would not be on the path forward that it is today.”
York also said that foundation board member John Brantley, who retired after 29 years as director of Raleigh-Durham International Airport, “is going to be spending a lot of time at the foundation, working with the details of the actual construction plan” for Park Center.
Park Center was an aging office park at N.C. 54 and Davis Drive that the foundation took over. The $50 million first phase of redeveloping that property calls for the construction of public spaces – included a dog park, a sculpture garden and a 5,000-seat amphitheater.