The Research Triangle Foundation, the not-for-profit that manages Research Triangle Park, announced Scott Levitan as its chief executive officer on Tuesday – a new leader it hopes will get its ambitious Park Center project underway.
Levitan will be the organization’s ninth CEO – replacing Liz Rooks, who took the helm in October after former president and CEO Bob Geolas unexpectedly resigned last year.
“For somebody from the outside, the Research Triangle Park is the nonpareil of research parks,” Levitan said in an interview. “It has created such an economic impact for North Carolina and the Triangle region – this is a dream job.”
The appointment comes as the organization navigates its redevelopment of the 100-acre Park Center, an aging office park at N.C. 54 and Davis Drive that the foundation took over a few years ago.
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That project, spearheaded by Geolas in 2014, is meant to evolve the 7,000-acre park from a collection of self-contained corporate campuses into a place where people can not only work but also live and socialize.
Research Triangle Park – home to massive companies such as IBM, GlaxoSmithKline and Cisco – currently has around 240 companies and 50,000 workers located there.
The first phase of the Park Center project plans to create public spaces including a 5,000-seat amphitheater, a dog park and sculpture gardens. Eventually the plan envision hotels, office towers, hundreds of apartments and 300,000 square feet of retail.
No. 1 priority
Work was meant to start last spring, but the first phase has yet to really get off the ground. And earlier this year, the foundation also parted ways with the initial developer Hines.
Levitan, who has spent the past decade working on a $1.5 billion mixed-use research park in Baltimore, says he has been hired to get that started.
“I can tell you that the No. 1 priority by the board is to move forward with Park Center,” he said. “The most important thing we do with Park Center is to make sure that it’s successful when it is built.”
Levitan, 62, was most recently the development director for the Science + Technology Park at Johns Hopkins and the New East Baltimore Community. He also previously worked for the real estate arms of Harvard University and Georgia Tech, where he oversaw the development of a 1.6 million square-foot campus in midtown Atlanta.
The initial master plan that RTF has been working from remains viable, Levitan said.
“The master plan is very impressive, and I think those bones and the sense that we are creating a center for the region and the park are all valid,” he said. “(Park Center) is transforming a park that has been thriving for 60 years, but things have evolved.
“It’s very important that we provide all the amenities that the current workforce needs to attract and retain talent at the park ... so it stays relevant for the next 60 years.”
There is a lot of urgency to get the project started, Levitan said, but RTF is going to take its time before it breaks ground. It still has to find a new developer.
“As we test the market, we will have to negotiate deals that work for the developer and us, and that will be sustainable,” he said. “I wouldn’t have taken the job if I didn't think it was a fantastic project – but we want to get it right.”
Durham County Commissioner Ellen Reckhow said the Park Center project will be key to attracting younger talent to the park, which was created in 1959.
Durham County has been heavily involved with Park Center from the start and has pledged $20 million.
“I was impressed by (Levitan’s) background and qualifications,” she said. “He seems to have a lot of experience with large development projects as we move forward with Park Center.
“I think (the project) is important because we are finding that our younger residents don't want long commutes – they would like to be able to bike and walk to work.”