The first major effort to modernize Research Triangle Park by adding retail and residential development, as well as public parks and an outdoor amphitheater, is set to begin Jan 1.
The Research Triangle Foundation, the not-for-profit that manages the park, plans to announce Thursday that it is moving ahead with the first phase of its redevelopment of Park Center, an aging office park at N.C. 54 and Davis Drive that the foundation took control of early last year.
The project is being financed with $50 million in private and public sector funds.
The foundation is contributing $20 million, matching the $20 million that Durham County officials pledged toward the project on Monday when they voted to rezone the Park Center site. The remaining $10 million is coming from RTP’s owners and tenants, Bob Geolas, the foundation’s president, said in an interview Wednesday with members of The News & Observer’s editorial board and editors.
The roughly 50-acre site will be the first land redeveloped according to RTP’s updated master plan, which was unveiled in November 2012. The plan envisions a more densely developed park with a mix of amenities that high-tech workers have increasingly come to expect.
“We need a way to get people excited about the future of Research Triangle Park,” Geolas said, acknowledging that the appeal of working in the park is not as strong as it once was.
The foundation expects it will take about 18 months to make the necessary infrastructure improvements to the eastern portion of the Park Center site, which could ultimately contain 3 million square feet of new development. The initial work will focus on the plan’s public spaces, which include a dog park, sculpture garden and 5,000-seat amphitheater.
The plan also identifies sites for two hotels, two corporate office towers, several hundred apartments and 300,000 square feet of retail in the center of the development. The foundation has partnered with Hines, a Houston-based developer, to help it reach individual development agreements with private developers for those sites. Construction on those projects is not expected to begin for another 24 to 36 months.
The entire build out of the first phase is expected to take 7 to 10 years.
Geolas said he wanted to wait until the foundation had secured the land, financing, and the rezoning of the site before going out into the marketplace and approaching developers. The foundation could sell or lease a site to a developer, or form a joint venture.
Work on Park Center won’t affect The Frontier, a five-story building in Park Center that the foundation reinvented earlier this year. The building, which offers some free space to startups and others, is in the western portion of Park Center that is scheduled to be redeveloped in the second phase.
Research Triangle High School, which is in the section of Park Center slated to be redeveloped, will close in December and relocate to a new site nearby, Geolas said.
Once site work begins, foundation officials should find out fairly quickly how attractive the development opportunities within Park Center are to investors. Park Center’s central location along Interstate 40, and its close proximity to both the airport and so many large employers, could make it very appealing to both corporate tenants and retailers.
Among the corporate executives that Geolas said took a look at sites in Park Center was the CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA. The automaker was considering relocating its U.S. corporate headquarters from New Jersey to North Carolina, but announced in January that it would move to Atlanta.