Research Triangle Park unveils first tenant of its Park Center transformation

For the past five years, the plan to rejuvenate Research Triangle Park has been Park Center, a project that would turn nearly 100 acres of RTP into an urban town center with new offices, apartments and hotels, shopping and green space.

Park Center was billed as a chance to turn the world-famous business park from a collection of walled off corporate fortresses into a place where people could live, work and play.

It’s an update on a successful formula that had served the region well for the past 60 years — but in the eyes of many needed a refresh in a world where workers are increasingly drawn to hubs of entertainment and walkable communities rather than the suburbs.

The first step of that transformation finally came on Tuesday, with the groundbreaking of the Boxyard, a collection of shipping containers that will create a hub of restaurants, cafes and breweries next to the Park’s co-working space, the Frontier.

The foundation also named the anchor tenant of the Boxyard: Fullsteam Brewery, an award-winning brewery with a taproom near downtown Durham on Rigsbee Avenue.

An example of a container ship that will be used in the new Boxyard development inside Research Triangle Park. Zachery Eanes

The Frontier has been one of the most successful projects by the Park in recent years, turning old IBM offices into flexible space for startups and young companies. The four buildings that make up the Frontier are now home to 100 of the 300 companies based in RTP.

The Boxyard is meant to be an extension of that community, a place that will give the thousands of workers a place to go during or after work, rather than waiting for the traffic on Interstate 40 to die down.

“This is a transformational time for the Park,” said Smedes York, the chairman of the Research Triangle Foundation, the not-for-profit that manages RTP. “What you are seeing is more entrepreneurial activity here (at the Frontier) and the Boxyard will help with that.”

Beyond Fullsteam, nearly 50% of the shipping containers have been pre-leased, the foundation said. It did not name any of the other potential tenants at the event.

The containers are expected to be operating by next May.

“The Boxyard is really important (to the Frontier) because it will be a place for that community to gather and center,” Scott Levitan, CEO of the Research Triangle Foundation, told a crowd gathered at the groundbreaking.

Levitan then joked that if you came to the Boxyard after work around 4:30 or 5 p.m., “you’ll get home to Raleigh the same time as if you had left at five o’clock and sat on the Wade (Avenue) exit.”

The containers were inspired by a similar concept in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and will be retrofitted to hold small eateries and shops to create an indoor and outdoor gathering space.

The containers, which came from China and traveled all over the world in their past lives, will be aimed at giving restaurateurs a cheap place to experiment with new offerings and concepts, Levitan said.

The more intense transformation of the Park Center project is still to come.

The foundation hopes it will be able to find developers to build high-rise office buildings, hotels, a convention center and apartments around the Frontier sometime in the next five to 10 years.

The foundation has already named Willard Retail as the developer of a portion of the Park Center property off Highway 54.

Willard plans to build a 150,000-square-foot “town center” development there, which is expected to include a grocery store, health club, restaurants and small shops

This story was produced with financial support from a coalition of partners led by Innovate Raleigh as part of an independent journalism fellowship program. The N&O maintains full editorial control of the work. Learn more; go to

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Zachery Eanes is the Innovate Raleigh reporter for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun. He covers technology, startups and main street businesses, biotechnology, and education issues related to those areas.