The big thinkers who created Research Triangle Park in 1959 to spur the region’s economy would appreciate the ambition behind the plans to renew the park for the 21st century.
Bob Geolas, the RTP Foundation’s president and CEO, and the park’s board are proposing $50 million worth of retail and residential development with public parks and even an outdoor amphitheater. The plans reflect gutsy ideas for a place that has always represented a rather academic setting for important people doing important work.
But the revolution of 1959 couldn’t last forever, and the RTP board consisting of CEOs and university presidents and others recognized the need for a second revolution. Geolas, a veteran of N.C. State’s Centennial Campus who ran Clemson University’s automotive research campus, came to RTP four years ago and in 2012 announced a new master plan for the park.
On Thursday, the details were unveiled. Park Center, a 100-acre office park at N.C. 54 and Davis Drive, will be redeveloped. The foundation took control of it last year. Thanks to grants from the RTP Foundation ($20 million), Durham County ($20 million) and the park’s owners and tenants ($10 million), the project is ready to proceed.
What will result is something even the park’s visionary founders did not foresee. The 50-acre site will have two hotels, corporate office towers, apartments, retail space. Also in the development will be a dog park, sculpture garden and 5,000-seat amphitheater. Research Triangle High School will be relocated nearby.
The amenities will make the RTP setting appealing to younger employees, whom Geolas said balk at working in “mom and dad’s office park.”
The Park Center site should be a prime draw for businesses wishing to relocate, whether they need a sizable corporate headquarters or are, like many of the park’s current businesses, of moderate size in terms of numbers of employees. In addition to its new offerings, Park Center’s location will have strong appeal. It’s right on Interstate 40; it’s close to an airport that now offers overseas flights to London and Paris; it’s adjacent to great research universities.
Geolas noted that the chief executive of Mercedes-Benz USA looked at sites in the Park Center when the company was considering relocating its corporate headquarters. In the end, Atlanta got the nod. But another company could make a different decision with the changes in Research Triangle Park.
The Park Center redevelopment will energize not just the park, but a region and a state. The park’s past was illustrious. Now, it appears the future is soon to arrive.