Durham chamber honors developer who helped build RTP’s ‘strong foundation’

Mar. 27, 2014 @ 08:07 PM

The plan to buy the land for the Research Triangle Park was first announced when Robb Teer was in junior high school, and he remembers talking about the business park over the dinner table with his family.

Durham’s economy was based on tobacco, and he said the park offered an opportunity that “we never really dreamed of.” Now 69, Teer said that if it hadn’t been for the park, he’s not sure what his life would have been like.

“The park offered just endless opportunities to work and to grow and to do some very interesting, fascinating things,” Teer said Thursday. “It just unfolded as I grew up, and as I went to work, and as I pursued my career.”

The Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce honored Teer on Thursday with the Civic Honor Award. Given annually since 1933, the award is given to people who have made “extraordinary contributions” to the community.

Teer is the third generation of his family involved in contracting, building and development. Through the company founded by his grandfather he was involved in early Research Triangle Park construction projecst, including the launch of the park’s first and only hotel, the Governors Inn.

And since 1986, he’s been president of his own company, Durham-based Teer Associates, which has been involved in building projects including offices for IBM Corp GlaxoSmithKline, United Therapeutics Corp. and Biogen Idec.

Teer’s grandfather, who founded a construction and grading company called Nello L. Teer Co. in 1909, received the award, and so did his father and uncle, who ran his grandfather’s company until its sale in 1980.

“Robert D. Teer Jr. dedicated his life’s work to building a better Durham,” said Michael Schoenfeld, the vice president for public affairs and government relations for Duke University, and the 2013 chairman of the board for the chamber.

Before running his own company, Teer said, he worked for the company launched by his grandfather. The company submitted a proposal to the Research Triangle Foundation, the nonprofit that mages the park, to build a service center in the RTP that included a hotel, five banks, a post office, and eventually, an office park.

The company was involved in launching the operations of the independently owned hotel, which was called the Governor’s Inn. Teer said he was responsible for hiring the manager who hired the hotel staff, among other duties.

As part of a new initiative to redevelop the Research Triangle Park to position it for the future, the foundation repurchased the hotel, which had become a Radisson, and started demolition this month. The foundation has a plan to add more urban development clusters in the park, starting on land including the hotel’s site.

 “I think in the case of the hotel, it probably was its time,” Teer said. “The park’s got to put something there that really sets it off. The hotel (didn’t fit with) that vision, and I certainly understand that.”

In addition, Teer’s company developed the majority of the office complex known as Park Center in the Research Triangle Park.

The property on Park Office Drive had at one time housed tenants such as Lenovo, IBM Corp., and the research institute RTI International.

Teer said he had sold that property as part of a package of real estate in 1985, and managed it until 1998.

Earlier this year, the foundation announced the purchase of Park Center as part of the redevelopment effort. The office park had been largely vacant in recent years.

“I’m excited about that,” Teer said of the redevelopment effort. “I hope I will see some of that in my lifetime.”

Bob Geolas, president and CEO of the park foundation, said Teer’s work is a model for the park for the future.

“Even though we’re looking to the future, we’re basing so much on what we’re doing on our strong foundation (from) our past,” he said.

In addition to giving out the civic award, the chamber also inducted the first members into the “Bull City Hall of Fame,” which recognizes people whose work has made an impact not just in Durham, but around the nation and globe.

The inductees were Mary-Dell Chilton, founder of the Research Triangle Park’s Syngenta Biotechnology Inc. and a plant biotechnology pioneer; Dr. Robert J. Lefkowitz, a 2012 recipient of the Nobel Prize in chemistry; and Blake S. Wilson, the co-director of the Duke Hearing Center who received the 2013 Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award is a pioneer in cochlear implant research.

“(They are) three individuals who, each in their own way, brought great distinction to our city by changing the world,” Schoenfeld said.