Moving forward in RTP

Oct. 22, 2013 @ 07:09 PM

When the Governor’s Inn hotel opened in the Research Triangle Park in 1972, the park, if no longer in its infancy, was in early adolescence, some of its biggest growth spurts yet ahead.

The hotel, modeled, according to its website, “after the original 1800s-era Governors Mansion” – hence its name – was the first lodging facility in Southeast Durham. Today, it remains the only hotel actually within the boundaries of the now-sprawling, internationally acclaimed park.

The hotel’s website still describes it as a “magnificent, historic property that offers you a truly remarkable experience.”

For much of its 40-plus years, that was probably true. In recent years, not so much.

Anonymous on-line reviews can be scathing and represent simply a single person’s experience, perhaps exacerbated by travel-weariness or a bad day. But this Yelp review from not long ago probably underscored the reality that the hotel’s best days were well behind it:

“It can barely hold its own with a Days Inn or Motel 6. The lobby, while pretty nice in a ‘lipstick on a pig’ sort of way, smelled of bleach masking old food smells….Avoid this facility at all costs.”

So it was no surprise that the Radisson chain, which several years ago acquired the hotel, was looking to sell it. The Research Triangle Foundation, which operates the research park, is going to buy it and demolish it to make way for new development as the park seeks to overhaul itself for the 21st century.

Until just a few years ago, the hotel was a frequent site of social, civic and business events, and a favored placed to stay close to the heart of the park. But that has been far less true in recent years.

It always seems a bit shortsighted to tear down a building and send its remains to the landfill.  But clearly breathing new life into that part of the park is important as it looks to the future.

Bob Geolas, president of the park foundation and the engineer driving a reinvention of the park for today’s needs and expectations, noted the hotel “sort of represents the past…we felt nothing could be a stronger sign of new days to come at the Research Triangle Park than purchasing that, and taking it down.”

The master plan for redevelopment of the park calls for residential options within the park, and a greater mixture of land uses with greater density. Today’s young workers are far more likely to be drawn to an area with walkability and nearby amenities than the sprawling, car-centric, isolated tracts popular in the 1960s and ’70s when the park was rising from the pine forests.

“We have to look at new models and opportunities that will allow us to reshape the park so it’s more competitive and a global brand,” Geolas said.

Given the park’s importance as an economic engine for the Triangle, that’s a worthy and vital goal.