RTP’s transformation unfolds

Feb. 05, 2014 @ 05:22 PM

When then-Gov. Luther Hodges marshaled business and political leaders from the Durham-Raleigh region and across the state in the late 1950s to create what became the Research Triangle Park, they launched what the park’s website today calls “one of the most transformational public-private partnerships in national history.”

There is little if any hyperbole in that assertion. The park became a catalyst to turn the Triangle region into a one of the country’s fastest-growing areas. It led the region and the state beyond reliance on a textile-tobacco-furniture economy whose collapse was probably dimly foreseen, if at all, at the park’s founding.

Today, the park is in the early stages of what its leaders expect will be another transformational change.  In recent years, they have redefined and re-focused the park to adapt to expectations of companies and their employees in the modern knowledge-based economy.

Monday, park officials announced a significant step toward creating the park’s new future. The acquisition of the largely vacant – although once vibrant -- nine-building Park Center, on the heels of the purchase late last year of the Radisson Hotel and the building that houses Research Triangle High School, has given the park control of 100 acres to assemble its first significant redevelopment project.

Bob Geolas, the president of the Research Triangle Foundation that oversees the park, called it “maybe the biggest news we’ve had to share since the creation of the park itself a little over 50 years ago. Today, everything changes.”

On the 100 acres, the foundation’s plans call for as much as 3 million square feet of new residential and commercial development.  When, as officials expect, more acquisition links the new property with land at Cornwallis Road and Davis Drive where another major mixed-use project is envisioned, the park could accommodate 6 million square feet of new development. The plans predict perhaps 100,000 new jobs within the park where today nearly 40,000 people work at high-tech jobs.

Geolas speculated that executing that vision would bring “maybe the largest private investment made in the name of the people of North Carolina.”

The new development will be far denser than the sprawling campuses that have been the park’s signature. And while the original park included no residential options, urban-density-like living is expected to be very much a part of the new park. 

The park’s leaders realized a decade or more ago that it could not simply rest on its laurels – even as it remained the country’s largest research park. Competition was increasing and expectations were changing.

The past half-century in the Triangle has been dramatically different than it might have been had not the park’s founders had the vision – and the will – to transform thousands of acres of scrub pine into an internationally acclaimed research hub.

Monday’s announcement underscores that today’s leaders are moving to ensure that the park continues to make a profound difference in our region for the next half-century and beyond.