Research Triangle Park, N.C. — Leaders of Research Triangle Park are wasting no time implementing a new strategic plan designed to help North Carolina's "cradle of innovation" thrive in future years.
The Research Triangle Foundation, which runs the park, announced Friday that it has selected real estate development firm Hines as its private-sector partner. The Houston-based company will work with the foundation as a developer and investor, Foundation Chief Executive Officer Bob Geolas said.
Already anticipated is a mixed-use center, which would include apartments and town houses, to be built on the northeast portion of the 7,000 acre park. Hines and the foundation will provide funding, Geolas said.
The project, to be called Triangle Commons, is part of an effort to provide a more urban environment along with affordable housing. They envision housing that RTP service and support workers can afford. Those workers could live inside the park, cutting down their costs, commuting and traffic.
Geolas said Hines was picked after interviews with "half a dozen firms that have global experience."
Hines operates in more than 100 countries and has developed 260 million square feet of residential and office space across more than 800 properties. The firm is privately held and has operated since 1957. It controls assets of some $24 billion.
The announcement came during an 11 a.m. news conference at Research Triangle Foundation's headquarters to unveil a new master plan. Leaders said the plan represents a "once-in-a-generation opportunity to re-envision the concept of the RTP as a center of innovation for the 21st century."
In stark language, the foundation calls on leaders across the state and region to "refine the plan elements and implement them over time. In this way, the Research Triangle Park, as the defining nucleus of the Triangle area, can help its companies thrive and, in the process, remain an engine of prosperity for the region for decades to come.
"To ensure the park remains at the forefront of technology and applied science, it must reposition itself to respond to new realities in the global marketplace, in the region, and in the workplace itself," the plan states.
"Maintaining the status quo at the park is not strategically sustainable. The dwindling number of remaining vacant sites and the need for a more vibrant, mixed-use heart where none exists now are but two indicators of the need for change."
The plan describes Triangle Commons as a "cluster" that would provide "the greatest range of amenities and uses to support research and creates a new sense of a heart for the park."
The plan also calls for two other clusters.
One would focus on business support as a office/commercial hub, with the working title of Park Center. Its location would be near the Park's geographic center.
The other would be Kit Creek Center, with an emphasis on large scale research. It would be built in the southern portion of the park in Wake County.
Although the plan was unveiled Friday, several of the basic changes have already been embraced by the Wake County Board of Commissioners.
It recently approved several changes in zoning for RTP at the urging of Geolas.
Geolas, who helped develop Centennial Campus at North Carolina State University and a research park in South Carolina, was hired a year ago in part to shepherd the creation of the plan.
"The plan is transformative and achievable, tempering vision with pragmatism," the authors say.
RTP, launched in 1959, covers 7,000 acres and is the site of more than 170 companies with about 40,000 employees.
High-tech and biotech giants such as IBM, GlaxoSmithKline, Cisco, NetApp and EMC have built major campuses and offices in RTP. RTI International, a global research and development organization, was launched as one of the first tenants. The state's Biotech Center, the hub of North Carolina's growing biotech industry which is one of the nation's largest, also is located there.
However, changes in employee and company demands, such as a desire for a more "urban design" with nearby entertainment and restaurants, as well as the gradual utilization of most RTP land, have made a new vision for the future.
"Companies and employees today want an environment and an experience that encourages collaboration and creativity," Geolas said recently. "Our new master plan is designed to do just that."
Durham, Raleigh competition
The success of downtown Durham's revitalization – focused in large part on new and emerging technology companies – and Red Hat's recent decision to locate its headquarters in downtown Raleigh reflect the kinds of competition RTP faces for companies as entrepreneurs and technology workers seek benefits beyond a research park model workplace that lacks restaurants, entertainment, opportunities for networking and nearby housing.
In the plan, the foundation notes that "many of today's knowledge workers expect amenities and opportunities to connect and share ideas in a socially dynamic setting."
In pitching rezoning changes, Geolas said the Park must work with companies to improve worker recruitment with improved access to transportation and affordable housing, while at the same time including green space. By allowing housing, Geolas also said RTP could help combat traffic congestion.
Several approved rezoning changes, as reported by the Raleigh Public Record, reflect how the RTP of the future could look:
- Building height limits would be increased to 14 stories.
- Much smaller lots would be available, dropping from the current minimum of 8 acres, with width being cut to 300 feet from 400 feet.
- Buildings could be located closer to streets.
- There would be more flexibility for parking.
- Companies would be allowed larger signage.
Bus tour to promote plan
To promote the plan, the foundation will launch a statewide bus tour, called Pathways to Opportunity, on Nov. 13.
“We want to reaffirm the park’s founding mission, which is to serve all of North Carolina," Geolas said. "We should begin that process by getting around the state, meeting with people and hearing about the challenges and opportunities they face.”
The tour's first event will take place at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh. Bob Ingram, chairman of the Research Triangle Foundation Board, and Geolas will be among the speakers.
The bus tour schedule is:
- Nov. 13: Raleigh, Greensboro
- Nov. 14: Sanford, Asheboro, Winston-Salem
- Nov. 15: Boone, Conover, Asheville
- Nov. 16: Lenoir, Charlotte
- Nov. 19: Raleigh, Durham
- Nov. 26: Rocky Mount, Pinetops, Elizabeth City
- Nov. 27: Washington, Greenville
- Nov. 28: Kinston
- Nov. 29: Wilmington, Fayetteville
- Nov. 30: Pembroke, Pinehurst
- Dec. 3: RTP Headquarters