Published: Oct 06, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Oct 06, 2012 04:58 PM
DURHAM - Research Triangle Foundation CEO Bob Geolas gave city and county leaders the big-picture plan for Research Triangle Park on Wednesday, with the details yet to be determined.
The plan calls for making the 53-year-old research park over in 21st-century style, with dense development around mass-transit stations, including stores, restaurants and homes alongside offices and laboratories.
“We want to make sure we keep the park at a position where we can adapt and change to all the growing industry and research demands that we may see,” Geolas told Durham’s Joint City-County Planning Committee.
The plan calls for development “tiers” across the park’s 7,000 acres, using some of the wide lawns and deep setbacks for future building sites. New regulations would create three thematic “clusters”:
• Mixed-Use Center toward the park’s north end, “with spaces exciting and engaging enough the public will want to visit”;
• Park Center near the old Governor’s Inn location, with office and commercial space in “an area of the park that definitely needs upgrading”; and
• Research Cluster at the south, with a small “amenity core” serving research businesses.
“Think of it as a sophisticated infill project,” Geolas said.
Mass transit, he said, is a key element, with the clusters set along the proposed commuter-rail line between Durham and Raleigh and, possibly, a light-rail line within the park itself.
The plan also calls for some new service and “pedestrian-scale” roads, improved landscaping and water conservation measures.
City Council Member Diane Catotti asked who’s going to pay for it.
“We have to have some private capital,” Geolas said. “We as a foundation will look at our own investments we can make in the park. ... Then we would look at what adjustments could be made in the special tax district we are in.”
“The obvious question for me is, what are you going to be asking from the city and county?” Catotti said.
“At this point we don’t have those expectations,” Geolas said.
Retailers and other new auxiliary businesses would have to pay regular county sales taxes, and hotel guests would pay an occupancy tax, said County Commissioner Ellen Reckhow.
Mixed-use density is a radical departure from RTP’s current design, with broad lawns and woods separating buildings. The campus concept reflects 1950s tastes, but times and tastes have changed, Geolas said.
Still, it took an act of the General Assembly to allow for the sort of reconceiving the park’s management has in mind. In its last session, legislators let RTP and its local governments create “Urban Service Districts” for combinations of research, retail and residences.
“People are working differently than they used to,” he said. Park employees want to engage with each other and want amenities such as coffee shops and places to eat, which the current park lacks.
“We want to make sure the park is highly collaborative. That’s not just that buildings are closer together with common spaces and courtyards that foster collaboration but that we build a much more collaborative culture within the park ... and with areas around the park” to avoid any “boundary where the park exists and the real world begins.”