The people of North Carolina, especially those fortunate enough to call the Triangle home, owe a debt that can never be repaid to the visionaries who created Research Triangle Park more than 50 years ago.

The young people of the future who will inherit the Triangle will owe an unpayable debt to the leaders of today who have put forth a stunning, daring and breathtaking vision for the Park over the next 50 years.

Unveiled Friday, the plan developed by the Research Triangle Foundation calls for changes across virtually the entire 7,000 acres which houses some 40,000 employees.

The board had the courage beginning two years ago to realize that the status quo was no longer acceptable. The Park helped usher in the era of similar research parks around the globe. As The Skinny has noted before, former Gov. Jim Hunt loves to talk about how leaders in the Far East once labeled it the “Golden Triangle.”

But we must all face facts.

The world has changed, especially in the United States.

The Park has not.

In its current form it remains successful but sterile. No homes. No entertainment. No food.

In short, all work but no fun.

Meanwhile, the work environment – especially for high tech – has changed incredibly so. Look at the change the “dot com” wunderkinds wrought in Silicon Valley, in New York, in Boston, in Austin Texas.

“Cool” is the word for work environments, from offices to nearby breweries and food trucks.

The rebirth of Durham is the most striking example in the Triangle.

But closing fast is Raleigh, which is seeking to blend a traditional and fast-growing downtown with hip. Witness Red Hat’s decision to move to a downtown tower.

Now it’s time for the Park to change.

The board has embraced it, and hired Bob Geolas as chief executive officer to implement it. Geolas helped build Centennial Campus and then moved to South Carolina for more park development.

Back in the Triangle after eight years, Geolas told The Skinny he can’t believe how much Durham and Raleigh have changed. He once lived in downtown Raleigh and couldn’t find a place to eat after dark. Now, he says, restaurants and bars are everywhere.

As for Durham? Well, he toured The American Underground and the American Tobacco historic district as well as other endeavors. He was “blown away.”

So can the Park be revitalized, changed from sterile to full of life?

The plan stipulates creation of a more urban feel with affordable housing available for all; clusters of services and targeted retail; places where people can collaborate in creating the world of the future.

Hines, the development firm coming on board as an investor and builder, can provide the knowledge and money to jump-start the Park to a new period of growth. 

Does a revitalized Park mean competition for Durham and Raleigh? 

Perhaps, but free enterprise is good and North Carolina needs all the bait it can create in order to lure companies in the future.

The Park has a limited amount of available land. It’s time to go vertical.

The Park is deadly dull. It’s time for some fun.

Traffic is a problem. Light rail linking Raleigh, Durham and Raleigh-Durham International Airport suddenly seems more viable.

The big companies are needed, no doubt. But an influx of smaller firms – perhaps the IBMs and Googles and Glaxos of tomorrow – need places to sink their roots.

Geolas pointed out that he didn’t realize that 50 percent of the employers in the Park have fewer than 200 employees.

Did you know that?

Here’s a tip of the Skinny’s hat to the Park’s board for having the courage to acknowledge the need for change – and to do something about it.

The Research Triangle Park 50 years from now could be a vastly different place than today – but one that is filled with people and vibrant companies, not a ghost town of shuttered R&D labs, factories and vacant parking lots.