A new strategic plan for the future of the Research Triangle Park warns that leaders must “re-invent” North Carolina’s “cradle of innovation” over the next 50 years because the current model “is not strategically sustainable,” says the RTP Foundation, which runs the Park.

The master plan was expected to be unveiled at 11 a.m. Friday at a press conference at the RTP Foundation’s headquarters. It represents a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to re-envision the concept of the Park 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,” the Plan says, “in the global marketplace, in the region, and in the workplace itself.”

“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.”

To begin implementation of the plan, the Foundation also will introduce a private sector commercial developer at the press conference.

While the plan is being 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 the Park at the urging of Bob Geolas, the recently hired chief executive officer of the RTP Foundation.

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.

‘Transformative’ plan

“The Plan is transformative and achievable, tempering vision with pragmatism,” the authors say.

The Park, launched in 1959, covers 7,000 acres and is the site of more than 170 companies with some 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 Park’s 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 in the Park.

However, changes in employee and company demands, such as a desire for a more “urban design,” such as nearby entertainment and restaurants, as well as the gradual utilization of most Park 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 the Park 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 the Park 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:

  • 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