The Research Triangle Foundation, which manages Research Triangle Park, is deep in the planning phase of its first planned re-development in 50 years, says Bob Geolas, its president and CEO.

“We’re about 60 to 70 percent through the process,” in planning the 100-acre Park Center, Geolas told WRAL Tech Wire at the State of the Research Triangle breakfast Thursday.

Geolas declined to discuss specific elements of the mixed use park, which will include retail and residential components as well as office space.

“The board met last week and gave the thumbs up to keep going. We expect to be able to show people what we’re going to do by late September or early October.”

Geolas added they’ll disclose specifics then, such as when people will see “actually physical development and the first retail operations will open. “We’re making great progress on all of that,” Geolas adds.

A New Kind of Place

Although Geolas points out that more than 50 percent of the companies in Research Triangle Park employ 20 people or less, it’s often perceived as friendlier to large company campuses such as IBMs. The common complaints are that it’s tough to find a place for lunch, coffee or to drop off dry-cleaning.

Geolas admits that can be a problem for the smaller firms without a company cafeteria and other on-site amenities. But it’s more than that, he says.

The Park Center project is intended to be “a new kind of place” that combines living and working space. “It’s about a collaborative commons place where people can share ideas,” Geolas says.

He adds that the region has developed “Great incubation spaces in Raleigh and Durham creating all these startups.” But where do they go when they leave the incubation space? “We’re looking at that second generation space that will be accessible, affordable and allows them to stay in the RTP and the region.

“Not a lot of other places in the country provides an opportunity for them to mix with the big companies who are interested in what these startups have and may even want to acquire them. Our environment will allow that type of convergence to occur.”

Geolas says the Foundation hasn’t calculated what the first phase of Park Center development will cost.

“We’ll know better when the planning is completed. But the total build-out will be in the billions.”

The project, in addition to the 100-acre first phase, includes a larger innovation district of 400 acres.

Connecting the Region to the World

With the region actually ahead of the state and the nation in recovering from the recession, Geolas says “The timing here is great and will provide new opportunities and connections across the state.” He notes that the Foundation is thinking not only of the region, but also of the rest of the state.

“There’s no question that the RTP is bouncing back from the recession, but a lot of other places in the state are not bouncing back and may even be falling behind. So this has to be dedicated to the larger state.”

How will it accomplish that mission? “We’ve begun a conversation around NC with a bus tour a year ago. I think it goes back to linking into the community colleges, a great statewide network, and the public and private colleges. If we can provide global access to their research, local economic development agencies, and schools, they can tell their story to the world.”

Geolas says the Foundation’s emphasis on the need for continuing investment in education during its Thursday State of the Research Triangle breakfast is based on the belief that “Our region’s success is tied to the talent we have. We don’t have huge timber, coal, or oil resources. What we have, Is people. We invested in a strong K-12, community college and university system that resulted in 50 years of enormous success. Education is the most important investment we can make in the state.”

Economic development of the future, says Geolas, “Will be about a narrative, where you live and what your community is like, not just statistics.”