RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK –  A Maryland-based developer, Willard Retail, will build what it calls a new “town center” in the heart of Research Triangle Park under a deal announced with the RT Foundation on Thursday.

The project will cover 12 acres in the larger area of land designated as Park Center that is adjacent to I-40.

Willard Retail, a commercial real estate development company, has been chosen to build a grocery store, health club, and what it calls “a distinctive mix of restaurants and small shops.” It will encompass some 150,000 square feet of space, according to Willard.

Park Center covers some 100 acres. The Research Triangle Foundation disclosed plans to build the center in October 2015 shortly after Durham County committed $20 million to help underwrite the cost of the project.

A rendering of Park Center

The RT Foundation is continuing to talk to other developers about additional parts of the Park Center project that is to include some 1,000 residential units, a hotel, a conference center, and more than 1 million square feet of office space, according to a spokesperson for Willard. Park Center is part of a new strategic plan developed for RTP under the auspices of the RT Foundation, which operates the Park.

“Park Center is a rare opportunity to develop a signature retail project to serve the highly-educated and affluent population that lives and works in the RTP area,” said Tom Sebastian, Willard’s Senior Vice President of Development. “We look forward to working with our local partners to bring this vision to life.”

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“The Research Triangle Foundation has anticipated this project for many years, and we know that the Willard team is the group that will deliver on the promise of this site. RTF, Durham County, and all of the companies in RTP are contributing to rebuilding the mixed-use core of RTP to serve the
community and Triangle Region,” said Scott Levitan, CEO of the Foundation, in the announcement.

“RTP, which is situated among three prestigious research universities, is already known as a world-class technology hub, hosting 280 companies, over 25 million square feet of lab and office space, and 50,000 high-tech workers.”

Levitan was named to the CEO post last year after Bob Geolas, who had spearheaded development of the initial Park Center plan, left.

The original plan was revamped under Levitan’s direction with a top priority being the securing of a developer for what has become known as the “town center.”

Park Center sits near the confluence of I-40, HWY 54 and Davis Drive.