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Research Triangle Foundation Lands $50M to Jumpstart Park Center Plan

Xconomy Raleigh-Durham — 

North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park, for decades a source of inventions in technology and life sciences, is preparing to reinvent itself.

Founded through a collaboration of industry, government, and academia, the Park is turning to public-private partnerships once again to spark development, with $50 million in funding that paves the way for the Park’s first major revamp since its 1959 opening.

The Park’s 7,000 acres are home to research and development facilities for more than 200 companies, including IBM (NYSE: IBM), Cree (NASDAQ: CREE), Syngenta (NYSE: SYT), and GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK). But the Park currently boasts little in the way of retail, restaurant, or residential offerings.

That will change, thanks to the $50 million project to redevelop Park Center, a 100-acre site in the heart of the Park. The project was announced in 2012 by the Research Triangle Foundation, the nonprofit that manages the Park. Foundation president and CEO Bob Geolas said that the foundation spent two years ironing out legislative requirements for the project, as well as securing all of the property under foundation ownership. The last year has been spent fine-tuning the Park Center plans and securing the funding.

The foundation is contributing $20 million to the redevelopment effort, Durham County has committed $20 million, and the existing owners and tenants of the Park committed another $10 million.

“That means that all of this project is not just visionary anymore—it’s real,” Geolas told an audience gathered Thursday morning at his organization’s headquarters. “On January 1, we will begin clearing the site, progress will get underway, and construction will begin on this historic Park Center.”

Durham County will make its $20 million contribution available over the next 10 years, earmarked to support public projects, such as civic spaces and public infrastructure.

Park tenants will contribute through a tax increase. Companies that locate within the Park do not pay city taxes; instead, they are taxed by the Durham and Wake Counties Research and Production Service District, a special tax district created for the Park. Those taxes are determined by land value. The foundation said that an advisory committee representing Park businesses and Durham and Wake counties voted to incrementally increase the district’s tax percentage over three years to raise the $10 million to support the first phase of Park Center’s redevelopment.

Also key to the project’s first phase is a rezoning of the site, which Durham County approved earlier this week. Geolas said that the rezoning allows flexibility to build the kind of project that the foundation envisions.

The first phase of the project will redevelop half of Park Center, bringing a mix of retail, restaurants, and residential development, along with two hotels. The first phase will also include startup and co-working space, along with office space for larger companies on the periphery of the site. The western portion of the property, which includes the foundation’s already refurbished building called The Frontier, would be part of a second phase of redevelopment.

Park tenants currently abide by requirements to keep a certain amount of green space, and Park Center will not abandon that principle. The site will have a “park within the Park” that Geolas envisions becoming collaborative space for people who both live and work there.

“I grew up in the Jetson’s generation. We grew up excited about the future,” he said. “A lot of our kids today need that same sense of excitement. This ought to be a place where we can bring them and they can get a glimpse of what’s possible.”