Research Triangle Park is half the size of Manhattan, but you can't get a cup of coffee or a sandwich there. But that is going to change, RTP Foundation president Bob Geolas said today—in an announcement of the largest shakeup in the park's 50-year history as a suburban technology and bioscience hub.
The RTP Foundation has purchased from General Electric 100 acres near Interstate 40 and N.C. 54, which, combined with a parcel it plans to buy at Cornwallis Road and Davis Drive, totals 409 acres for new development that would make RTP more like a city: stores, restaurants, condos and apartments "for a variety of incomes"—and of course, tech companies.
When complete, the development could generate $2 billion in new private investment and 100,000 jobs.
The white elephant in the room, however, was the matter of mass transit and the Wake County Commissioners' obstructionism toward commuter rail within the Triangle. During the announcement, Geolas said a "regional dedicated rail system" for commuters to RTP is essential. While Durham and Orange voters have approved a half-cent transit tax, under Republican leadership, the commissioners have refused to allow such a referendum on the ballot.
About 40,000 people commute to RTP, most of them by car. Yet younger tech workers, accustomed to urban areas where efficient mass transit is a given, do not want to depend on cars to travel. Geolas' announcement, in effect, was the first attempt to leverage RTP's considerable influence over the recalcitrant Wake commissioners.
"This is not something we're fixin' to do," Geolas said. "This is something we're going to do. We need public-private partnerships, and by us stepping forward from the private sector, we hope it will help the conversation for public investment."
The development of tech not only in other areas of the country and the globe, but also via American Underground in Durham and Raleigh, has prompted the RTP Foundation brain trust to reenvision the park's economic place in the Triangle. Suburban industrial and office parks, popular in 1959 when RTP was built, are no longer in vogue. (There is even a backlash in Silicon Valley where Google employees are transported in posh private buses to and from San Francisco to suburban corporate offices.)
With 400 acres at its disposal, the RTP Foundation can build an urban area that connects to the other Triangle cities, giving the region a fluidity that it currently lacks.
However, Geolas said he is not concerned about the growth of local tech outside of RTP.
"Chatham is not our competition," Geolas said, responding to Preston Development's vision for a development similar to RTP in the nearby county. "Downtown Durham is not our competition or downtown Raleigh. It's Beijing."