Research Triangle Park marked its 50th anniversary in 2009, and the foundation that supervises and manages the 7,000-acre development announced recently that it is working on a new master plan — the first since 1959. It hired New York-based Cooper, Robertson & Partners Architects LLP to lead the effort. The park, in Durham and Wake counties, now has 170 companies employing 42,000 people. Richard L. “Dick” Daugherty, who was the top executive at the RTP campus of computer giant IBM and retired in 1995, is a foundation board member and heads the task force overseeing development of the plan. It should be finished by the end of next year.
RTP is one of the nation’s most successful office parks. Why adopt a new plan now?
An awful lot of things have changed in 50 years. The park has been tremendously successful, an economic engine for this part of North Carolina and for North Carolina as a whole. However, with changes in how companies operate, how people interact with companies, it seemed to us that, when dealing from a position of strength and success, there’s no better time to take a look at where you’re going to be in the future.
Will it prevent problems from developing?
We want to make some changes that will ensure the success that we have already experienced. If you were to just look at one aspect — the difference between 50 years ago and today — the park was developed with the idea of attracting major companies that would come in and buy land. Today, there are many more entrepreneurial and startup activities, and fewer major companies are moving around. So the key question: Are we ready for that change? And if not, what do we do to get ready?
How much of a concern is the park’s vacancy rate, and will the plan look at the possible need to redevelop older parts of the park?
It will certainly address the aging of buildings. Remember, though, that somebody else owns those buildings and land. It would be of great concern to us if people were moving out because they didn’t want to be in the park, for whatever reason they might have. But if a company has [financial] difficulty, such as Nortel, and vacates its buildings as part of a down- sizing, then we would like to help find people to utilize the space.
Does the foundation envision developing a “Research Triangle Park II” nearby — maybe on a university campus?
That is not part of the current master-plan idea. There is a large park called Centennial Campus at N.C. State University, and that has really blossomed and is doing all the things that the university wants. In Chapel Hill, a recently announced project is Carolina North. Rather than RTP developing something like that, we would work in cooperation with existing entities.
Among RTP’s biggest catches in recent years were Fidelity Investments and Credit Suisse, both financial-services companies. That seems like a shift from the traditional emphasis on research. Will that continue?
Everything is open to consideration. And while Credit Suisse and Fidelity came in, there have been a lot of smaller high-tech companies that came in at the same time. We’ve seen constant growth over the last 40 years, and we added people this year.
RTP is nearly all office and research space. Other parks also have residential, retail and recreational space. Is that in RTP’s future?
It all depends on what the consultants come back with. Nothing is off-limits. We will look at transportation, for instance. There are traffic issues. People are talking about light rail.
Since RTP was developed, what ideas for amenities, landscaping, etc., have become standard in planning office parks?
One difference would be having more capability to handle entrepreneurial-type companies and startups, some of which might spin out of universities. Today’s professional is different from the professional of 50 years ago. There is more need for areas to meet with each other, and communication is vital. In RTP, there is a great deal of open space, while in newer office parks, and in some older ones, too, the buildings are in closer proximity to each other.
That’s certainly something we would look at.