Back in June of 2014, the Brookings Institution issued a report on The Rise of Innovation Districts across the globe. It included one example that was a surprise to many – The Research Triangle Park. The expansive science park makes it difficult to comprehend what actually goes on behind the trees. However a new RTP Master Plan and talk of redevelopment put the 55 year old mammoth on Brookings’ map.
Bob Geolas, President and CEO of the Research Triangle Foundation (RTF), the organization responsible for managing RTP, announced the purchase of 100 acres at a location called Park Center in February 2014. Park Center is the first spot pegged for development as part of RTP’s master plan. It is a bold move for the Park; the plan calls for increased density through residential, retail and restaurant development. Leaders at RTP are finally promising urban amenities to the 7,000 acres that have not had one single coffee shop in 55 years of historic innovations in science and technology.
Still, calling out RTP as one of the rising innovation districts in the country for its approach to the redevelopment was a big move. It was a move, however, that just got a good bit of validation by the Association of University Research Parks (AURP) at their annual December conference. Geolas was named the recipient of the Vision Award, and Mason Ailstock, Vice President of Business Development for RTF, was appointed to the AURP Board of Directors.
AURP is a professional organization that works to foster innovation, commercialization and economic growth through partnerships between universities, industry and government. These goals are in direct alignment with RTP, and the recent board appointments and awards highlight the efforts of both organizations to keep pushing a culture of collaboration forward.
Additionally, the Research Triangle Park is launching its first project at the Park Center site in January. Called The Frontier, it will be a new convening space in the Triangle, and will have free space for open collaboration for anyone looking to plug in and caffeinate. Geolas calls it the “largest open innovation center in the nation” and is positioning the monolithic, 140k sq. ft. building to not only have free, collaborative areas and a multitude of activated programming, but also affordable office space for entrepreneurs and mid-sized companies.
The Frontier is meant to be a test site for ideas, and it’s this type of environment that is exactly what the Brookings Institution means by an ‘innovation district’ when it talks about the Research Triangle Park. Even though it’s just one building, the area will soon have a multitude of diverse spaces to encourage similar kinds of convening between educators, artists, engineers and technologists. And, while RTP is defined by a red line that encompasses a certain amount of acreage, no longer is it limited by geography, but only by the shared imagination of today’s dreamers, believers and creators.
Read almost any interview with Geolas, and you’ll learn that RTP was founded to lift up all the people of North Carolina. The goal was for the Park to become an economic engine for the state, and to keep the brainpower of graduates from surrounding universities. In some ways, RTP is returning to its roots by throwing open the doors and inviting people to come collaborate at places like The Frontier. Today’s leaders are saying, “come, stay a while – share your next great idea and grow a company here.”
This new phase at The Frontier officially opens on January 15th, and to date over 600 people have registered. The momentum brought by the Brookings report, the AURP validation of RTP as a leader, and the beginning of the first phase of Park Center via The Frontier are signaling a transition for one of America’s greatest research parks. There are still plenty of trees to see while driving through the wide roads in Research Triangle Park, but this landscape will certainly be one of transformation as work continues on the Park’s progress forward towards a denser, more collaborative environment.