RTP officials tout pandemic-era investments, look toward future growth

Research Triangle Park leaders and local elected officials touted the progress the six-decade-old research park has made during the pandemic, leaving the park poised to move forward as life begins returning to normal.

“COVID wreaked havoc on our society, but in reality for RTP it was a wake-up moment and an opportunity,” Scott Levitan, the Research Triangle Foundation’s CEO, said Friday.

Levitan said RTP has seen $4.5 billion of investment announced during the pandemic, projects that will lead to more than 5,000 jobs.

Scott Levitan, president and CEO of The Research Triangle Park Foundation describes the latest growth and development in the park during as event at the Boxyard on Friday, June 11, 2021 in Durham, N.C. Robert Willett [email protected]

Those announced investments include a $900 million Apiject facility where the company expects to produce single-use, pre-filled vaccine injectors; a $474 million Eli Lilly facility where the company will manufacture a pair of drugs that treat Type 2 diabetes; and a $200 million Biogen expansion that will see a new facility for the company’s gene therapies.

The park is expected to eventually provide office space for more than 3,000 Apple employees. The tech giant announced in April that it will build an East Coast headquarters at Research Triangle Park.

“Our growth in this area is not unexpected. It has been well planned, we have been an ascending marketplace for a long time. That ascension is accelerating, which is exciting,” Adrienne Cole, the president and CEO of the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce said Friday.

Matt Calabria, chairman of the Wake County Board of Commissioners, said public officials need to remain aware of the challenges that come along with growth and try to remain ahead of them.

“We know that we can’t wait until traffic is really bad to embark on a public transportation system. …. We have to understand where we’re going to be and plan for that and prepare for that and make the investments that we need to be ahead of the curve,” Calabria said.

Calabria said Apple also was very interested in the quality of Wake County’s public education system.

Friday’s event took place at The Boxyard, a collection of shipping containers that offers nearby workers the chance to grab a coffee, beer or bite to eat. The collection was built near The Frontier, a coworking space that has 110 tenants, bringing the park’s total to 310 tenants.

As leaders spoke, the smells of smoked meat wafted over from the newly opened Lawrence BBQ. Other eateries remained under construction nearby, and stacks of white chairs were bound in paper.

Ray Trapp, who started as RTP’s vice president of strategic engagement in January, said visiting the then-underway $9 million development was pivotal to his deciding to join the foundation.

“I’ve known folks that have worked in RTP my entire life,” Trapp said. “There has been one complaint, and only one that I have heard, is when they need to grab something to eat or to drink or want to stay at work or maybe have to put in some extra hours, they have to leave campus to do that.”

A soft open for the Boxyard last week drew about 300 people, Trapp said.

The Boxyard, photographed on Friday, June 11, 2021 in Durham, N.C., is a collection of renovated shipping containers that house restaurants other retailers on NC 54 in Research Triangle Park. Robert Willett [email protected]

The Research Triangle Foundation has also forged ahead with its own development. Last September, the foundation broke ground on the $1.5 billion Hub RTP, a 100-acre mixed use development that is expected to include the park’s first high-rise towers. The first development is underway at the corner of Davis Drive and N.C. 54.

Friday, Levitan called the Hub “our big, bet-the-farm baby.”

When it is built out, the Hub is expected include as much as 1 million square feet of office space, 800 residential units and possibly a pair of hotels. The residential units will be the first housing built inside the park.

According to a timeline presented Friday, the foundation expects vertical development of The Hub’s first phase to start in early 2022, finishing in early 2023. The first phase will feature about 25,000 square feet of retail space and 25,000 square feet of office space surrounding a courtyard. It will also include a pair of nearby apartment buildings that will total 400 units.

“People will be legally sleeping in beds in RTP in 2023,” Levitan said.

Adam Wagner is a Report for America member covering North Carolina’s recovery from Hurricanes Matthew and Florence, as well as efforts to prepare the state for future storms. He also contributes to environmental reporting and coverage of COVID-19. He previously worked at the Wilmington StarNews, where he covered multiple beats, including the environment.

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