DURHAM — Research Triangle Park has been around since 1959 but only in the last few years has it possessed anything like a town center.
Opened in 2020, Hub RTP aspires to be the park’s business and cultural downtown — a common destination for those who work at the many sprawling but siloed business campuses that dot the surrounding area.
The 100-acre Hub already offers dining options, an event space and several office buildings. And on Tuesday, local leaders gathered at the Durham site to celebrate the development’s next chapter, one that promises more office space, retail and something the park hasn’t had in its entire 63-year history: residents.
By early 2024, the Hub plans to open the Horseshoe, a U-shaped trio of buildings containing 100,000 square feet of office space and 25,000 square feet of ground-level retail. The ceremonial groundbreaking was held Tuesday.
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“When I moved to Durham in 1986, what got me to move here was the Research Triangle Park,” said Durham County Commissioner Brenda Howerton during the groundbreaking ceremony. “I got excited about the buildings, even though most of them I couldn’t see. So what we have now is this openness to invite people in, and I am excited to have that opportunity right here in Durham.”
At 7,000 acres, Research Triangle Park is the world’s largest research park. It was created in the 1950s by those wishing to shift the state’s stagnant economy away from agriculture and textiles and toward emerging technologies. Their answer was to designate a home for companies between Duke University, UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State.
Research Triangle Park is now home to more than 400 national labs and companies, including IBM, Lenovo, Fidelity, GlaxoSmithKline and, soon, Apple.
The area sits mostly in Durham County but also stretches into Wake. It’s overseen by the Research Triangle Foundation, which is tasked with sparking collaborations between the local research universities and the companies within the park.
In 2014, the foundation purchased land along Interstate 40 that would become the Hub. Today, the campus has two open sections, a small dining and event space called Boxyard and the Frontier, which comprises eight office buildings. Much of the Hub, for now, remains undeveloped.
The Horseshoe is the area’s third initiative, one funded with $70 million from the foundation and a $20 million investment from Durham County. Companies located in RTP contributed an additional $10 million to the Horseshoe project.
“Really, RTP has been an experiment for 63 years,” said Scott Levitan, president and CEO of the foundation. “Folks have always had a vision. They found the money, they committed the money and they hoped and prayed and crossed their fingers that things would happen.”
But the Horseshoe isn’t the last step. When completed, the final Hub is set to cost $1.5 billion and include 1 million square feet of lab and office space, shops, more than 200 hotel rooms and 1,200 residential units.
The first phase of apartments, a 406-unit market-rate complex, is expected to open to rent in early 2024.
There is currently no housing of any kind in the entire Research Triangle Park. But with the Hub’s centralized location to four research universities and hundreds of companies, meeting the local housing demand is an obvious choice said Jan Mactal, the park’s director of marketing and communications.
“This is something I’m excited about because it gives a nod to RTP’s history while serving amenities geared towards fresh grads and millennials in the Triangle looking to start or advance their careers,” she said.