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Research Triangle Park's planned 100-acre Park Center development got a $50 million boost today, funds Research Triangle Foundation CEO Bob Geolas calls "historic" because they'll kick off construction of the next generation of the park. Work begins on the site's public infrastructure in January.

But the undercurrent of today's announcement was all about the experimentation and collaboration happening already as the park attempts to remake its long history of business and economic success in a new working world.

The testing ground for all of that is The Frontier, a space aimed to be "the largest innovation center in the nation" when it opened in January.  

In the months since, more than 24,000 people have attended an event, checked into a conference room, worked in the 49 offices on the building's third floor or spent time co-working in the free first-floor open space. There have been food truck rodeos, day long workshops, yoga classes, running groups, STEM mentoring and gallons of free coffee.  

Soon, The Farmery will open one of its shipping containers-turned-urban grocery, farm and cafe there. A community garden is also in the works, with tomato, basil and a variety of other plants already growing. 

And starting next year, 20 additional offices will be added to the third floor along with the North Carolina Newsroom Cooperative, a nonprofit organization planned to operate as an open newsroom for freelance writers. Leading that charge as a founding member is Geolas's wife Mary Miller, a freelance journalist and former News and Observer reporter. At today's event, she shared with me some early details. Members will both work in the space, collaborate with its editors, videographers or other writers and teach their skills to aspiring journalists. There will be video editing equipment, a podcast studio and lots of educational curriculum. 

"Many journalists are now entrepreneurs and don't work in one venue any more," she says. "This will be a collaborative space." 

The Frontier's co-managers Jacob Newbauer and Anna Rhyne have been charged with testing a bunch of things in hopes of scaling them up once Park Center is open for business. Examples are various designs for one-person offices up to large public spaces like the coworking space, which is equipped with living walls, lighted whiteboards and bike and treadmill desks.

Says Rhyne, The Frontier is the first building on RTP's campus meant to create a community feel through events, programming and the free space. It will inspire all of the decisions made at Park Center.
Park Center RTP Example Image
Credit: RTP

For Geolas, The Frontier has also proved a need for a different kind of office space in the Triangle and a different kind of landlord-tenant relationship required in an innovative community. On the top floors of several office buildings in the planned Park Center will be flexible coworking and office space for companies that have graduated from incubators or startup campuses like American Underground and HQ Raleigh. They'll still get the creative, affordable spaces with flexible lease terms, but in a more grown-up campus setting. 

Geolas explains the lease rates as "in a range where they don't have to choose an office building in the suburbs."

They'll also have access to urban amenities in Park Center's planned 300,000 square feet of retail, restaurants and a food mart/cafe similar to Eataly or what you'd find in Napa Valley. The goal is to have all local restaurateurs and food entrepreneurs occupying those spaces. There will be market rate housing for office workers and affordable housing for people working in food service, security or other service roles. A full-service 300-room hotel and a smaller boutique one are in the plans. Additional space is reserved for a park within the park, with stream, wetland and other discovery areas for research and science projects.
RTP Open Space Example
Credit: RTP
To showcase the experimental and collaborative spirit instilled within RTP's newest plans, Geolas kicked off the event with the video up top, remixing footage of a key speech from North Carolina Governor Luther Hodges introducing plans for the park in 1959 with beats mixed by music producer and DJ Apple Juice Kid and Durham filmmaker Saleem Reshamwala of KidEthnic.

It's decidedly out-of-the-box for the Research Triangle Park of recent, but not all that surprising for the innovative organization RTP was in the 50s and is becoming once again.