Research Triangle Park headquarters.

Research Triangle Park headquarters in North Carolina

Plans for Madison’s University Research Park are again taking a strong cue from Research Triangle Park in North Carolina.

Founded in 1959, Research Triangle Park dwarfs Madison’s park, with 7,000 acres on an area seven miles long and five miles wide, extending from North Carolina State University in Raleigh to Duke University in Durham to University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The idea was to get academics at the three schools to work together to boost North Carolina’s economy, whose traditional industries of agriculture, furniture and textiles suffered after World War II.

Research Triangle’s first tenant, in 1960, was Chemstrand, inventor of AstroTurf. Things really began to gel when IBM set up a 600,000-square-foot research facility in 1964. “That was transformative,” said Michael Pittman, vice president of marketing and communications. Cisco Systems, GlaxoSmithKline and Fidelity Investments also moved into the business park.

By 2010, 50 years later, Research Triangle Park housed about 200 companies and 50,000 employees in huge buildings, set back 100 feet from the road, hidden behind gates and rows of pine trees. “But all was not good,” Pittman said.

Business trends were changing. Companies were automating and outsourcing. Employees wanted to ride their bikes to work and to socialize with their friends.

“We realized we needed to change our business model to keep successful,” Pittman said.

Research Triangle Park developed a new master plan with more density and mixed use. Now it has 18 miles of trails, softball and volleyball fields and a 10-team cricket league. In the center, 100 acres was rezoned to create an “innovation district” with plans for two hotels, office towers, stores and apartments.

“We hope to have 1,000 people living on this 100 acres and have 6,000 working (there),” Pittman said. “We want it to be a vibrant, busy downtown ... with a park and an amphitheater.”

No new buildings have been built yet, but park officials took a former IBM building and transformed it into a “co-working, communal, gathering/event space” called The Frontier, Pittman said. Food truck rodeos and happy-hour gatherings are held each week.

“We have an average of 10,000 people a month coming through the doors of The Frontier — tenants, for events and for co-working,” Pittman said. “So it’s been super-successful, validating our hunch that … there is a vibrant community that wants to get together.”

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