At nearly 60 years old, the Research Triangle Park Foundation is counting on an experienced new leader to bring a much-touted revamp to fruition. In August, the group named Scott Levitan president and chief executive officer, replacing Liz Rooks, interim CEO since Bob Geolas resigned a year ago. Geolas led the foundation for five years.
“I’m challenged by projects that are in a transition mode,” says Levitan, the organization’s ninth leader. “I’m a person who’s really intrigued by figuring out change. It’s a great moment for that.” His first major task is securing a developer for Park Center, the 100-acre mixed-use redevelopment announced nearly two years ago with much fanfare and $50 million in seed money. Park Center aims to create a live-work-play atmosphere at the suburban park, which is looking to add features demanded by younger workers and the development’s 250 employers. Plans call for residential, retail, hotels and public spaces. Earlier this year, the foundation parted ways with Hines, the Houston-based developer initially picked for the project.
Levitan, 62, previously led development of the Science + Technology Park at Johns Hopkins University and the New East Baltimore Community, a $1.5 billion multi- use project adjacent to the school’s medical campus. Previously, as executive director of real-estate development for Georgia Institute of Technology, he helped launch Technology Square in midtown Atlanta. The 1.6-million-square-foot project helped invigorate a struggling area. It includes more than a dozen innovation centers in which large companies partner with students and recent graduates to develop new technologies.
Similarly, big pharmaceutical companies, which employ many of RTP’s 50,000 employees, often team with smaller companies to research drugs in partnership with local professors.
“The world has changed a bit” since RTP’s inception in 1959 and the foundation’s traditional focus on land transactions, Levitan says. He points to the Frontier, a 30-year-old former IBM office building that was renovated and opened in January 2015, offering co-working space, rent-free conference rooms and smaller private offices with leases starting at $375 a month. Now 90% occupied, the Frontier is expanding to other nearby buildings.
Park Center has been slow getting off the ground because local leaders want a visionary project, Levitan says. “No one wants to build a typical suburban town center,” he says. “It has to be a measured, thoughtful process,” that could involve pulling together separate developers for residential, retail and office components. While the ideal candidate would have the experience and financial strength to handle a long-term commitment, Levitan is also seeking innovative thinkers with “amazing vision” for public space. “Someone who wants to sit around the table with us and sort of dream.”
DUNN — Select Bancorp will acquire Charlotte-based Carolina Premier Bank for about $40 million. Select operates 13 branches in central and eastern N.C. Carolina Premier has four branches in the Carolinas. The combined bank will have assets of about $1.1 billion.
CHAPELL HILL — Drugmaker Cempra will merge with New Haven, Conn.-based Melinta Therapeutics, forming a new publicly traded company. Cempra shareholders will own 48% of the company; Melinta shareholders will own 52%. The deal is expected to close in the fourth quarter.
RALEIGH — Greenville-based Verizon retailer A Wireless will move its headquarters to Raleigh, investing $5.6 million and creating 250 jobs. The average annual salary for the new jobs will be $93,000. A Wireless was started in Wilson in 1996 and operates more than 1,150 retail stores in 46 states.
SANFORD — Pfizer will invest $100 million and create 40 jobs in an expansion stemming from the New York-based drugmaker’s $645 million acquisition of Chapel Hill-based Bamboo Therapeutics last year. The new jobs will pay an average annual salary of $97,500.
Featured photo of Scott Levitan provided by the Research Triangle Park Foundation