What's in a Research Park

It's no secret that UNC plans for Carolina North (CN) to be a research park, along the lines of NCSU's Centennial Campus (CC). In fact, the guys in charge of creating Carolina North specialize in it, which I think is sort of unfairly stacking the deck for research, when earlier plans for CN indicated there would a be significant academic (ie: teaching) activity there.

Associate Vice Chancellor Mark Crowell was recruited by UNC directly after working with CC at State. (He's quoted as saying "We don't give away football tickets, why should we give away technology?" Doesn't that just warm your cockles?) And the leader of development of Carolina North is Vice Chancellor (and UNC alumn) Tony Waldrop, who came to UNC after building a similar institution at the University of Illinois.

So it's useful to look at the Centennial Campus and reflect upon other similar models in North Carolina, namely eastern NC's GlobalTransPark (GTP) and good old Research Triangle Park (RTP). This week's Independent has an article about the continuing failure of the GTP. They also connect the dots to Centennial Campus and Carolina North:

N.C. State's Centennial Campus has followed that predictable course [of hemorraging money]. Struggling to reach critical mass at its "advanced technology community," university Chancellor Marye Anne Fox has asked for more than $60 million in additional public funds to build a conference center with a luxury hotel and golf course that she and other school officials believe will leverage keener interest from the heavyweight corporate partners they covet.

Next in line will be UNC's freshly unveiled Carolina North campus, a research and academic center to rival its rivals that will almost double the size of the university when (and if) it's ultimately built out. Consultants estimate that the roads, water and sewer lines and other infrastructure for the project will cost more than $100 million, and that doesn't include any bricks and mortar. How long before university officials come to the public trough begging for their own hotel or other carrots?

So what do you think? What can we learn from CC, GTP, and RTP? Are there some aspects we'd like to emulate? Is it possible our community could financially benefit, rather than footing the bill for a tax-free office park? How can we learn from the mistakes of these predecessors? Some of these projects that sounded appealing during the dot-com boom aren't looking so pretty anymore.


I want to comment on something that Jay noted but I think

needs a lot more discussion: the financial model and uses

of CN.

Mortgage bankers have an interesting saying: If I loan you

a thousand dollars and you don't pay it back, then you have

a problem. If I loan you a million dollars and you don't pay

it back, then we have a problem. The latter is the situation

among CN and the towns of CH and Carrboro because of

the size and unique financial characteristics of CN.

After hearing several presentations by Mark Crowell and

Tony Waldrop, I cannot discern how much of CN will be occupied

by UNC and UNCHC offices, both expanded uses and

consolidation of UNC staff who are now salted throughout

the towns, and by spin-off companies. LIkely, Tony and

Mark don't now know the answer to that question either,

rather will take all comers who can finance a building and who

relate to the UNC mission. I believe that the financial

model needs to be studied by someone who is knowledgable

and who is responsible to the towns, not to UNC, so that

the towns can estimate the impact on their budgets and

estimate the financial risk that they might be taking, should

CN not perform well. I would also like to read a Raleigh-

responsible study of the impact of Centennial campus

on that city, though due to its size and more varied

economy, the impact, good or bad, would be much smaller.

Any ideas?

Damon -

it is not really a matter of distance.

Even seniors tend to take classes in multiple disciplines.

And despite Horace Williams' role in philosophy - there ain't going to be any philosophy classes there.

Undergrads will need to go to main campus for most if not Every class.

There may be research opportunities at CN for them but the same ones will also be on the main campus.

When the English and Philosophy departments get space and CN than undergrads should be housed there.

until then.....

Noting as I write this that I need to get a good map -- What is the distance from main campus to Carolina North? And is it significantly greater than the distance between Duke's east and west campuses? I realize it might not be a great comparison, but it might be one way to think about putting the commuting issue into some kind of context.

I probably am in the minority but think while these are interesting questions they seem to be far less important than making sure the development footprints, locations and infrastructure, treatment of the environment, and financial impact to the town and existing residents are considered first.

If they can spin straw into gold go for it.

The town should assume the financial models will never bring in private dollars just to be on the conservative side.

It is very clear the mission is not the same as the existing campus - why else would 4 times the parking spaces be asked for??

However, if it is built in concrete phases - I think all this phasing particulary for roads and parking should be in writing - if this is a financial flop than hopefully it just means the buildout will be slower or nonexistent.

I also think this is a bad place to house undergraduates because it will make commuters to main campus out of them.

Interesting question, Ruby. If there's to be teaching there, it can't be of the undergrad variety. Even with trains or buses, it's just too damn far from the rest of campus for students to be able to get from class at Carolina North to class at Carolina South.

What this means, I think, is that any classroom teaching that goes on there will have to be self-contained, by which I mean teaching geared to students who don't have to be somewhere else in another department before or after class. Law students come to mind (although I've not heard even a hint of a whisper of interest in Carolina North at the law school, where I'm on the faculty). Perhaps the business school. I can't really think of any others.

(I do know, on the other hand, that the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute needs a new home and is interested in Carolina North.)

Definitely we should run everything at UNC more like the football program.

-Mark Chilton

The distance is 1.5 miles, just FYI.

In response to Eric Muller about undergraduates getting to and from classes from south to north campus, the art department already has a satellite lab located on airport drive, 1.3 miles from campus, adjacent to the facilities services complex. Undergrads take the bus, walk, ride bikes and get semester to semester reduced rate parking passes to park at the lab. Yes it probably eliminates some students from taking classes out here, but these are studio classes and most instructors will work with students schedules who have classes immediately before or after. Having other undergraduate classroom facilities out this way could justify dedicated bus service or a jitney that could be tailored to fit class schedules. The distance is not anymore than Duke's east west campuses.

Good point, Pat. I think I also remember from a UNC presentation a few years ago that the distance from the south to the north end of the main campus is about the same as the distance from north campus to the Horace Williams property.

I strongly suggest housing some of the 13,000-18,000 on site full time workers before housing undergraduates there.

Not that housing undergrads there is not a nice gesture.

But with only 1300-1800 housing units proposed there will be more demand than this from the onsite graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows, and support staff. Some of the support staff - if not housed on site will commute in from mebane, alamance, and Hillsborough as they currently do to the main campus!! Undergrads will not generally commute in as far as full time employees. So housing full time workers results in fewer miles driven than housing undergrads.

So unless they offer several thousand more residential units housing onsite people first should be the priority.

Just my humble opinion.

I would suggest housing any permanent onsite full time employee first before housing undergrads there.


Winmore just up the road a piece will house hundreds of UNC staff as they (UNC) helped pay for the development.

I still don't understand why this thing needs to be built. I don't see the potential for companies setting up without huge incentives.

I just hope that there is a framework in place to guide the development in a responsible manner (and set aside land not to develelop). We all know that CN will most likely look nothing like the recent plans.

As far as commuting between the campuses. A busway has to be built. Rail is a too limiting and expensive to upgrade. Airport road will be in gridlock between the campuses slowing buses way down. Pedestrian/bike traffic on Airport?. I don't think many people will bike it because of the huge valley between them. Duke's campuses are essentially connected by a busway, traffic is pretty light and the road is pretty flat. The undergrad pop. is much smalller.


In response to Jeff about not many commuting by bicyle or foot between campuses because of the big valley on Airport Road, in compairison to those who drive the numbers are small, but we're here and very thankful for the option. It would be more direct for me to commute from N. Greensboro on Estes to Airport Road but I utilize the Cameron St. Carrboro bike path to Columbia and then up Airport Road so as not to incite motorist road rage on Estes. I am hopeful the inevitible development of CN will include more pedestrian and bicycling commuting options for those of us undeterred by a hill, especially on Estes.

The reconfiguration of Estes (being demolished and shifted south a block) would be a great opportunity to introduce transit friendly features.

For instance a busway along the rail line could turn west to east along the newly reconfigured Estes before heading south along Airport. (the busway could split with a second busway along the rail continuing south to Carrboro along the rail line.)

Northward I-40 traffic (car and bus) could exit from where Estes is located Today and have separate corridors depending on whether you were to head north or south on Airport.!

What do you think of that???

Hold on now. This premise seems a lot like apples and oranges. The Global Transportation Park was meant to provide an attractive package of infrastructure to boost economic development plopped down on the ground starting from scratch. It was born out of speculation and guess work. When it failed to deliver, the business community turned its back on it because they had no interest in it. End of story (sort of).

I think the jury is still out on NC State's efforts, but again, the part where they are struggling to deliver is the impact on economic growth.

I haven't heard anybody at UNC asking Orange County to volunteer to pay for this thing. Yes, absolutely, the community will bear many indirect and hidden costs, which should be discussed, but Carolina North is not being "sold" as a goodies package to the community. It is an effort on the part of the University to expand its on-going efforts. The Univerity already has an established position in various research fields at a world class level. This isn't an economic development project that somebody is inventing hoping to drum up some business...

Anyways...yeah, Carolina North is complicated and its going to be woven into the fabric of the Town and surrounding area, for better or worse. Take your best shot at critiquing the plan, but dragging in the track record of other large public projects only makes sense if somebody is willing to talk about details. Otherwise the "big scary project" aspect of the comparison seems more rhetorical than anything

When I left this area in 1990, Research Triangle Park was supposed to be the research park for the region. It's not clear to me why 1) the university wants to put in another research park instead of using the space at RTP (costs, space, prestige????) and 2) why there isn't a more public discussion on whether the citizens of Chapel Hill want more development here. There was some discussion during the last election, at least about candidate stances toward development and university expansion, but nothing significant enough to provide a platform upon which to hold elected officials accountable.

According to the CH News, the university plans to hold multiple community forums on the design of CN. But does the community really want such a large development--even if there is a protected green space and alternative transportation options built into the plans?


Sounds like a good question to me, Terri. Perhaps we should also ask, "Is this the best use of the public's limited resources?" South Building wants more labs because that means more research grants which means more UNC. But does it mean that UNC will be any BETTER. And how shall we define a 'better UNC' anyway? Seems like educating the people of North Carolina was the original purpose of UNC (I take it from provisions in the North Carolina State Constitution). Instead UNC administrators are trying to live up to the expectations of the editors of US News and World Reports. Don't ask me why.

I don't know what the best use for the Horace Williams Tract is, but South Building's dedication to building research facilities in partneship with the private sector is troubling. I think I can picture how Glaxo-Wellcome executives (etc.) may benfit, but how will the people of North Carolina benefit from this? I don't mean to pick on Glaxo (or at least not exclusively), but we have seen such companies develop AIDS fighting drugs (with some governmental participation, I think) and then blackmail the world with them. It sounds like a bad James Bond film, really . . .

And now we are supposed to do this on a much grander scale? Because . . . why?


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