A revival for IBM campuses that once housed punch cards and circuit boards

ENDICOTT, NY – The sidewalks along Washington Avenue in Endicott, NY are empty enough for bikes to travel their length with smooth navigation. But 40 years ago, when an IBM factory was buzzing with thousands of employees, cyclists might have chosen a different route.

“During lunch hour you couldn’t see down the street because it was so crowded,” said Mary Morley, owner of Angel’s Flowers, one of the few storefronts without a sign. “For rent”. “It used to be quite the place.

Nostalgically remembering times bygone has been a pastime in the Southern Tier and Hudson Valley areas of New York State since IBM began downsizing operations and closing factories in New York State. 1980s. Indeed, the whole area was once a sort of extended corporate city for the tech giant, which started there and spurred much of its growth in housing and retail. . When Big Blue left, economic pain ensued.

But the large campuses that remain hold the keys to an economic rebound, in places like East Fishkill, Ulster and Endicott, say business leaders striving to reinvent them.

Lined with warehouses, well served by public services and close to major highways, the campuses are ideal for tenants involved in large-scale production and shipping, a segment of the industrial market that developed during the pandemic, they say.

And the pandemic-related relocation of New Yorkers to the northern points has put a possible new workforce at their fingertips, adding momentum to the redevelopment efforts.

“Businesses shouldn’t be taken off the hook so easily because they disappear. Taxpayers have paid for all their roads, ”said Lynne Ward, executive vice president of National Resources, a Connecticut-based developer that buys empty industrial parks across the country. “But large infrastructure has been left behind. “

In East Fishkill, the Dutchess County town where IBM once owned more than 600 acres along Interstate 84, good bones seem especially appealing to food-related businesses. Since National Resources bought 300 acres of land in 2017 and renamed it iPark 84, space has been leased to companies that make cookies, cocktail syrups, and pancakes.

Ronnybrook Farm Dairy, a nearby based milk supplier, will join them this fall at a 3,000 square foot berth. (IBM is also a tenant of iPark, and Global Foundries, the semiconductor maker that bought most of IBM’s chipmaking assets in 2014, owns a 160-acre parcel.)

To create a lively scene, National Resources is building a barn-shaped wing on one of its manufacturing buildings so that any food produced there can be offered to the public in a grocery store, Ms. Ward said.

The complex, which cost $ 300 million to purchase and redevelop, is 90 percent leased, she said. Housing and hotels are also being considered for the site, she added.

“Revitalization is happening here, and it is necessary,” said Adam Watson, co-founder of Sloop Brewing, which moved to iPark in part for its thick floors, high ceilings and ease of sewage disposal. There’s also a bar, the transparent surface of which is encrusted with printed circuit boards uncovered during a renovation.

“So many of our clients end up telling us stories about how they worked in this or that building,” Watson said.

Other sections were also occupied. A 15-acre warehouse for Amazon is being developed on a 124-acre plot on the east side of East Fishkill by a team that includes the industry-focused Bluewater Property Group. The deal, along with property tax breaks, will create 500 full-time jobs, according to city officials, who rezoned the entire property in 2014 to attract new users. But the campus, which once made chips for Sony’s PlayStation 3, employed 22,000 IBM employees at its peak, National Resources said. Bluewater made no comment and an IBM spokesperson declined to provide historical employment figures.

Of course, installing non-IBM tenants is no guarantee of success. Amazon’s installation will be on a site owned ten years ago by the Linuo Group, a Chinese manufacturer of solar panels. Likewise, an adjacent 33-acre parcel is supposed to give way to the Sports KingDome, a sports facility, but little construction has taken place since the project was announced in 2015.

Across the Hudson River in the town of Ulster, redevelopment has also been tricky, although a new marketing campaign is raising hope. In the late 1990s, a project called TechCity promised to transform much of IBM’s 258-acre campus.

But disputes erupted between the developer and the authorities over unpaid taxes, and a required clean-up of soil pollution was not completed, resulting in delays. Today, signs for TechCity, which stretches beneath a rusty water tower, attest to a once-strong tenant list, though only a handful of businesses remain. But this week, Ulster County filed for foreclosure of the property on that unpaid $ 12 million tax bill.

As the process unfolds, attention is focused on another part of TechCity, an 80-acre two-building plot that authorities seized in 2019 for a similar tax issue. This spring, the county received about two dozen proposals to redevelop or lease the site, including a bakery, a non-profit arts group and a local farm. Officials will announce their picks in a few weeks; many winners are expected, they said, because having a single occupant for all that space has proven too risky.

The 7,100 employees who worked at IBM, which closed the location in 1995, was the driving force behind the area’s ranch-style homes and malls, said Ward Mintz, a local historian. Now, efforts to reintroduce residents to the somewhat desolate area are gaining traction with concerts in the expansive grounds where IBM employees once parked their cars, en route to making typewriters and air defense systems.

“We tried to bring life and energy back to a sad place,” said Pat Ryan, the Ulster County executive, who nonetheless praised IBM, which employed his grandfather for 36 years then. that he had never graduated from high school.

Other old IBM properties in Ulster are also getting a facelift.

This summer, RBW, a 14-year-old lighting design company in Brooklyn, purchased a 1980s office building for their new home. The pandemic inspired the move, said Alex Williams, an RBW co-founder who moved into his weekend home in the area after the coronavirus hit New York City. Many RBW workers, who employed 55 people before the pandemic, are also expected to move, although he has also hired locally.

A renovation will tear off wall-to-wall rugs printed with the shapes of chairs, Williams said, and add a 1,200-square-foot tree-lined yard as part of a $ 7 million project.

“Twenty years ago it was perhaps all the rage to revitalize a factory,” he said. “But I think it’s very interesting to have a blank canvas that’s a kind of ‘Dilbert’ space.”

A diverse mix is ​​also a priority at Endicott, which sits along the Susquehanna River and has been home to IBM’s first factory in 1906; he was making punch cards, data storage devices that were sort of prototypes of computers. Huron Real Estate Associates, which bought the 139-acre campus for $ 65 million in 2002, has attracted around 20 tenants, including BAE Systems, a European defense contractor.

Arriving this summer, iM3NY, a start-up that manufactures lithium-ion batteries.

The company, whose product powers electric cars, has 12 full-time employees but expects 2,000 within six years, said Paul Stratton, senior vice president. His company takes two buildings from IBM, including a huge 300,000 square foot space once used for shipping printed circuit boards.

“There is great potential for transformation here,” Huron President Christopher Pelto said of the complex, which has a 65% occupancy rate.

If Mr. Pelto achieves his goal of one day of having 5,000 workers at the Endicott site, up from 4,000 today, he would still be a long way from IBM’s peak in the early 1980s, when 15,000 employees worked there. and at a site near Glendale.

But some locals say a more pressing issue is preserving some of the dilapidated structures, regular reminders of the village’s heyday, according to Marlene Yacos, who worked for IBM for 35 years before being fired in 2004; his father himself worked there for 44 years.

“They just sit there,” said Ms. Yacos, executive director of the Endicott History and Heritage Center. “And they have been our heritage for over 100 years.”

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