ENDICOTT, NY – The sidewalks along Washington Avenue in Endicott, NY, are empty enough for bicycles to run their length smoothly. But 40 years ago, when an IBM factory operated with thousands of employees, cyclists might have chosen a different path.
“During lunchtime you can’t see the street because there are so many people,” said Mary Morley, owner of Angeline’s Flowers, one of the few storefronts that doesn’t have a “for rent” sign. “It used to be a pretty place.”
Recalling times has been a pastime in the Southern Tier and Hudson Valley areas of New York State since IBM began cutting operations and closing factories in the 1980s. Indeed , the entire area was once a corporate expansion town for the tech giant, which started there and fueled much of its residential and retail growth. When Big Blue left, economic pain followed.
But large establishments still hold the key to an economic recovery, in places like East Fishkill, Ulster and Endicott, said business leaders are working to recreate them.
Lined with warehouses, well serviced by utilities, and close to major highways, the campuses are ideal for tenants engaged in large-scale manufacturing and transportation, a segment of the industrial market has grown during the pandemic, they said.
And the pandemic-related relocation of New Yorkers to points north has put a possible new workforce within reach, adding impetus to redevelopment efforts.
“Corporations shouldn’t let loose just because they’re doomed. Lynne Ward, executive vice president at National Resources, a Connecticut-based developer that specializes in buying vacant industrial parks around the country, said taxpayers have paid for it all their way. . “But some great infrastructure has been left behind.”
In East Fishkill, the Dutchess County town, where IBM once had more than 600 acres along Interstate 84, the bony trees seem especially appealing to food-related businesses. Since National Resources purchased a 300-acre site in 2017 and renamed it iPark 84, the space has been leased to companies that make cookies, cocktail syrups and crepes.
Joining them this fall in a 3,000-square-foot dock will be Ronnybrook Farm Dairy, a dairy supplier based nearby. (IBM is also a tenant of iPark, and Global Foundries, the semiconductor maker that bought most of IBM’s chip-making assets in 2014, owns a 160-acre plot of land.)
To create a buzzing scene, National Resources is building a barn-like door from one of its manufacturing buildings so that all food items produced there can be found, Ward said. may be offered to the public in a grocery store.
The complex, which cost $300 million to buy and redeveloped, is 90% leased out, she said. Housing and hotels are also being considered for the site, she added.
“A resurgence is happening here and it is needed,” said Adam Watson, co-founder of Sloop Brewing, which moved to iPark in part because of the thick floors. , high ceilings and easy wastewater treatment. There is also a bar, whose transparent surface is embedded with circuit boards discovered during a renovation.
“A lot of our clients end up telling us stories about how they worked in this or that building,” said Mr. Watson.
Other sections were also busy. A 15-acre warehouse for Amazon is being developed on a 124-acre lot east of East Fishkill by a group that includes industry-focused Bluewater Real Estate Group. According to town officials, the deal, which comes with property tax breaks, will create 500 full-time jobs who reclassified the entire property in 2014 to attract new users. But the campus, which once made chips for the Sony PlayStation 3, employed 22,000 IBM workers during its heyday, National Resources said. Bluewater was not available for comment and an IBM spokesman declined to provide previous employment numbers.
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Of course, installing non-IBM tenants does not guarantee success. Amazon’s facility will be on a site owned by Linuo Group, a Chinese solar panel maker a decade ago. Similarly, an adjacent 33-acre site was supposed to make way for the Sports KingDome, a sports facility, but construction has taken place little since the project was announced in 2015.
Across the Hudson River in the town of Ulster, redevelopment has also been difficult, although a new marketing effort is raising hope. In the late 1990s, a project called TechCity promised to transform a large portion of IBM’s 258-acre campus.
However, conflicts broke out between the developer and officials over unpaid taxes, and the mandatory ground pollution cleanup was not implemented, resulting in delays. Today, signs at TechCity, sprawled beneath the rusty water tower, attest to the once-strong list of tenants, though only a handful of companies remain. But this week, Ulster County filed a foreclosure petition on that $12 million unpaid tax bill.
While the process goes smoothly, attention is focusing on another piece of TechCity land, an 80-acre two-building property that officials seized in 2019 because of a similar tax issue. . This spring, the county received about two dozen proposals for redevelopment or rental space, including from a bakery, a nonprofit arts group and a local farm. Officials will announce their selection within weeks; More winners are expected, they say, because having a single occupant for all that space proves too risky.
Ward Mintz, a local historian, says the 7,100 employees who once worked at IBM, which closed the site in 1995, were the driving force behind the ranch-style homes and malls. in this area. Now, efforts to reintroduce residents back into the somewhat desolate area are gaining traction with concerts at the sprawling grounds where IBM-ers used to park their cars, on their way to building computer letters and air defense systems.
“We were trying to bring some life and energy to a sad place,” said Pat Ryan, chief executive of Ulster County.
Other legacy IBM properties in Ulster are also being changed.
This summer RBW, a 14-year-old lighting design firm in Brooklyn, purchased a 1980s office building for its new home. Alex Williams, a co-founder of RBW who moved into his weekend home in the area after the coronavirus hit New York, said the pandemic inspired the move. Many workers at RBW, which employed 55 people before the pandemic, are also expected to relocate, although he is also hiring locally.
A renovation will tear down wall-to-wall rugs featuring chairs, and add a 1,200-square-foot tree-lined courtyard as part of the $7 million project, Mr. Williams said.
“Twenty years ago, it might have been fashionable to revive a factory,” he said. “But I think it’s very interesting to have a blank canvas that is a kind of ‘Dilbert’ space.”
Diversity is also a priority at Endicott, located along the Susquehanna River and home to IBM’s first factory in 1906; it manufactures punch cards, a data storage device much like a prototype computer. Huron Real Estate Associates, which purchased the 139-acre campus for $65 million in 2002, has attracted about 20 tenants, including BAE Systems, a European defense contractor.
Coming this summer will be iM3NY, a startup that makes lithium-ion batteries.
The company, whose products power electric cars, has 12 full-time employees but expects to have 2,000 within six years, said Paul Stratton, senior vice president. His company is taking over two buildings at IBM, including a 300,000 square foot space that was once used to transport circuit boards.
“There is a lot of conversion potential here,” said Huron president Christopher Pelto of the complex, which has a 65% occupancy rate.
If Mr. Pelto realizes his goal is to one day have 5,000 workers on the Endicott site, up from 4,000 today, he’s still far behind IBM’s peak in the early 1980s, when 15,000 staff work there and at a location in nearby Glendale.
But some residents say a more pressing issue is preserving some of the dilapidated structures, which are frequent reminders of the village’s glory days, according to Marlene Yacos, who worked for IBM 35 years ago. was fired in 2004; Her father worked there for 44 years.
“They just sat there,” said Ms. Yacos, executive director of the Endicott Center for Heritage and History. “And they’ve been our legacy for over 100 years.”