A Renewal for IBM Campuses Once Home to Punch Cards and Circuit Boards

ENDICOTT, N.Y. — The sidewalks along Washington Avenue in Endicott, N.Y., are empty enough that bicycles cruise their length with smooth sailing. But 40 years ago, when an IBM plant hummed with thousands of employees, the cyclists might have picked a different route.

“During lunch hour, you couldn’t see down the street because there were so many people,” said Mary Morley, the owner of Angeline’s Flowers, one of the few storefronts without a “for rent” sign. “It used to be quite the place.”

Wistfully recalling times gone by has been a pastime in the Southern Tier and Hudson Valley areas of New York State since IBM began slashing operations and shuttering factories in the 1980s. Indeed, the entire region was once sort of an extended company town for the tech giant, which started there and spurred much of its housing and retail growth. When Big Blue left, economic pain ensued.

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

To create a buzzy scene, National Resources is constructing a barnlike wing off one of its manufacturing buildings so all the food items produced there can be offered to the public in a grocery setting, 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.

But conflicts erupted between the developer and officials over unpaid taxes, and a required cleanup of ground pollution went uncompleted, prompting delays. Today, signs at TechCity, which sprawls beneath a rusted water tower, attest to a once-robust tenant list, though only a handful of companies remain. But this week, Ulster County filed to foreclose on the property over that $12 million unpaid tax bill.

“We have been trying to bring back some life and energy to a sad place,” said Pat Ryan, the Ulster County executive, who nevertheless praised IBM, which employed his grandfather for 36 years despite his never earning a high school degree.

Other former IBM properties in Ulster are getting a makeover, too.

This summer RBW, a 14-year-old lighting design company in Brooklyn, bought a 1980s office building for its new home. The pandemic inspired the move, said Alex Williams, an RBW co-founder who moved to his weekend house in the area after the coronavirus slammed New York. Many workers at RBW, which employed 55 prepandemic, are expected to relocate as well, though he has also been hiring locally.

A renovation will rip out wall-to-wall carpets imprinted with the shapes of chairs, Mr. Williams said, and add a tree-lined 1,200-square-foot courtyard as part of a $7 million project.

Arriving this summer will be iM3NY, a start-up that makes 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, a senior vice president. His company is taking two buildings at IBM, including a soaring 300,000-square-foot space once used for circuit board shipping.

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

If Mr. Pelto realizes his goal to someday have 5,000 workers on the Endicott site, up from 4,000 today, he would still fall far short of IBM’s early-1980s peak, when 15,000 employees toiled there and at a site in nearby Glendale.

But some residents say a more pressing issue is to preserve some of the dilapidated structures, regular reminders of the village’s glory days, according Marlene Yacos, who worked for IBM for 35 years before being laid off in 2004; her father worked there for 44 years himself.

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

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