Ownership of former IBM building transferred to county-appointed board as part of redevelopment effort

(Photo by Will Dendis)

The Ulster County Legislature on March 16 unanimously approved the transfer of the former IBM building, now known as Enterprise West, to the Ulster County Economic Development Alliance (UCEDA), a local development corporation responsible for leasing or selling the property.

In 2019, the county acquired a portion of the former IBM facility, rebranded TechCity after Big Blue pulled out in the early-90s, consisting of around 80 acres across two parcels, due to it being foreclosed on for nonpayment of taxes. While there was unanimous approval at the legislature meeting, legislators Lynn Archer and Tracey Bartels expressed concerns over the composition o the board of directors of the UCEDA and the speed of the process.

“This has been a difficult decision due to the fact that this move is being rushed without some of the details being solidified,” said Archer. “I think it’s absolutely critical that a full-blown appraisal of the property by a national firm be completed to support decisioning on the properties highest and best use.”

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Bartels said while it is time to let the property go, “there are many unresolved issues outstanding.” She said she was concerned that the majority of the UCEDA’s board – five out of seven – is appointed by the county executive.

“An additional legislative appointment would be a step in the right direction,” said Bartels.

Archer agreed.

“There’s an imbalance in regards to any issue you are going to resolve when you have a majority of the people on the board going to skew towards what the county executive wants,” said Archer. “Paid employees are not able to voice their true opinion.”

The UCEDA board of directors are: Sarah Haley, chair (senior vice president at People’s United Bank); Herb Litts, vice chair (Ulster County Legislator, District 9); Burton Gulnick, treasurer (Ulster County commissioner of finance); Ward Todd, secretary; (president, Ulster County Regional Chamber of Commerce); Brian Cahill (Ulster County legislator); Amanda LaValle (director, Ulster County Department of the Environment); Evelyn Wright (Ulster County deputy county executive).

Ryan has said he would work with the board to remove county employees as voting members of the UCEDA.

“This is a multi-million dollar endeavor, and many of us have been on record not wanting the county to be a landlord,” said Bartels. “The transfer to [UCEDA] does that, but yet, [UCEDA] has a sole member – the county of Ulster, acting by and through its executive. We are inextricably connected.”

The county’s investment in the property has been considerable. At the January legislature meeting, Ulster County Comptroller March Gallagher reminded residents how much taxpayers have invested in the property, citing “$3.8 million in back taxes and upwards of $700,000 in 2020 expenses for repairs, painting and bringing the building up to code,” with another “$2.9 million in the capital plan going forward.” In November, the legislature voted 18-5 to continue to maintain the property for $399,282. Additionally, the county invested $137,000 to separate the electric and gas lines to the building from the rest of TechCity.

 

Plans for redevelopment submitted

Earlier this year, the Ulster County Department of Economic Development issued a Request for Expressions of Interest to purchase or lease space in the building. Ryan announced in early March that the county received 22 responses to the request, which represented “a broad range of proposed uses for the former office building and surrounding property and demonstrate immediate opportunity to put the long-dormant site back to productive use.”

Of the submissions, there are five proposals to purchase some or all of the property, 11 proposals to rent or lease, and 12 proposals to “provide services to assist the county in redeveloping the site.”

A proposal came from Bard College, which wants to use the buildings for academic classrooms, performance space and storage for the college’s art collection. Blueprint HV would create an agriculture and arts center. Borrego Solar pitched a utility-scale solar farm on vacant land near the Esopus Creek. First Serve would create an indoor tennis facility. Plant Seeds would establish vertical gardens.

The Farm Bridge has continuously shown its interest in occupying 15 percent of the Enterprise West building to expand its food processing and distribution operations. The Farm Bridge already has a presence on the east side of the campus. Jim Hyland, founder and CEO, spoke in favor of the transfer at the March 16 meeting.

“It will help The Farm Bridge tremendously,” said Hyland. “It will help us sustain Kingston, home to most of my employees, and it will give us the opportunity to grow and expand the business … I’ve had a front row seat on what happens to a property when it slips into disarray. It’s been tough on my business to be at the current location and it has been heartbreaking to see the inaction and abandonment pile up at this site. It’s time for change.”

Hyland said The Farm Bridge employs 50 people, 56 percent of which are women and 89 percent minority. According to Hyland, since 2010, The Farm Bridge has paid out over $18 million in wages to employees living in Ulster County.

“Even though we sensed there would be strong interest in reusing the site, the [Request for Expressions of Interest] was a helpful process to identify our goals and priorities and to determine whether there are other partners out there who would be willing to help us achieve those goals and priorities,” Ulster County director of economic development Tim Weidemann said in a statement. “The answer we received was an emphatic ‘yes.’ Nearly all of the expressions of interest we received provided direct and tangible concepts that would help us advance our economic development goals – generating property taxes, supporting our target industries, creating high-quality jobs, and honoring the important legacy of innovation and creativity that the site represents.”

Weideman said the failed attempts to fully redevelop the in the past are a bit of a mystery.

“Interest in this site has long been there, but the previous owner, for many reasons beyond my knowledge, has been unable to come to a deal with any of the past expressions of interest that have come before him. We’re hopeful now that it’s under county control through Ulster County Economic Development Alliance, we will be able to move forward quickly with the interest that has been expressed.”