As of today, Enterprise West is a sprawling, ghostly 400,000 square feet of empty office and light industrial space in two connected buildings on Enterprise Drive in the town of Ulster. And as of today, the cultural/business initiative known as BluePrint is, materially, just a series of Covid-safe summer events on a makeshift stage in the Enterprise West parking lot. But BluePrint is a vision of, and a proposal for, something much more: a kind of making good on the defaulted promise this building represents.
Enterprise West was a centerpiece of IBM’s massive campus here, from whence comes the “blue” in BluePrint. These buildings are said to have housed 3,000 of the over 7,000 people that IBM Kingston employed at its peak, circa 1985, when Kingston was one of three major IBM facilities in the mid-Hudson valley. To tour its endless acreage of drop ceilings, stucco, and industrial carpet pocked by the memory of cubicle farms is to appreciate the presence, the print, of Big Blue in this region, and to feel acutely the dimensions of its absence, 30 years now after IBM’s flight in the early ’90s.
I can’t help but reflect on my first job out of college, a temp stint at IBM Poughkeespie, where the starting wage was well above the minimum, weekday overtime was time and a half, and weekends paid double. You couldn’t work enough overtime to satisfy Big Blue in 1984. If they had their way, you’d spend two extra hours there every night and come in Saturday and Sunday, effectively doubling your weekly take-home. They literally bullied you to take more of their money.
Over the next ten years, under its own set of global pressures, IBM fled the Hudson Valley, the region that had hosted at least 60 percent of its global manufacturing. How little we even discuss the impact of that anymore, tens of thousands of jobs, many of them highly skilled, leaving Poughkeepsie, Kingston and East Fishkill over a scant few years. I think of Rochester, with the ghosts of Kodak and Xerox and that city’s still palpable sense of rotting genteel opulence, or about Pennsylvania and New York’s Southern Tier, where oil was first mined, whose coal powered a world built of their steel, all but gone now except in memory. We, too, have a grand and terrible post-industrial (post-information age?) narrative, a socio-economic crater we walk, and talk, around.
In 2019, Ulster County acquired Enterprise West due to unpaid taxes and began seeking partners for redevelopment. From the go, the county’s intentions for the space were explicitly green, sustainable, local, and equity-minded, seeking the “active engagement, recruitment, and/or development of minority- and women-owned business, worker-owned cooperatives,” and seeking to “advance the County’s goals for a Green New Deal through the production and use of renewable energy, the use of green building materials and practices, and the expansion of green businesses and jobs.” In that language, the county issued a call for letters of interest. To date, 23 individuals and organizations have responded. Their proposals are being considered by the Ulster County Economic Development Alliance (UCEDA), which will determine the fate of Enterprise West.
Enter BluePrint, a collective of artists and street-level community leaders, mobilized by the changing economic realities of Kingston, the crisis in housing and community space, and the skyrocketing costs of getting anything done. They are Kingston regulars mostly, artists and musicians feeling the pinch that is going around, and organizing in response, in the process enjoying a great relationship with Pat Ryan and county leadership. Their vision for BluePrint emphasizes what they consider the strengths and foundations of Ulster County’s economy and character: art and music, agriculture, small business, and progressive community values.
For example, my guides on this unspeakably surreal tour of Enterprise West are BluePrint members Jared Ashdown (Open Head, Longbeard) and Kyle McDonough (Kyle and the Pity Party, Tiny Blue Ghost), two young(ish) Kingston-born musicians who have emerged as community leaders in the last few years. With a lifetime of experience in organizing, booking, and producing, Ashdown and McDonough are feeling galvanized now, as the well-publicized, Covid-fueled changes in Kingston’s economic climate threaten to displace much of the city’s population and transform its culture with a violence unique to flooding money.
Two civic-minded and well-connected rockers leading the infinitely complex charge to reclaim and redeem this titanic post-industrial dreamscape? It makes sense to me. The DIY model of self-determination, community interdependence, resourcefulness, and alternative economies interfacing with traditional economies seems like the ideal prior experience for the job at hand.
Jared and Kyle are my introduction to BluePrint. Up to this moment, I thought it was an outdoor venue and nothing else. McDonough pauses while trying to explain what BluePrint is, struggling to find a place to start: “…a kind of cosmic amalgam of so many things, an amoeba that keeps on changing and growing. We’re all artists that have grown up here, and we have seen the trauma of IBM leaving, and we want to repurpose this space to keep that from happening to another generation under different circumstances: a housing crisis, people being pushed out, especially artists, BSP losing its space. A bunch of dominoes were falling. Our idea is kind of like a MASS MoCa, but one that is actually connected with its community.”
Says Ashdown, “If we don’t have a place to convene, to make music, to see music, to make art and experiment, to do business in an ethical and affordable way, what do we have? The BluePrint idea is to create a new oasis for the community we love. After Covid, we’re either going up, or we’re going down. It’s all about a people-based economy, as opposed to a tourist bubble and rampant gentrification.”
The BluePrint team barely bothers to name its individual members, and there is no hierarchy apparent. Undoubtedly, however, the seasoned artist, activist, and O+ festival founder Joe Concra will often be cast in that leadership role, likely against his own wishes.
“Tim Weidemann [Director, Ulster County Department of Economic Development] came to me before the pandemic and said, ‘hey, what would you do with this building?’” says Concra. “Being fortunate enough to know so many artists and musicians here, I knew a lot of people were being squeezed out and stressed for studio space. So that was the original thought: give it to us for six months and we’ll figure it out.”
As the pandemic raged on, the vision for BluePrint grew in both breadth and clarity. “The county put out a request for interest [in redeveloping Enterprise West],” Concra says, “and with Farm Hub and [Farm] Bridge, a facility that packs farm produce from around the Hudson Valley, we put one together for putting in a mill there to mill all the wheat and corn grown out of Farm Hub. And we began thinking of this as an art and agricultural center, all experiential. Musicians, artists, bakers, growers, coming together to build a center for the public, a way to experience what Ulster County has to offer.”
The redeveloping of facilities from long-gone industries and economies is not a new idea, but more often than not, this happens at 19th century industrial-age factories where the architecture and fixtures themselves are nostalgic, transporting, and cool. Enterprise West is in some ways charmless, vibe-less, a relic of a period of highly functional anti-style, romanticized by no one. It is not just a blank canvas for the future but one that is outrageously well outfitted for virtually any vision: commercial kitchens, black box theater, recording and rehearsal spaces, large art installations and studio complexes, conventions of any size, and industry as well.
“When I was young,” says Concra, “all my studios were in Victorian factories and spaces, but to younger artists and musicians, this is that. These failed economies and failed corporate headquarters all over this country can be repurposed to serve community, art, and culture. And what kind of new economies can we create there? I’ve been doing health exchanges with O+ for years. Can every organization at BluePrint use time-banking and other alternative exchanges?”
And, to this untrained eye at least, the building appears to be in shockingly good condition. “The County Department of Public Works, Buildings and Grounds, has been doing a great job, keeping that building functional and mold free,” says Concra.
“On the BluePrint website,” Concra adds, “we have a request form for people who want to have studios or small business spaces there, and we have just been flooded with requests. That’s what we want to show UCEDA. We thought there was a need, but it is much bigger than we thought. The ball is in UCEDA’s court now.”
Says Tim Weidemann, “There’s a long tradition of economic development focusing on ‘bigger is better’ and trying to attract the next big company, but nowhere is the folly of that approach more apparent than inside the hulking remains of the former IBM campus, where once 7,000 people made their livelihoods, but which now stand empty, a reminder of how precarious it is to rely on a single employer or a single industry. Blueprint has evolved to become a conscious approach to rebuilding from the rubble of the former IBM site a new sort of economy, one that’s more resilient and more focused on supporting the amazing makers and creators who are already here, doing amazing work right under our noses.”
Learn more about BluePrint at https://www.blueprinthv.com. Next up on the BluePrint stage is Jazz at Lincoln Center on July 17.