Reaction from the Town of Ulster was optimistic, though occasionally cautious, to governor Kathy Hochul’s announcement that the iPark 87 development project on the site of the former TechCity would receive $10 million in state Restore New York grant funding.
Town supervisor James E. Quigley, III and county legislator Brian Cahill were among the guardedly optimistic.
“It’s dramatically different,” said Cahill, who represents the Town of Ulster. “These are new businesses in the area. They’re not relocated people who needed cheaper space, which is what we had there before. It’s 100 percent different than anything there since I left there as an IBMer in 1995.”
On May 22, Hochul at the event, had announced the grant funding in a local press conference.
Ulster County executive Jen Metzger had touted the grant as being critical in moving the iPark 87 project forward. “iPark 87 is really the embodiment of what the Restore New York grant is meant to do,” Metzger said. “This type of forward-looking economic development is crucial as we face an existential threat to the planet and business as usual is no longer possible.”
Ulster town supervisor James E. Quigley, III noted that the grant funding will allow a focus on a pair of buildings on the former IBM campus built in the mid-Fifties, one of which is expected to house Zinc8, a Canadian rechargeable battery storage manufacturer which in January signed a deal which will receive $9 million in Excelsior Jobs tax credits in return for a promised $68 million five-year investment that could create up to 500 jobs.
The supervisor described the move as a step in the right direction, but he said that there was still plenty of work to be done.
“There’s a lot of balls in the air,” Quigley said. “This is a very complex project. It comprises many buildings, many pieces of vacant land, and you’ve got the aspects of the residual activities of the IBM corporation and cleaning up their environmental situation…This grant will only lead to the successful tenanting of those two facilities, and that does not make a project. But it’s a step on the way toward a successful project.
Quigley said other steps include an application before the town planning board for 880 living units, along with numerous commercial and industrial structures on the east campus. For that to work, he said, the town has to be able to handle iPark 87’s water and sewer needs.
“At the present time, the water is applied by the City of Kingston under a contract that goes back to 1953 with the IBM Corporation,” Quigley said. “It was only for a specific amount of water per day, and it was not guaranteeing fire flows, which is high capacity of water in a short period of time; and fire prevention pressure, which is enough pressure to get the water to a set of sprinkler heads in accordance to the specifications of the sprinkler head in there.”
Quigley said the town hoped to integrate that parcel into its water system, which has approximately seven million gallons of water storage available. “Appropriate levels of pressure” must be available. The town will have to negotiate with the City of Kingston to modify existing contracts.
There is also an issue of Ulster’s aging water storage tanks, built, Quigley said, “in the heyday of IBM time.”
The town is seeking $1.3 million in grant funding to replace the smaller 450,000-gallon tank built in 1957, which needs leaks patched several times a year. Town officials are casting a wide net for funding to add to the $500,000 in American Rescue Plan Act money already set aside for the project.
“We’re applying to everybody that we can because it’s essential, it’s a critical infrastructure, it needs to be replaced, and it needs to be replaced now,” Quigley said. “And I need the money now. So if somebody promises me a grant a year from now, that doesn’t help me.”
The town also plans to seek funding to extend water and sewer lines, and will need to reconstruct an emergency feed shut off during the time the property was called TechCity.
“The prior owner never maintained it and it was leaking profusely and causing us a lot of operational issues,” Quigley said. “We weren’t getting paid for the water that was leaking into the ground, so we turned it off. That line has to be reconstructed, and then the sewer lines have to be appropriately designed and installed so that it can remove the sewage from the new development on the south side of the parcel.”
Previous efforts to turn the former IBM campus into a business, manufacturing and technology hub were unsuccessful. “It was a reflection of the quantity of space in a very small market that was placed back into the market for reuse without a sufficient level of demand to absorb it,” Quigley said. “When you had IBM go out, all the local businesses that served IBM contracted, and they certainly weren’t candidates to pick up all this vacant IBM space. So it’s natural that it takes time for this entire market to re-stabilize.”
Re-stabilization is already underway. A building at 901 Grant Avenue that was “abandoned and given up by its lender” three decades ago was recently approved for subdivision into a three-unit warehouse. Other buildings on the campus not part of the iPark 87 redevelopment have gained tenants.
“So there are green shoots of optimism throughout the real-estate market in the town picking up some of this vacant space that was abandoned by IBM,” Quigley said.
Cahill said that the recent flurry of activity on the iPark 87 project was part of a long-term plan coming to fruition. But like Quigley, Cahill said it was too soon to celebrate a project that has a long way to go to completion.
“There’s a lot of work that still has to be done there,” Cahill cautioned. “There’s a lot of environmental issues that have been addressed, but there is still some work that’s being done as far as asbestos abatement.”
But things do seem different this time.
“What happened in the past, we’d see these grandiose plans and I think there was actually, quite frankly, more spent on the presentation of what they wanted to do than the actual infrastructure to achieve it,” he said. “This is different. We’ve seen dramatic action over there. The first thing, of course, was getting rid of those piles of rubble that had to be taken care of, and that was done right on schedule.”
Cahill said that National Resources President Joe Cotter has delivered on other promises, too. In addition to reaching a deal with Zinc8, National Resources has also welcomed digital communications firm Archtop Fiber to iPark 87. Archtop arranged with Central Hudson last year to install fiber-optic cable along existing poles to cover around 1000 miles up and down the Hudson Valley. The company is building an XGS-PON network capable of up to ten gigabytes per second.
In his brief talk at the Restore NY event last week, Cotter mentioned several other expected tenants.