It’s been more than a decade of determined effort, but Ginsberg—who saw potential where many saw only liability—is bubbling with good news about the 260-acre former IBM manufacturing site that lies parallel to Ulster County’s major retail corridor in Kingston.
IBM’s departure in the early 1990s stripped the region of 8,000 jobs, leaving behind a certain amount of bitterness and an environmental mess to clean up. Over the years, there have been false starts, conflicts, and hassles aplenty. That, says Ginsberg, is history now—the future has arrived, and it’s shovel ready.
Part of Ginsberg’s vision of redeveloping TechCity into an eco-village requires having just the right team. TechCity President Daniel Wieneke is fresh from a triumph in the north.
“Local visionaries went to work and turned the shuttered Plattsburgh Air Force Base into a vibrant community of residential, commercial, and industrial development,” relates the Plattsburgh Press-Republican, summing up a chapter in that area’s history that seemed disastrous at first. Projections were that the reclamation might take 30 years; as president of that project, Wieneke nailed it in eight.
TechCity comprises 27 low-rise buildings, many of which have no street frontage and little to no natural lighting. The first phase of the master plan calls for the selective demolition of obsolete buildings and the creation of a new set of internal roads designed to provide each remaining building with a new image and a “front door” address to enhance a tenant’s image and marketability. Overall, the building gross floor area will be approximately 2 million square feet of mixed-use development. Building Three, the most environmentally problematic, will become sheltered parking with green roofs and solar panels, freeing up current parking areas for built-to-order construction and green space.
All told, the TechCity redevelopment is said to cost $260 million of private and public funds, according to Ginsberg.
With several major tenants up and running, the TechCity folks had the breathing room to untangle the issues remaining with IBM, the DEC, and local permitting bodies and create a plan for an eco-village. “Some residential, a smidgen of retail, and many, many green collar jobs,” says Wieneke confidently. “It’ll be novel, world class—a destination.”
The residential component, part of the final phase of the master plan, would depend on the growth rate of the commercial leases as well as market conditions, officials say.
Now that the master plan has been approved by the Town of Ulster, demolition of the obsolete buildings is moving right along and the TechCity team is finding new tenants easier to woo. The newest, solar thermal tech firm EarthKind, Inc., has just signed a lease on 2,500 feet of office, warehouse, and light assembly space. Preparations to move into another 5,000 to 10,000 square feet of warehouse and manufacturing/assembly space are under way.
EarthKind, which works extensively with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), the New York Power Authority (NYPA), and the State University of New York at Binghamton, sees enormous potential in the regional market as public/private collaborations continue to incentivize solar conversion, says EarthKind President John Smigelski in announcing the move into TechCity.
Things at TechCity are already greener. The site’s antiquated central utility plant, which had annually emitted 100 tons of airborne pollutants, has been shut down and replaced with individual, very low emission, natural gas-fired rooftop units in occupied buildings. Electrical usage has been cut from 9.1 million kilowatt hours in 2006 to 5.8 million kWh in 2008—a 36 percent reduction.
“The old central utility plant had boilers the size of houses, burning No. 6 fuel oil—it was a dinosaur,” says facility management chief Paul Waddington, a passionate environmentalist whose own house is “off the grid.”
“The place was so ’50s it’s amazing…They left some great features though,” he states, pointing to the dedicated railway span that tenant Hunter Panels uses each week to ship out three or four tanker car loads of finished goods.
“This is a massive, complex place,” Waddington adds. “Modernizing it, we are simplifying it in some ways and making it more complex in others.”
One simplification was a new regulatory approach, “peeling off” the parcels that didn’t need mandated cleanup. “A significant portion of the land was unaffected, but was treated as if it was,” says Wieneke. “We needed to get past the regulatory hurdles that were burdening the clean parcels. We brought together the town, the DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation), and IBM, and did a lot of testing. Now, we’re rounding third base with a significant part of the property, and once that’s done people can get funding to locate here.”
Between long-term tenant Bank of America and its double handful of high-tech neighbors, hundreds are already back to work at TechCity—and with stimulus funds targeted for clean energy adding to the existing advantages of Empire Zone tax breaks, Ginsberg’s vision and determination may be poised to help bring Kingston into a viable future at last. Already happily co-existing with corporate neighbors are police agencies training K9s, chefs cooking for Meals on Wheels, a youth soccer league, and a variety of organizations holding special events and expos. A charter school is proposed.
“The community has told us what they want, and we’ve been building relationships and setting goals with that in mind,” says Ginsberg. “Everybody seems to like what they see at this point. And I’m hiring, I’m putting my money where my mouth is. We’re on our way.”
Adds Waddington: “It’s got way more than just a faint pulse: 15 percent of 1.5 million square feet is actually already humming.”