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New owners have big plans for former IBM campus

Rochester Technology Campus
Sign for Rochester Technology Campus

The new owners of Rochester’s almost 500-acre IBM campus say that filling a site like this with tenants is its "sweet spot."

However, people shouldn’t expect a transformation of what is now called the Rochester Technology Campus to happen overnight.

"These things do take time. This is a multi-year project," Industrial Realty Group President Stuart Lichter told a crowd of local business leaders on Tuesday.

Big Blue sold the campus at 3605 N. US 52 for $33.9 million on Feb. 23.

IBM, which built the campus in 1958, has dramatically reduced its Rochester presence in recent years. It now has a 12-year lease to occupy just eight of the 34 buildings on the east side of its former campus.

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The Rochester campus grew to be the largest IBM facility in the world under one contiguous roof. Olmsted County considers it the largest single structure in the county.

Los Angeles-based IRG is focusing on putting new tenants or expanding the footprint of existing tenants in 1 million square feet of unoccupied space in the 26 buildings on the west side of the campus.

The west side, which has a total of 3.1 million square feet of space, already has several non-IBM tenants, including Celestica, Charter Spectrum, HGST/Western Digital, Imanis Life Sciences, Vyriad Inc. and others.

IRG has a long history of acquiring large commercial and industrial properties and breathing new life into them. The more than 40-year-old firm manages 100 million square feet of properties in 28 states.

It has taken on former manufacturing facilities built by companies like Goodrich Tire and Ford. It even bought and transformed the former McClellan Air Force Base in Sacramento, Calif.

"We bought an entire ZIP code, its own city, with the air force base," said Lichter standing in a former IBM auditorium. "We hope to replicate that success here. This (the ex-IBM campus) is our sweet spot."

He emphasized the quality of the campus and the variety of industrial, manufacturing and office space as making it unique.

His company is working closely with Rochester’s Hamilton Real Estate, which has long worked with IBM, to work out the future of the campus.

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IRG first looked at the Rochester campus in late 2016. Rochester Area Economic Development Inc. President Gary Smith described the deal between IRG and IBM as "the longest transaction in history."

However long it took to get done, Smith said IRG taking the reins of the campus is a very positive step for the city, particularly as Mayo Clinic’s Destination Medical Center initiative ramps up.

"Now this site will aggressively be marketed," he said."You can’t find anything like this in the Twin Cities. Just wait five years, and we’ll all look back and say, ‘Wow. Look at that.’"

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