Digital Equipment Corp. has been gone for nearly two decades, but Hudson and Maynard are still struggling to redevelop the massive real estate portfolio left behind by the computer giant, with Intel Corp.’s recent decision to shutter a former DEC plant just the latest challenge.
Hudson officials are grappling with the fallout from the impending loss of the Intel factory, a major employer and local taxpayer with more than 700 workers.
And in Maynard, a developer working on plans to turn a 58-acre former DEC site into a major retail complex has gone back to the drawing board after running into heated opposition from some local residents.
Meanwhile, other former Digital offices and plants also face an uncertain future, including Clock Tower Place in Maynard, DEC’s old headquarters.
“I am deeply saddened by the loss of 700 jobs in town,” said Chris Sandini, Hudson’s interim executive assistant. “It will have a trickle-down effect that will hurt other businesses.”
In Hudson, officials hope that some planning will prevent the Intel plant from languishing on the market after it closes 18 months from now.
While not ruling out anything, Michelle Ciccolo, the town’s community development director, said it seems unlikely that another chip manufacturer like Intel will move into the plant.
Long aware the Intel plant might be nearing the end of its run, Hudson officials have already put into place a streamlined local approval process in hopes of attracting a developer for the one-time DEC factory, she said.
That means a developer or company looking to redevelop the plant or convert it to a new use can bank on being able to get through the town permitting process and into construction in 90 days, according to Ciccolo.
“It is a fantastic facility — there is a lot of available parking and it is close to 495,” Ciccolo said. “I am told there are other things that can be done with it.”
While such an outcome would likely be ideal, other former DEC properties have taken years to redevelop.
Both Maynard and Hudson were once stomping grounds for Digital, which at its height controlled millions of square feet of office and industrial space in the two towns.
In Maynard, Capital Group Properties is drafting a new proposal after a plan to build a $50 million retail complex on Route 27 was voted down this spring at Town Meeting.
The Texas lender that is working with Capital Group and owns the site recently won applause from town residents at a forum on the project’s future, having announced that plans to bring in a Walmart had been scrapped, said Angus Jennings, a planning consultant hired by the town to help with the project.
The sprawling site was once home to a pair of large DEC buildings, but the cavernous structures with a dearth of windows have been torn down, Jennings said.
“It is a better site now because it doesn’t have those big white elephants,” he said.
Attempts to redevelop the Maynard site have been going on for at least a decade, with a previous developer having lost the old DEC property to foreclosure after the recession hit, Jennings said.
Clock Tower Place, the computer giant’s former headquarters, has struggled for years to fill up its huge expanse of 1.1 million square feet of office space, with Monster.com the showcase tenant.
Still, finding new uses for the DEC sites has not always been easy, with Maynard and Hudson lacking the easy access to Interstate 495 enjoyed by other communities with major corporate office parks, such as Boxborough and Marlborough, said Eric R. Smith, Maynard’s new town planner.
As a result, there is less demand for industrial and office space in Maynard and Hudson, he said.
That means developers have to look at projects that feature retail and housing, not just offices, Smith said.
Still, while Digital built and redeveloped an array of large plants and old mill buildings, size is not always an impediment.
In some cases, bulk and scale can actually be a plus, said Phil DeSimone, managing director at Jones Lang LaSalle, a commercial real estate firm that tracks the I-495 office market.
Two recent and hopeful examples include the former Fidelity campus in Marlborough, now home to the corporate headquarters of the TJX Cos., and a former Hewlett-Packard complex, also in Marlborough, that is being redeveloped under a lease recently signed with Quest Diagnostics.
“The one thing about large buildings on 495 is that there are relatively few of them,” DeSimone said. “When a large building like that becomes available, larger companies will look at it.
“Big things do happen with big properties,” he said.