The birthplace of the world’s first personal computer is returning to its cutting-edge roots, this time with a real estate focus.
In a sprawling office campus in Boca Raton, Florida, where IBM developed the first PC in the 1970s, tenants will have access to the latest trappings of a 21st-century workplace, one where the need to run errands is eliminated so employees never have to leave. The site will feature the latest dining fad, the food hall, while letting workers get flu shots in a wellness center, drop off their dry cleaning and have their nails done.
And there’s even talk of building housing nearby, making it easy for staff to linger in the office well into the evenings. Such an approach would emulate the headquarters of 21st-century corporate trend-setters like Facebook, the social media website provider, and search engine Google, in California’s Silicon Valley, where the companies have each proposed worker housing.
The Boca Raton site’s services are part of major upgrades by the new owner, Crocker Partners. They reflect a larger initiative across the country by landlords and employers to make office environments more appealing to busy executives and a millennial workforce – and to employers looking to keep the high 21st-century productivity that got its start with the advent of the personal computer.
“Because of technology today, work has invaded your home life,” said Giana Pacinelli, marketing director for Crocker. “If we are going to spend a majority of our time at the office, why can’t we take advantage of these conveniences?”
Crocker, a Boca Raton-based developer and landlord, purchased the 1.7 million-square-foot Boca Raton Innovation Campus this year for $179.3 million from Farallon Capital Management of San Francisco, according to CoStar data. Crocker said it’s the state’s largest single-unit office complex, with 35 tenants and about 4,000 employees.
IBM dedicated the campus at 4800-5002 T Rex Ave. in 1970. By the mid-1980s, it was a major employment base in southern Palm Beach County with nearly 10,000 workers on site, establishing a sizable corporate presence in the county that would help attract more companies in later years.
During its heyday, the campus just off Yamato Road employed corporate chefs to prepare meals, and workers took advantage of the many IBM-organized recreation opportunities, including baseball and basketball, according to an employee who worked there.
But the company eliminated manufacturing operations at the site by the late 1980s and drastically reduced the workforce into the mid-1990s. It no longer has a presence there.
In 1996, IBM sold the property for $46 million to a group that turned it into a multi-tenant office park. In 2005, Blackstone Group paid $192.7 million before Farallon and partner Next Tier HD assumed ownership for an undisclosed sum in 2015, according to CoStar records.
As each new ownership group took over, most of IBM’s perks and amenities were discontinued, and the offices started showing their age. Craig Heyne, facilities manager for current tenant Bluegreen Corp., cited as an example the conference center, which he described as drab and outdated.
“It was not a place where you would want to bring a meeting to,” he said. “It was more of a place where you had to go if you didn’t have anywhere else.”
Crocker’s goal is to again make the site a premier office destination. Toward that end, the company has started by modernizing the conference center, creating a reception area immediately outside the room for networking.
It also is planning to complete renovations by next September to the 30,000-square-foot former IBM cafeteria. Plans call for a food hall with vendors offering prepared meals. Also in that space, a nail technician will book appointments, a nurse will staff a wellness center and employees can send their clothes out for dry cleaning.
What’s more, tenants and the general public can use lab space for testing in such fields as science, technology engineering, arts and math.
“We want this to be a place where innovation can still happen,” said Pacinelli, the marketing director.
Crocker plans to create an IBM museum and is also organizing events for tenants on-site, including a recent pop-up shopping day where employees could browse for holiday gifts among a handful of vendors.
Angelo Bianco, managing partner of Crocker, told CoStar News in April that the firm is looking at development rights for the surrounding area, possibly to add more commercial space and multifamily housing to the campus so employees could live where they work. Pacinelli said those plans are not imminent.
Bluegreen’s Heyne is convinced the changes will allow the campus to attract talented millennials, an important target for growing companies.
“Now you’re talking about a Google-esque” type of setting, he said. “To me it lends itself to a better work-home balance for people who aren’t tied to 9-to-5.”
Erik Mintz, an IBM programmer at the site for about 11 years beginning in 1990, said South Florida is becoming so flush with start-up companies that it isn’t far-fetched that the region could become another Silicon Valley someday.
“A campus like this could be a very important component of that coming to life,” said Mintz, who founded a start-up company and is now working on another. “Once it gets any traction, the first place I’ll go back to is that campus for space and amenities. There’s little doubt in my mind.”