The founder and former CEO of a 3D printing company has set his sights on Peekskill as a hub for innovation and business development.
“It just feels like things are sort of going in the right direction in Peekskill,” said Bre Pettis, who co-founded MakerBot Industries in 2009 before selling it to Stratasys Inc. four years later in a $604 million deal. “What it needs now is jobs and tourism, so that more people can afford to go to the restaurants and so that more money arrives here instead of just goes away.”
Earlier this year, Pettis bought a string of vacant properties along North Water Street, which is east of the train tracks and the Hudson River waterfront. Pettis said the area has “been sort of a no man’s land” in recent years. Surrounding businesses include gastropub Sue’s Sunset House and lighting store Early Electrics.
Pettis’ company Bre & Co. LLC paid $1.65 million for the properties at 135, 150, 189 and 190 N. Water St., according to Westchester County land records.
“I think it’s going to create an interesting ecosystem,” Pettis said of his plans for the area.
At 135 N. Water St., Pettis aims to transform a white brick warehouse into the headquarters of Bantam Tools, a company Pettis bought last year that makes desktop milling machines that can be used to form materials and fabricate products.
Pettis aims to relocate the company’s headquarters from Berkeley, California, to Peekskill, closer to his home in Croton-on-Hudson.
“It’s been such a delight being back in the arena making machines. That’s what I like. I like empowering people to be creative,” he said. “What I don’t like is flying across the country all the time.”
During the first year of the company’s operation in Peekskill, Pettis said he hopes to relocate 12 employees from the company’s San Francisco headquarters.
“That’s conservative,” he said of the jobs figure, adding that after five years in operation, he hopes to have 54 jobs in Peekskill. Pettis said he will also look to fill a number of open positions in Peekskill, from marketing jobs to customer service representatives.
At 190 N. Water St., a building that Pettis said was last used as part of a power plant operation in the early 20th century, plans include the installation of a product development prototyping laboratory.
“Imagine Tony Stark’s Iron Man laboratory, and that’s what I’m going to move into here,” he said. “Except that it’s real, not just the movies.”
He also owns the equipment to open a ceramics manufacturing business, which could also find its home at 190 N. Water St. In that operation, “we make stuff with advanced mold making and 3D-printing ceramics,” Pettis said.
Ideas for the two remaining properties at 150 and 189 N. Water St. range from office space to events centers to artist studios.
“Already in the last two weeks I’ve had people reach out to me being like, ‘I’ve heard through the grapevine that you’ve got space. Can we rent from you?’” Pettis said.
To make his vision a reality, Pettis has applied for a zoning amendment to allow for light manufacturing in the WF-2 and WF-3 zones, areas that surround North and South Water streets and run East toward Central Avenue.
“It’s taking a lot longer” than he had anticipated, Pettis said. “It’s not a fast process is what I’m learning.”
Though Pettis has big dreams for Peekskill, he admits the process has been far from easy.
“There’s no place on the internet that tells you how to do this,” he said of applying for a zoning amendment. “I would say the next person who wants to come to Peekskill and start a business here, they should talk to me first. I can save them like six months.”
Pettis first set his sights on Peekskill for a somewhat unlikely reason.
“I’ve been coming here since 2013, because Peekskill Coffee House has to be the best coffee in the region,” he said.
While he may have been drawn to the city for its brew, there were a number of reasons he chose to invest in Peekskill.
“It’s a combination, it’s a diverse place, I like that. It’s on the rail line. It’s affordable, so my employees who have dogs can afford to buy houses. If they want to commute into (New York City) for culture, they can,” he said.
Pettis said he spent months “getting to know the movers and shakers in Peekskill.” He eventually made connections that led him to purchasing the properties along North Water Street.
“I only needed one, but they came as a set, so now I have four,” he said with a laugh.