Land Donation Leads to First Niagara Branch Shuffle

March 28, 2013 Updated Mar 28, 2013 at 7:36 AM EDT

By Allissa Kline, Buffalo Business First


Land Donation Leads to First Niagara Branch Shuffle

March 28, 2013 Updated Mar 28, 2013 at 7:36 AM EDT

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) - First Niagara Bank will replace an existing retail branch near the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus with a new branch located inside the Conventus building currently being constructed at Main and High streets.

An executive from the Buffalo bank (NASDAQ: FNFG) confirmed the new location March 27 during a news conference announcing First Niagara's decision to sell 0.8 acres of land at 973 Main St. to the University at Buffalo for $1.

The parcel is one of three properties that UB is acquiring to build a new medical school. First Niagara has agreed to turn the property over to the university on Oct. 1.

The bank plans to open the new branch during the first quarter of 2015, according to Daniel Cantara III, chief banking officer at First Niagara. In the meantime, it will operate a temporary branch at 1031 Main St. near the North Street intersection.

The one-story brick building near the North Street intersection is being acquired by UB, university spokesperson Joseph Brennan said. It currently houses Buffalo Scrubs, a medical apparel retailer.

The bank plans to close the branch at 973 Main St. on July 5, spokesperson Oliver Hays said. The temporary branch will open "at the earliest date possible," hopefully within 30 days of the closing of the existing branch, he said.

First Niagara acquired the space last year when it bought HSBC Bank USA N.A.'s Upstate New York retail network. Gary Crosby, the bank's new interim president and CEO, said discussions about the site between First Niagara and UB began in August 2011, long before First Niagara knew if it would be allowed to keep the branch post-acquisition or be forced to sell it due to anti-trust issues.

In either case, he said, the bank wanted to make sure it maintained a presence near the growing medical campus.

The new bank branch will be located within the planned 287,000-square-foot, six-story building that Conventus Partners LP, an affiliate of Ciminelli Real Estate Corp., is constructing at the corner of Main and High streets. The medical building is set to be anchored by Kaleida Health and UBMD Physicians Group.

First Niagara is in the process of cutting at least $40 million in expenses this year as it seeks to rightsize the organization. The bank took on a series of acquisitions in recent years, capped last May by the $900 million purchase of HSBC's franchise.

The deal required the divestiture of 37 branches in Western New York and near Rochester, plus the bank sold or close dozens of other branches due to overlap with nearby existing branches. The sale has not been as accretive to earnings as initially expected.

Last week, the board of directors announced the termination of John Koelmel, bank president and CEO during the bank's expansion from an $8 billion company to the nearly $38 billion organization it is today. The board is now searching for a permanent replacement.

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