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Key to gather input for branch on Buffalo’s East Side

KeyCorp said community input will help the bank determine where to open a new branch on Buffalo’s East Side.

Key has also pledged to add two to three loan officers in the Buffalo Niagara region who will focus on low- to moderate-income communities.

Members of the Buffalo Community Reinvestment Coalition shared those plans Tuesday, as they provided more local details of a five-year, $16.5 billion loan and investment program Key plans to roll out across all markets it serves. Bruce D. Murphy, executive vice president and head of corporate responsibility for Key, and Norman A. Bliss, Key’s senior vice president and director of community development, came from Cleveland to attend the announcement on Clinton Street, across from the Bethel Tabernacle Church.

“What we’re looking for is a set of community insights to talk about where will it work,” Murphy said of plans for the new branch. “We will use our business acumen to also look at how we ultimately will deliver that. It’s too premature to talk about where and the timing until we go through that process.”

Of the $16.5 billion in Key’s community benefits plan, about $5.8 billion will be directed to the five markets that would make up a combined Key-First Niagara footprint, Murphy pledged that Key will follow through, and in Buffalo, a local advisory panel will monitor the bank’s progress.

“This is a five-year commitment,” Murphy said. “This is not something that’s going to go away after a year or two.”

Members of local community groups praised Key’s investment plan, pointing to revitalization elsewhere in the city and saying members of low-income neighborhoods should not be neglected.

John Washington, a community organizer with PUSH Buffalo, said a new Key branch will provide a much-needed physical location for delivering on the bank’s plans.

“I also want to make sure we use this as an opportunity to prove that communities and banks can work together, and challenge every other bank in the city to make the same commitments,” Washington said. “Buffalo is a land of opportunity right now, but that opportunity is only going downtown.”

The Rev. JoAnne Scott, president of the Niagara Organizing Alliance for Hope, said she sees struggling areas of Niagara Falls starved for investment.

“There are people that would love to become homeowners, that would love to have the opportunity to be able to invest,” Scott said. “These people are waiting for such an opportunity as this with KeyBank.”

Key released a community benefits plan last week intended to address community concerns about the impact of its planned deal to acquire First Niagara. Key developed the plan in conjunction with the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, which includes more than 80 community groups. The NCRC said Key raised its commitment from $12 billion to $16.5 billion over the course of their talks. The program is set to launch in January.

Key made several other commitments to the Buffalo Niagara region, including:

• Implementing KeyBank Plus and Key Basic products in low- to moderate-income branches, including increasing the visibility and marketing of the products.

• Addressing language issues for customers.

• Investing funds through the KeyBank Foundation, in support of community-based financial support programs and workforce development programs.

• Continuing support for housing counseling agencies and first-time homebuyer programs.

• Working with the Buffalo-Niagara Advisory Council.

The NCRC said Key had pledged to keep open four branches in low- to moderate-income areas that were considered at risk of being closed. But Key said it is still working with the U.S. Department of Justice to finalize which branches would have to be sold to enable the Key-First Niagara deal to go through.

Murphy also said it was premature to say what the impact of the deal would be on the combined workforce. “That will become clearer over the next several weeks.”

In a separate interview at a ceremony at the Conventus Center for Collaborative Medicine on Tuesday, First Niagara CEO Gary Crosby said the Justice Department would ultimately decide which branches will be divested. “There’s back and forth, but in the end it’s the (Justice Department’s) call.”

Crosby also addressed the prospect of job cuts stemming from the Key-First Niagara deal. “To the extent there’s losses of jobs and (corporate) headquarters, that’s not on Key’s back,” he said. “That would have happened no matter who the (First Niagara) board selected” as a merger partner.

“What Key’s doing is, they’re doing their best to maximize what they can in our headquarters,” Crosby said. “They’re being very, very thoughtful about it.”

First Niagara and Key will hold special shareholders meetings on Wednesday, to complete shareholders’ voting on the deal. The deal still needs regulators’ approval, as well.

News Business reporter Jonathan D. Epstein contributed to this report. email: