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First Niagara to add five upstate branches Offices to open by June 2007

One week after firing its CEO, First Niagara Financial Group said that it plans to open five new branches in the first half of next year, including in downtown Buffalo and in Newfane.

The Lockport-based parent of First Niagara Bank will open an office in the Larkin at Exchange Building, at 726 Exchange Street in downtown Buffalo. That's part of an corporate effort to further penetrate the urban markets upstate and be more convenient to business customers as well. It will be the bank's 30th office in Western New York.

The branch will be located in the same building as the savings bank's new regional market center, where it has based its commercial lending, cash management, leasing, benefits consulting and related business lines on one floor. The area around the building and branch has been designated a "banking development district" by the state, making the branch eligible for low-cost government deposits to help it break even faster.

First Niagara has a similar regional office in downtown Syracuse, at 100 Clinton Square, where it also plans a new branch in the next few months. That will be its 22nd office in Central New York.

Besides Newfane in Niagara County, additional offices are slated for the Rochester suburbs of Brighton and Penfield. And it will move its Gates office from a Wal-Mart Supercenter to a free-standing, full-service branch nearby.

In all, the new branches will result in 15 new jobs, including eight in the two downtown offices. First Niagara will have 125 offices across Upstate New York after all five open.

The announcement of the new branches came a week after the board dismissed CEO Paul J. Kolkmeyer and replaced him with John Koelmel, who was named president, chief operating officer and acting CEO. It's also in line with official statements at the time that the company was still focused on continued growth and was not changing its strategy.

e-mail: jepstein@buffnews.com

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