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Downtown arena set for new name: KeyBank Center

KeyCorp plans to splash a new name across the First Niagara Center in time for the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres season: KeyBank Center.

And the Cleveland-based bank said it will make Larkinville – home of First Niagara Financial Group’s headquarters – its Northeast regional headquarters.

KeyCorp chairwoman and CEO Beth Mooney and First Niagara CEO Gary Crosby shared the news in Buffalo on Wednesday, as Key awaits regulators’ approval of its acquisition of First Niagara.

But what remains unknown is how many First Niagara jobs Key will maintain in Western New York post-acquisition; Mooney said those plans are still in development. First Niagara has about 5,300 employees across its four-state territory. About 2,300 of those jobs are in Western New York, including about 750 at Larkinville.

Key is set to become the fourth different bank to display its name on the downtown arena since it opened as Marine Midland Arena in 1996. The facility later became HSBC Arena, before First Niagara acquired the naming rights under a 15-year agreement in 2011.

Mooney said Key is finalizing plans to pick up the naming rights agreement. “There are a handful of pending approvals,” Mooney said. “I’m leaning in to say it will be KeyBank Center.”

Key already has its name on another sports facility, in Seattle, Wash. The KeyArena was home of the NBA’s SuperSonics before the team moved to Oklahoma City, Okla.

Through different announcements and events on Wednesday – the arena name, the Northeast headquarters designation, and $1.6 million in grants to area organizations – Key sought to reinforce the connection the bank will have with Western New York after it absorbs First Niagara’s operations. “What we’re here to do today is underscore our commitment to the community and the region,” Mooney said.

Key already has a substantial presence here, through a corporate office, back-office operations and branches. But Mooney said Western New York will become the bank’s second-biggest market, trailing only its home market in Cleveland.

“The guiding principle is this is an attractive market, with good employees, a solid base of functions with folks here,” she said. “We are really looking to optimize employment as we bring our two companies together. It’s really about making sure we build a better company that can serve its customers and its communities and be a great place to work for our employees.”

Mooney called Larkinville a “great piece of real estate” and “a real jewel.” Key said it was committed to maintaining the majority of space that First Niagara occupies in Larkinville, while also keeping its offices at 250 Delaware Ave. Mooney said Key would also continue sponsorship of a summer concert series in Larkinville that First Niagara began.

Key is aiming to complete its deal – currently valued at about $3.7 billion – in the third quarter. Before that happens, the bank needs the green light from the Federal Reserve, which has not indicated when its approval might come. Key and First Niagara have already cleared other vital hurdles, such as their shareholders’ approval of the deal, and an agreement with the Justice Department to sell 18 area branches to Northwest Bancshares to satisfy anti-competitive concerns.

Key has pledged to give $20 million to the First Niagara Foundation to continue its community initiatives. On top of that, the KeyBank Foundation announced Wednesday $1.7 million in grants for 12 Western New York organizations, including $1 million for Say Yes Buffalo. First Niagara also announced $1 million in grants for youth mentoring programs across its territory, including $165,000 spread among nine Western New York groups.

Key has also sought to win over community groups skeptical of the effect a combined Key-First Niagara would have on access to neighborhood banking services in the region. In March, Key rolled out a five-year, $16.5 billion National Community Benefits Plan, a loan and investment program, designed to launch across Key’s markets in 2017. The bank will direct $5.8 billion of that total to markets where a combined Key-First Niagara would operate. Key developed its plans with input from community organizations, and has pledged to open a new branch on Buffalo’s East Side.

Crosby is set to become one of three First Niagara board members to join an expanded Key board, once the deal is complete.

“I’m a firm believer that good board members provide insight and oversight, and great board members provide foresight, but focus on the big picture, on strategy and help the CEO in any way possible, to stay focused on the strategy and deliver the right results to shareholders,” he said.

He said the process of bringing Key and First Niagara together “has gone incredibly well.”

“They’ve gone about it a very, very, thoughtful way ... doing everything possible to maximize employment.”