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KeyBank aims to build on Medical Campus connections

KeyBank is eager to be in the middle of the action on the blossoming Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, and thinks it has the ideal spot, inside the Conventus medical office and research building.

"This is the single best location for a bank branch in Western New York, period, full stop," said Buford Sears, Key's Buffalo region market president. Sears called the corner of Main and High streets the "gateway" to the Medical Campus, "the largest engine and driver of economic growth and revitalization in Western New York. Where else would you rather be?"

The new branch is scheduled to open Monday morning. A temporary branch at 1031 Main St. is set to close Friday afternoon. Customer accounts will shift to the Conventus location over the weekend.

Key is the only bank with a branch on the Medical Campus, and is eager to build up its presence. It's part of a plan Key picked up from First Niagara, after Key acquired First Niagara last year.

Back in 2012, First Niagara selected the emerging Medical Campus Medical Campus and its neighborhoods for a "micromarket strategy." Sears was with First Niagara then, and led a team of 18 bank employees to carry it out.

The new KeyBank branch in Conventus opens next week. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

The bank reached out to community stakeholders and developed a three-pronged approach. One element was the retail presence, with a new branch as its centerpiece. Key also has meeting space in the nearby Thomas R. Beecher Jr. Innovation Center, where Key can form relationships with startups.

A second piece was the bank's commercial relationships with large institutions around the Medical Campus. "We're happy to say we continue to maintain those, and as we put legacy Key and legacy First Niagara together, we have more of those relationships than obviously we had as just First Niagara just by itself," he said. "We've also built on that very nicely."

Sears credited the Conventus branch manager, Trina Burruss, whom he referred to as the "unofficial mayor" of the Medical Campus, as a driving force. Burruss was the branch manager of the nearby HSBC Bank USA that was acquired by First Niagara. She joined First Niagara and has managed the temporary branch down the street until the Conventus branch was ready.

"She is as good as a branch manager as I think you'll find anywhere in Western New York," Sears said. "She's in the right place here, where this is just a ton of opportunity. It's a very target-rich environment for Trina and her team."

Across the three banks, Burruss has been a branch manager on the Medical Campus for 14 years and has watched the neighborhood transform. "The community here is sort of a melting pot," she said. "We're uniquely positioned I think to serve not only the folks who work on the Medical Campus every day, but also the folks who live here as well, and Allentown, moving into downtown."

The third piece of the strategy was the community itself, including donating land that completed the puzzle for the medical school and supporting capital campaigns for major institutions. But First Niagara, and now Key, have also taken steps to help nearby residents by offering programs to educate people on first-time home purchases, as well as enhancing the Fruit Belt's streetscapes, Sears said.

"We're really proud of the way we have supported not just the institutions here on the campus, sort of the iconic household names, but also getting down at a micro level in a granular way with members of the community and helping them, as well," Sears said.

The new branch completes a transition that was set in motion in 2013. That was when First Niagara closed a location at 973 Main St. to make way for the University at Buffalo's new Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. The bank gave the .85-acre parcel to the project for $1. Officials appraised the land at $2 million.

First Niagara then moved into the temporary branch, with plans for a permanent location inside Conventus. In the meantime, Key acquired First Niagara. The new branch features Key's new format, with a more open floor plan and employees who can help customers with a variety of tasks.

"It's all more around talking to the client, not around the transaction," said Joseph Philippone, Northtowns area retail leader for Key.

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