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History inspires Bank on Buffalo's $2.2M renovation inside Electric Tower

Bank on Buffalo is restoring a piece of local history.

The growing bank is renovating the seventh floor of the Electric Tower. The $2.2 million project will create a regional headquarters for Bank on Buffalo. The restoration will also fulfill a vision the building's owner, Paul Iskalo, has had since his namesake company bought the property 14 years ago.

Iskalo saved the seventh floor for a single tenant, rather than divide up the space among multiple tenants. The floor was once home to offices of the Buffalo General Electric Co., which presided over the electrification of the region. The building later served as Niagara Mohawk's headquarters.

"We have a lot of respect for the space and what it was," said Martin Griffith, the bank's president and CEO. "To retain that was very important."

The Electric Tower occupies a special spot in the downtown skyline. It was inspired by the Pan-American Exposition in 1901. Colorful lights at the top signal holidays and special occasions. On New Year's Eve, revelers gather outside for a ball drop.

Work on the seventh floor has included demolition and new construction, as well as preserving features from the building's distant past. "We were able to save just about every single piece of wood that was up here," said Kevin Sutton, site superintendent for Iskalo Development.

The windows allows ample natural light to shine deep into the building, and offer panoramic views of the city. The competition is visible, too: M&T Center looms outside of what will be Griffith's office.

While the octagonal tower dates to 1912, several floors of wings were added later to the Electric Tower. As a result, portions of the tower's original terra cotta exterior on the seventh floor now face into the expanded building, and will be left exposed in some places.

Griffith considers the boardroom the floor's "crown jewel," with the original millwork and molding still in place. Plaster in the room required some minor repairs.

Martin Griffith is seen in the boardroom of the new Bank On Buffalo headquarters that is still under construction on the seventh floor of the Electric Tower. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

The bank was pleasantly surprised by the condition of the floor's doors, knobs, locking mechanisms and hardware. "With very few exceptions, everything was in perfect working order," Griffith said. So the bank kept what worked.

Bank on Buffalo expects work crews will finish the renovations in December. Initially, about 15 people will work on the seventh floor. But the bank expects to keep adding employees, and some of the space on the floor will be set aside for future growth.

The regional headquarters will allow Bank on Buffalo to operate more efficiently, by bringing more employees together in one place, Griffith said. "This is going to be a much needed relief for us, because we do have some people scattered out to our branches."

Bank on Buffalo has nearly 50 employees companywide, and operates four branches, including one on the first floor of the Electric Tower. The bank, a division of Pennsylvania-based CNB Financial, is scouting locations for a fifth branch.

Griffith said the Electric Tower location suits the bank's evolution.

"We recognized part of the reason we took this space is based on our growth and based on our anticipated growth," Griffith said. "If you would have asked me two years ago when we began whether I would even need something close to this, I wouldn't have believed it."

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