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M&T tech hub and its 1,000 workers headed to Buffalo's One Seneca Tower

M&T Bank has selected downtown Buffalo's One Seneca Tower as the location for a new technology hub and the 1,000 employees who will work there, a source told The Buffalo News.

The bank, One Seneca owner Douglas Jemal and other officials are set to formally announce the decision at a Thursday news conference, according to a source familiar with the deal.

M&T will take up a significant number of floors in the vacant, 38-story tower, along with the western plaza addition that faces Pearl Street, about 25% of the building's square footage.

The first of the bank's workers could start moving into the building by late fall, the source said, the initial stage in a massive influx of workers eagerly awaited by city officials, downtown advocates and others.

Last December, M&T put out a request for proposals for a tech hub location. The bank said it received more responses than it anticipated from landlords and developers.

All along, the One Seneca Tower – formerly the corporate offices of a competitor, HSBC Bank USA – has been viewed as a strong contender. The property is in a prominent spot downtown, along the Metro Rail line and connected to a parking ramp. It's also just down the street from M&T's headquarters at One M&T Plaza.

M&T's request said the bank would need about 150,000 square feet of office space available by this month, with the ability to expand by another 100,000 square feet in the same building or campus over the next two to three years.

Buffalo Business First initially reported the news of the selection Tuesday. The Buffalo News independently confirmed the account.

M&T spokesman C. Michael Zabel late Tuesday said in an email that "we have made no announcement" but the bank would provide details "when our announcement is ready to be made."

The tower was built between 1969 and 1972 as the headquarters for Marine Midland Bank, which was later absorbed into HSBC. It's been vacant since HSBC Bank USA, the Canadian Consulate, the Phillips Lytle law firm and other tenants finished moving out by the end of 2013.

M&T's request prompted Jemal's Douglas Development to propose adding more than 110,000 square feet of commercial space to the plan for the complex, which already has 1.2 million square feet of empty space.

It's not known which other downtown developers responded to M&T's request. One Seneca was the only building publicly identified as a possible landing spot for the tech hub.

Jemal in December touted the building's large floor plates of up to 45,000 square feet and noted the basement levels originally housed HSBC Bank USA's data center.

"There's not a lot of buildings that have the connectivity that Seneca One has, the outdoor space that Seneca One has," he said then.

The region’s tech sector, which has lagged behind other parts of the country, also should get a jump start from M&T’s downtown commitment.

“We want M&T to be a compelling destination for talented, innovative, tech-savvy people,” said Michael Wisler, the bank's chief information officer, in April.

At M&T Bank's annual shareholders meeting that month, chairman and CEO Rene F. Jones said the bank planned to hire more than 1,000 tech-related employees who would work downtown. Its plans called for filling the first 250 of those jobs this year. M&T is also adding 200 tech-related jobs in Wilmington, Del.

M&T already has about 7,000 employees in Western New York, making the bank one of the region's largest private employers.

The bank has emphasized investing in technology, to keep pace with the demands of the banking industry and to encourage innovation. And M&T wants to bring together into one location tech workers now spread among several locations, to promote efficiency and collaboration among those workers.

Douglas Jemal has M&T Bank in mind for One Seneca Tower expansion plan

The move of the M&T tech workers into the building should give a significant boost to Jemal's plan to bring new life to Buffalo Niagara's tallest building.

Jemal bought the complex in September 2016 for $12.6 million, and the veteran developer from Washington, D.C., almost immediately launched an ambitious, $120 million adaptive reuse.

Overall plans for the multiyear project call for a mixed-use facility, with some combination of apartments, offices, retail stores, restaurants and possibly a hotel.

A key goal is to welcome more people to the lower levels of the complex, generating a bustle of activity to sustain the development, before Jemal moves on to work on the vacant tower itself.

A total of five lower-level phases are anticipated, with full completion by February, according to a recent application to the city’s Planning Board.

Previous phases included redevelopment of the two annex buildings into 115 apartments and retail space, followed by construction of two new black-brick retail buildings on the plaza.

Jemal also added a one-story addition on the western half of the plaza, creating another 110,000 square feet of office space in the basement levels aimed at luring M&T's technology operations.

He received approval last month for a new "clubhouse" on the Seneca Street side of the plaza, with a bar and courtyard. Those parts of the project are slated to be completed and open by the fall.

3 ways M&T Bank's technology hub could pay dividends for downtown

News Business Reporter Jonathan D. Epstein contributed to this report.

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