One of the biggest stories in Buffalo this year is unfolding inside the city's tallest building.
M&T Bank is creating a "tech hub" inside Seneca One tower, to centralize the bank's technology development. The bank's project is fueling revival of the downtown landmark under the property's owner, Douglas Jemal.
M&T's renovated space should be ready within a few months, bringing new energy and people to the complex. Here's a look at the tech hub and what it will mean for downtown:
Big numbers: M&T expects to have 1,000 employees working at Seneca One by midyear, and a total of 1,500 on site within three years. M&T hasn't announced when all of its employees will move in, since the process involves shifting employees there from some other locations and ensuring the building's amenities are ready to go.
M&T has made technology development and innovation a priority, as banking becomes ever more digital. At M&T's 2019 shareholders meeting, chairman and CEO Rene Jones said the bank would hire 1,000 tech employees over a three- to five-year span.
New neighbors: Bank officials are encouraging other tech-minded tenants to join M&T in the tower. The goal is to strengthen the region's undersized technology sector, by encouraging "creative collisions" among the people working there.
"The hope is that the building will lease to many other technology companies, that they'll be mixing with the M&T people and we'll just have a real technology hub, which is what we're calling it," said Frederick M. Krajacic, group vice president of property management in M&T's corporate services division.
43North, the business plan competition, and its new class of winners are moving into the tower from the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, with the support of a $1.5 million state grant. TechStars and Z80 Labs will join 43North at Seneca One.
Major tenant: M&T has leased floors 13 through 23 in the tower, plus two floors in the 38-story building's pedestal, for a total of 350,000 square feet. The bank will move into some new space that Jemal has added to the complex's lower levels. LeChase Construction is serving as construction manager for M&T's project.
The work is occurring in two phases. The first phase, involving nearly all of the floors M&T is leasing inside the tower itself, should be complete by the end of March. The second phase, involving the two lower levels of the complex, is expected to be finished in May or June.
"Everything in the building will be brand new: the construction, the furniture, all the technology that's coming in will be our advanced, latest," Krajacic said.
Strategic value: M&T's layout in the tech hub will reflect current trends in office environments, which favor more light streaming through the windows, fewer private offices and more collaborative space. Out of the 1,600-plus employee seats that will be assigned, not a single one will be a private office. Aside from the assigned seats, there will be another 1,600 "unassigned" seats where employees can work and meet up, including cafes, libraries and decision rooms.
"In order to do proper software development, you want business people sitting with you whom you're servicing," Krajacic said. "So in addition to the technologists, we're going to have eventually 200 people from the business lines that are sitting here embedded with the folks in the technology teams."
It's an approach known as "agile development, so they can do better, faster software development and better serve their customers," he said.
Adding to a presence: The tech hub at the tower will reinforce M&T's downtown presence, which includes locations such as M&T Plaza and One M&T Center. Across Western New York, the bank has more than 7,000 employees, making M&T one of the region's largest private employers.
M&T is using different avenues to increase the size of its tech workforce, including its in-house technology development program to recruit and develop new tech workers.
Reviving a skyscraper: What is now called Seneca One tower lost its two major tenants six years ago when HSBC Bank USA and Phillips Lytle moved out. M&T's arrival marks a major step toward bringing the property back to life.
Jemal bought the complex out of foreclosure in 2016 for $12.6 million and has embarked on a $120 million redevelopment. The project includes 115 apartments in an annex building, the addition of retail space at the plaza level and new clubhouses along Main Street.