SEFCU PLANS TO ADD OFFICE

Credit union will move some of its businesses to Clinton Square

CHRIS CHURCHILL BUSINESS WRITER
Section: Business,  Page: C1

Date: Thursday, April 15, 2010

SCHENECTADY -- Downtown Schenectady's string of victories continued Wednesday, when the region's largest credit union said it would occupy a newly built State Street office building.


SEFCU intends to move its commercial lending, business banking and insurance businesses into Clinton Square -- a 24,500-square-foot building that will now carry a new name: SEFCU Square.


Michael Castellana, president of SEFCU, said the Albany-based credit union plans to move about 60 workers into the building by early summer, with many of the workers relocating from offices in Albany and Latham.


Eventually, SEFCU intends to employ about 120 workers at the site, Castellana said, calling those workers "a further stimulus to downtown."


Clinton Square is the site of what is still known by some as the "pizza block," a reference to the restaurants once located there. The transformation of the block began in 2008, with Highbridge Development taking on the construction of a single office building fronted by three distinct facades.


Highbridge wrapped up the project 10 months ago -- and then ... nothing.


"We finished construction, and then it sat there (vacant) for awhile," said John Roth, founder and president of Schenectady-based Highbridge and Plank Construction, an associated firm. "We went through that tough economic time in the market."


SEFCU will take nearly the entire mixed-use building, using all the space on upper floors for offices and using a part of the bottom floor for a relocated retail branch. All that remains unoccupied now is 3,000 square feet of ground floor space.


Roth said he hopes to find a clothing store for the space, seeing the arrival of better shopping as the next step in downtown Schenectady's redevelopment.


"That's what downtown is primed for," Roth said. "It's needed."


Some of the SEFCU workers now bound for Schenectady were almost sent to Troy, where the credit union intended to build a $10 million building. But that project stalled when a covenant in the property deed revealed that the Sixth Avenue site is a public park.


Castellana on Wednesday said the Troy project is dead, though he said SEFCU has additional plans in Troy, including a downtown branch and a new branch near the Brunswick town line.


"We're not abandoning Troy by any means," he said.


SEFCU's move to 469 State St. is only the most recent positive development for downtown Schenectady -- but hardly the first for an area that has experienced a staggering amount of new construction in recent years, despite the down economy.


Last month brought additional progress, with Proctors theater announcing an expansion into an empty former bank branch at 436 State St. and the Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority saying it had purchased the long-troubled Foster Building at 508 State St.


Roth said an additional announcement is on the way, as his company is nearly ready to reveal its plan for another downtown office building.


Roth added, however, that he wasn't yet ready to say where, exactly, the structure will rise.


Chris Churchill can be reached at 454-5442 or cchurchill@timesunion.com.