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HSBC Bank USA executives say the bank’s $35 million capital investment in its Buffalo-area facilities reinforces its commitment to the region.

HSBC is pouring money into an overhaul of the Atrium office building downtown, next door to the First Niagara Center, and into leased space at its sprawling former mortgage facility on Walden Avenue in Depew.

“What we’re talking about is a complete renovation of two very, very important facilities for HSBC,” said Greg Zeeman, senior vice president and chief operating officer for HSBC Bank USA, the U.S. subsidiary of HSBC Holdings Plc of London. “It’s one of the largest capital investments HSBC has made in the United States.”

HSBC has more than 3,000 employees in Western New York, largely in commercial, private and corporate banking, as well as back-office roles for its operations both nationally and globally. The bank, formerly Marine Midland Bank, is moving its employees out of the One HSBC Center tower into the Atrium and the Depew locations by the end of October.

Just over a year ago, HSBC completed the sale of its upstate branch network to First Niagara Financial Group, a deal that raised questions about HSBC’s long-term plans for Western New York, where its roots date to 1850. It also sold its credit card business and transferred its U.S. mortgage business to PHH Corp.

But HSBC officials at a Monday news conference said the $35 million investment – which was approved by HSBC’s London-based group chief operating officer following a personal visit to Buffalo – affirms the bank’s connection to the region.

“Once completed, these renovations will place HSBC’s facilities among the highest quality and workplace standards in the United States, and among the group,” Zeeman said.

HSBC officials said the two-year project is scheduled to wrap up by October 2014. The bank’s lease at One HSBC Center is expiring this October, and employees are moving out in waves, said Kevin Quinn, senior vice president and managing director for HSBC Bank USA’s upstate commercial banking business.

The $35 million investment covers the overhaul of existing space and installation of carpeting, ceilings, furniture and even walls. All old furniture, equipment and even office supplies are being donated or auctioned, and will be replaced with white desks, key-lock file cabinets and boxlike personal “lockers” with combination locks.

HSBC will also make technological upgrades to further enable wi-fi and video conferencing, as well as install an advanced telecommunications system. And the six-story Atrium will be environmentally friendly, with LEED certification for energy-efficient lighting and other steps.

HSBC officials led a media tour of the bank’s new look and very modern office space, a sleek and largely paperless format it is also adopting at the Depew location. Instead of workers having individual desks in cubicles assigned to them, employees now take an available work station at a long table, with a low fabric-paneled divider between the two sides of the table. The open-space layout encourages interaction and flexibility among employees.

“What we try to do is have a very open, collaborative environment where people can see each other and people can hear each other,” said Robert Morelli, head of corporate real estate for HSBC Bank USA. Employees can store their materials in individual, locked compartments.

Employees, most of whom will be equipped with laptops, also can work in other areas of the floor, such as in a lounge area or in the break-out space, or can work remotely from home, a coffee shop or someplace else with a wi-fi connection, Morelli said. “We really encourage the employees to be mobile, to be flexible, because we think that just makes a very productive workforce. People can work anyplace, any time.”

The flexible work space approach also helps HSBC accommodate all of the workers being moved out of the tower.

When the renovations are complete, HSBC’s workforce will essentially be split between the Atrium and the Depew facilities, Zeeman said. The $35 million investment is also divided about evenly between the two locations.

Moreover, the bank is doing the upgrades without any tax incentives from the state or Erie County, officials said.

“I think that’s a major turnaround for this community,” said Richard Tobe, deputy county executive. “This may be a major turning point. They want to be here, for their own reasons, without an inducement.”

Quinn said the bank also hopes to be a key part of the larger Canalside development efforts, with the new $17 million-plus investment in the Atrium right next to First Niagara Center, the Sabres’ HarborCenter project and One Canalside.

“There’s an awful lot of excitement down here at this end of town, so we’re very excited to be part of that,” Quinn said, noting the proximity of the Atrium to multiple construction sites and more than $1.7 billion in public and private investment downtown. “As a Buffalonian myself, I am very proud of this project. I think we should be very proud of what’s happening down here.”

Public officials also see HSBC’s commitment as another gain for the development efforts downtown. “There’s not a spot on the waterfront now that’s not in play,” Tobe said, calling it the “realization of the vision” from a 1988 waterfront commission report that called for creating significant public space on the waterfront to encourage private sector investment to follow. “And this investment now secures one more block.”

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