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It was but two years ago that a vacant lot served as Buffalo’s welcome mat to commuters who poured from the Kensington Expressway into its central business district.

Starting Monday, as construction of the $51 million Catholic Health corporate headquarters building neared completion and employees began their move-in, the plot at 144 Genesee St. offers a brand new gateway that promises better first impressions and a potential boon for area commerce.

About 75 employees from Catholic Health’s human resources, facilities planning and management, marketing, public relations and creative services departments initiated the company’s transition Monday to its new administrative office and regional training center.

The building, a six-story, 139,000-square-foot facility complete with an adjoining 900-car parking garage, is situated between Elm and Oak streets, occupying what was once a barren parcel of grass at the heavily trafficked intersection.

With its close proximity to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus construction boom and a variety of area businesses, Catholic Health’s facility figures to play a prominent role in transforming the area.

“We’re front and center, and we’re happy about that,” said David Vitka, vice president of facility planning for Catholic Health and the lead architect for the project.

In all, Catholic Health will relocate more than 700 employees from its constellation of eight regional offices, mostly in the suburbs, to the new downtown headquarters.

Almost all of them will move in over the next nine weeks. The consolidation will officially be completed in August 2015, when Catholic Health’s lease expires on the space that houses its Catholic Medical Partners division.

The nonprofit health care provider operates Sisters Hospital, Mercy Hospital of Buffalo, Kenmore Mercy Hospital and multiple other facilities.

Its transition from the suburbs to a downtown headquarters opens up the previous eight locations, a mix of owned and leased office space.

The leased spaces at 1083 Delaware Ave. and in Apple- Tree Business Park and 2170 Union Road in Cheektowaga will be left behind.

Catholic Health’s site on Two Mile Creek Road will continue as a clinic for Kenmore Mercy Hospital, while locations at Mercy Hospital of Buffalo and Sisters Hospital will be converted to additional clinical space. A space at 4893 Transit Road will also continue operations.

As for its Nazareth Campus, the site of former Nazareth Home at Symphony Circle will likely be put up for sale, Vitka said.

With the new location comes a new business model for Catholic Health, one that is designed to emphasize efficiency and collaboration between departments that have been spread across the region for years.

“Welcome home” was the salutation of choice for employees as they passed one another in the new hallways Monday.

Uniland Development Co. workers hammered and drilled around them, working quickly to put the finishing touches on the project that broke ground in November 2012.

The minor internal construction will be finished in the next few weeks, Vitka said.

Among the amenities included in the new building:

• A Catholic chapel and fitness center welcome guests to the building’s atrium. Installers were piecing together a large mosaic in the chapel Monday that was transferred from another chapel at its Nazareth Campus.

• A 6,000-square-foot, eight-room training facility that will serve as the primary training location for current employees and new hires as well as staff and students from Catholic Health’s community partners.

• “Floating” floors that include panels elevated on top of hundreds of triangular metal pieces to allow electrical wires and cables to flow underneath, and removable carpet panels that allow for easy reconfiguration inside the office.

• Noise-cancelling systems emit a subtle white noise from the ceilings to offset commotion in the open office space.

• A 160-seat café, modestly constructed to encourage employees to venture out to sample some of the 52 restaurants within walking distance of the building.

“We didn’t want to create an environment where people come in from the suburbs, stay in all day and then drive home,” said Charles Hayes, spokesman for Catholic Health.

In all, about 400 employees will be coming from outside the city, which figures to make a significant impact in the surrounding communities.

One employee, Janet Faulhaber, systems director of facility planning, said she thinks most of her colleagues, perhaps working downtown for the first time, will relish in the opportunity.

“I feel like I’m all settled in here,” said Faulhaber, who moved in late last week from her office at Nazareth Campus to avoid missing a beat on the first day.

“Look at this – you can’t beat this view,” said Michael Moley, vice president of human resources, as he demonstrated the view of the Electric Tower down Genesee Street from his fifth-floor office. “I’m going to have New Year’s Eve down here.”

The company anticipates $1.5 million in annual savings through reduced travel and centralized supplies and purchasing.

Vitka said they considered criteria like accessibility, centrality and ease of access while deciding on a location.

In the end, he said the site won out because “It is very much a gateway site into Buffalo.”

email: bschlager@buffnews.com