Leaders from the town, Manchester Community College and First Niagara bank announced an intriguing new partnership Wednesday that will see the bank donate $1.3 million to the town, including a building in the downtown area, in an effort to create a “satellite” center of the college to promote educational and cultural programs in the downtown area.
Under the plan, First Niagara will donate the approximately 16,000-square foot building at 903 Main St., which dates to 1898 and was once a men’s department store, to the town of Manchester, which the town will then make available to . The college plans to utilize the space as an educational and cultural hub to tie the downtown area to MCC’s main campus off Bidwell Street.
MCC President Gena Glickman said the space will first be used to hose an art exhibit in January, and that she would ultimately like to see the building include room for exhibits and cultural presentations, an Internet café and as many as four classrooms that could accommodate 25 students apiece. Glickman said that, at full capacity, the location could bring hundreds of new students, staff and visitors to the downtown area on a daily basis.
“This will absolutely benefit both MCC and the town,” Glickman said. “College kids want to be downtown, and we don’t have a Main Street.”
Glickman said some of MCC’s long-term plans for the building include transferring many of the college’s baccalaureate and continuing education classes to the facility, mainly held at night and generally taken by older students, which would bring adults to the downtown area at night, who might then frequent stores and restaurants in the area. The building could also be used to host a computer lab, a cyber-café, cultural exhibits in conjunction with local art associations and as office space.
The building is valued at $800,000. First Niagara also donated $500,000 to the Manchester Community College Foundation, which will help pay for maintenance, upkeep and conversion of the building from a suite of offices to more of an exhibit/classroom interior. Currently, about 15 First Niagara employees still occupy the building, but they will be transferred to the neighboring bank by the end of November; the town plans to take ownership of the building in December, provided the Board of Directors first approves the donation.
Glickman and General Manager Scott Shanley noted that the $500,000 is enough to likely cover conversion expenses and three years of operational and maintenance expenses for the building. From there, Glickman said, MCC would look for support through grants, private foundations and through its operating fund to maintain activities at the building.
“The plan is to have a business plan in place three years from now so that the building can support itself,” she said.
Shanley said plans on how to convert the building, and what it might be utilized for, were not finalized yet, but that its presence would open up a number of opportunities for both the town and the college to work together to ensure that downtown Manchester remains an active, vibrant location.
“There’s a 100 different things we can do with that space, and I hope to get to the point where we have to limit what we can do,” Shanley said.
First Niagara caused some controversy in the area late last year, when it announced plans to , which had a large presence in the Manchester community. When First Niagara announced the news, it noted that the merger would result in the elimination of 219 redundant positions, including 93 in Manchester.
Although the bank has repeatedly stated that it plans to replenish its local workforce to pre-merger levels before the end of 2012, that the loss of nearly 100 employees in the downtown area could deal another blow to the already fragile local economy.
Frank Polino, First Niagara’s vice-president of corporate initiatives, said that the donation came about because of a series of talks First Niagara officials held with town leaders before and after the merger to identify local concerns and try to find ways to alleviate them. Polino said that First Niagara also has a vested interest in the success of downtown Manchester because of its location there.
“You have a key concern as a stakeholder in any community to ensure it remains vital and vibrant,” Polino said. “And if you can play a role in that, why not?”
Manchester Mayor Louis Spadaccini, who took part in many of the discussions between the bank and the town that led to the gift, called the donation and the subsequent partnership it will spur a “huge win” for not just the downtown area but all of Manchester.
“This is a great partnership,” he said. “It brings the flagship community college in the state right into the heart of downtown Manchester, which can only benefit merchants and businesses in the area because of the increased traffic downtown this will generate.”