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Susquehanna Bank moving headquarters

December 20, 2008|By ARNOLD PLATOU

HAGERSTOWN -- Washington County's largest bank is moving its corporate headquarters from downtown Hagerstown to a new building on the city's eastern edge late next year, an official said.

Susquehanna Bank has put its four-story headquarters up for sale and has agreed to become the anchor tenant in a three-story building being erected at 1800 Dual Highway, said Michael Hough, the bank's managing director.

He said the new building will be highly energy-efficient -- "something that this county has never seen."

Hough said Susquehanna will move 45 of its downtown employees to the new building being built on the site of the former Red Horse Steak House & Anvil Bar.

Hough said he is negotiating with a company that wants to buy the building at 55-59 W. Washington St. that Susquehanna and, before it, Farmers and Merchants Bank, occupied for decades. He said he doesn't know when F&M began there.

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"It was a tough decision for us to make" to leave downtown in such a big way, Hough said. But, he said, the cost of renovating an adjacent building and the continuing expense of renting parking space were "prohibitive."

Hough said the bank would retain three employees to staff a downtown branch office, which would be leased from whoever buys the old building.

Space and convenience

Susquehanna will move its executive offices, commercial banking, trust division and credit administration to the new building, Hough said. There will be a bank branch with a four-lane drive-up as well, he said.

Hough said the bank, which has 230 branch offices in Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, has outgrown its Maryland headquarters in downtown Hagerstown. Locally, its branches are in Franklin County, Pa., in addition to Washington County.

As managing director, Hough not only is in charge of the Maryland division, but has management responsibility over all of Susquehanna's territory, he said.

Despite the economy, "our bank is still growing," Hough said. "We've had double-digit loan growth in 2008. Our deposit growth is above our peers."

According to a Web site for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Susquehanna is Washington County's largest bank, Hough said. Among all banking institutions, "the total deposits in the county are $1.9 billion, almost $2 billion. And we have $608 million, for 31 percent of the total deposits," he said.

When Susquehanna realized that it needed to expand its corporate offices here, it looked up and out, Hough said.

It has been using only the first two floors of the four-story building on West Washington Street. In all, the building -- which is on a half-acre downtown -- has 26,000 square feet of space, Hough said.

"We had actually gotten some bids to redo the third and fourth floors of this building, but we'd have had to do a lot of work to get them up to ADA code," he said, referring to the Americans with Disabilities code of building standards.

Three or four years ago, the bank also looked at buying a building next door, "trying to make it all one building," but that renovation also would have been too costly, Hough said.

"It just didn't make sense," he said.

In addition, there's a parking problem, Hough said.

The bank has 13 parking spaces behind the building, but customers still complained, he said.

"We always heard our customers complain about coming to downtown," Hough said. "It's just tough and if you try to find a parking space out front, good luck."

As a benefit to its own employees, he said, the bank has been paying the city to rent spaces in one of the downtown parking decks.

"The parking cost was just prohibitive ... We're paying $3,000 a month just in parking," Hough said. "That can net you a lot of space someplace else."

And, he said, the downtown location was inconvenient for Susquehanna employees who come from out-of-town. "It's 15 minutes just getting downtown" compared to the convenience of the Dual Highway location near an Interstate 70 exit.

So, Hough said, Susquehanna decided to move its headquarters and put the downtown building up for sale. He said it went on the market early last month.

The asking price is $1.8 million, he said.

Hough said a company is negotiating now to buy it, but declined to say how the firm would use the building.

Going green

The new building, which will be called Susquehanna Financial Center, will cost between $12 million and $14 million to erect and to fit out with office space, local developer Asad Ghattas said.

Ghattas, president of Ghattas Enterprises, said the three-story, all glass and steel structure will be the city's first so-called "green" building.

He said its design will be submitted to the U.S. Green Building Council for a Leadership in Environmental and Engineering Design (LEED) rating.

Work began on the four-acre site over the summer, Hough said. He said passers-by should see the steel begin to go up next week.

The 56,000-square-foot structure could be finished by next fall, Ghattas said.

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