FOCUS: PLANNING + REAL ESTATE
a unique public/private partnership benefits the community while supporting strategic credit union growth - everything about this project is "positively different"
As allU.S. Credit Union looked to the future, President Patrick Redo wanted to work with a capable partner that could provide strategic market recommendations, comprehensive real estate consultation and brand-focused design-build services. He wanted a team that would think outside the box and deliver a long-term facility solution to strategically position his Credit Union for future success in a complex market. Redo wanted to work with La Macchia Group. He knew La Macchia Group’s team would achieve results that could further the Credit Union’s organizational goals and help accomplish their mission to be “positively different.” And from the detailed market analysis and site procurement activities that ensued on this project, to the public/private partnership that it ultimately became, this uniquely developed and designed facility for allU.S. became just that—positively different.
The Right Site
When the Credit Union’s building at the Salinas Train Station was targeted for eminent domain acquisition by the Transportation Agency for Monterey County (TAMC) to make room for commuter rail service from San Jose, allU.S. Credit Union decided to take charge and use this challenge as an opportunity to improve their location and position it for future growth. Taking advantage of La Macchia Group’s breadth of services, the Credit Union enlisted the company to perform a comprehensive market analysis to determine the optimal market and, subsequently, conduct extensive research on new site options.
As a first step in the project, La Macchia Group analyzed allU.S. Credit Union’s existing membership, evaluating their footprint while considering a variety of factors, such as the local market demographics and competition. allU.S. would have to be positioned in proximity of its ideal demographic in order to increase loan activity and capture new, younger members. The location selection would be critical for the Credit Union to grow in a fiercely competitive market. By thoroughly understanding their ideal member profile, La Macchia Group’s research pointed the Credit Union to the north side of Salinas. However, once the ideal market was recommended, the real challenge became real estate prices: expensive, six-figure annual ground lease rents that made it difficult to find a viable location.
As they methodically worked the market, La Macchia Group uncovered a long-vacant site situated next to one of the City’s branch libraries, El Gabilan. After contacting the City of Salinas and navigating the decision-making channels, the team learned that there were no imminent plans to develop the site.
“The El Gabilan Library was a project sitting on the back burner. It showed up in a capital improvement report with no funds allocated for the project,” explains Don Reynolds, assistant public works director for the City of Salinas. “Coincidentally, as soon as we had knowledge, desire and momentum building around the project, we received a call inquiring about the adjacent vacant parcel. The location was always reserved for the library, but it was the only empty parcel available in town.”
While Reynolds’ initial reaction to the inquiry was “no,” he was willing to listen to the allU.S. and La Macchia Group proposal.
“It quickly became a conversation about leveraging resources to make the library project a reality,” Reynolds explains.
La Macchia Group made a case for the numerous reasons and benefits of bilaterally agreeing to a long-term ground lease with allU.S. for the property. Negotiations ensued and what became a decisive factor was the positive relationship that the Credit Union had built serving one of its Select Employee Groups (SEGs): the county employees. This familiarity helped garner the support needed for the public/private business collaboration and La Macchia Group was able to help craft a mutually-beneficial, long-term ground lease agreement between the City of Salinas and allU.S.
“We didn’t want to sell the property, so a lease became the ideal solution,” Reynolds says.
La Macchia Group acted as the real estate advisor for the Credit Union throughout the negotiations and during the initial transaction, which was the long-term ground lease agreement with the City of Salinas. In the spirit of being positively different, allU.S. and La Macchia Group had another idea: advanced payment of the lease. By signing a 40-year lease with the City of Salinas, allU.S. Credit Union would have access to the proper site for their new building. Furthermore, with the entire $1.4 million lease payment up front, the City of Salinas would have funds to help pay for the expansion of the El Gabilan Library. It was a win-win for all parties.
“La Macchia Group championed our search for a superior location that was cost effective and fit our strategic objective of managed growth,” Redo says. “This partnership is a unique government-business relationship that will directly help the city with their new library/community center for the long-term future of its citizens.”
Successful? Yes. La Macchia Group essentially was able to identify the right market and deliver the right site at an acceptable price; a complicated endeavor that necessitated every facet of the firm’s planning and real estate acumen.
A Progressive Design
With the ideal site secured, La Macchia Group delved into focusing on the design. The Credit Union leaders wanted a state-of-the-art branch that would reflect their new slogan to be “positively different” from the competition, as well as a building with an iconic exterior inspired by the surrounding landscape—specifically the nearby El Gabilan Mountains. Sustainability also was a priority, as was creating a concierge-style retail experience and providing community space to enhance the connection to the El Gabilan Library.
From the site placement and building form to the space plan, the design approach communicates a modern, state-of-the-art retail experience. The building is located on the corner of the site to create an urban edge. The slanted roof form punctuates the building’s presence on the site. This design element was inspired by the diagonal lines of the allU.S. logo, while echoing the angled terrain of Fremont Peak, which is in the El Gabilan mountain range. A stone façade was used to respond to the natural materials of the surrounding countryside.
The slanted roof creates a canopy that extends from the main entrance, where clerestory windows beneath flood the lobby with abundant daylight. In addition to the daylighting, LED lighting, low-VOC interior finishes, native landscaping and solar panels on the roof are all features that support the Credit Union’s desire to integrate sustainable elements.
Upon entering the approximately 4,700-sq.-ft. space, a concierge-style station is positioned as a greeting point for members. Teller pods allow for greater interaction between tellers and members in order to enhance the retail experience.
“Our longer-term business model is to greet members as they enter the branch with tablets and then direct them to the staff, which can provide them the best solution to their visit for deposits, loans or servicing issues,” Redo says. “This model, Apple® store-like, is more proactive and demonstrates a much more positive experience for all concerned.”
Branded elements, such as a video display wall and a feature wall behind the tellers with backlit graphic images, reinforce the allU.S. mission. The interior also enhances the connection to the community by offering a lounge area and coffee bar, a children’s area with iPad access and a community room with video conferencing capabilities that is available for community and library use as meeting space.
“The priority was to create a building that the community would have the ability to use, as well as to create an environment for financial education for new and prospective members,” Redo describes. “Key to the design was creating a comfortable environment that would foster relationship building, which, in our minds, was the strength of La Macchia’s designs.”
The allU.S. project is more than a credit union success story; it is a community success story. The positive results for both allU.S. Credit Union and the City of Salinas set the stage for future growth and development that will benefit the community for years to come. “We had changed our name prior to this project, but what La Macchia did was to incorporate what our new philosophy and model promoted, to be ‘positively different,’” Redo says.
“Our new branch has a modern design that promotes our uniqueness, as well as the changes that are coming to banking. We have only been in the location for roughly two months, but new account activity is up 200 percent to 300 percent, and new loan activity has been considerable.”
For Reynolds and the City of Salinas, the partnership with La Macchia Group helped educate them on the construction process, teaching them things that will benefit them as they embark on the library project. “The La Macchia team has been a great partner, and we have been able to share the cost of the due diligence of the site 50-50,” Reynolds notes. The site planning for the credit union was done with the new adjacent library in mind, efficiently planning shared parking, storm water retention and the shared use of the Credit Union's community room.
“This collaboration has created new partnerships and a golden opportunity for this prime real estate. It really opened the doors for this community,” Reynolds says.
“Relationship building and access are a strength of credit unions, and with the smartphone we can compete directly with banks,” Redo explains. “First impressions are a cornerstone of financial relationships and that is how we expect to grow our business with La Macchia’s design of our new branch. They have helped us create a comfortable, friendly place where people want to come.”
The allU.S. Credit Union project is a unique planning story. From the in-depth analysis phase and diligent site procurement process to the relationship building and public/private partnership, La Macchia Group spent more than a year dedicated to helping allU.S. find the right market, in the right location, for the right price. The team then delivered a facility that lives and breathes the Credit Union’s brand—modern architecture with state-of-the-art service delivery that creates a deep connection to the community. Everything about this project is “positively different.”