AUGUSTA — One of the first areas of the city many visitors see as they come off Interstate 95 is a very different place than it was just a few years ago.

Bangor Savings Bank has opened a new branch and training center, making it the most visible presence on the Western Avenue site occupied for many years by the Kennebec Journal.

Both city officials and the president of Bangor Savings Bank say the development is making a good first impression for the city and the bank.

Jim Conlon, president and CEO of Bangor Savings Bank, said the spot being “the entrance into Augusta” was a prime factor in deciding to locate the bank’s new three-story, 16,800-square-foot bank branch and employee training and meeting facility there.

The new Bangor Savings Bank and nearby Goodwill Industries store occupy a spot taken for years by the Kennebec Journal’s old building and parking lot. The Kennebec Journal moved to leased space at 36 Anthony Ave. in the Augusta Business Park in 2011, leaving behind its old two-story brick building at 274 Western Ave., which was later sold and torn down to make way for the bank.

Behind the bank and Goodwill site, shoppers roam the aisles of Target, on a property that was once home to a quiet residential neighborhood on the dead-end former Storey Street.

Mayor William Stokes, following a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday, said he believes the changing landscape highlights the trend of retail growth in the city.

“For a lot of people, this spot is the first thing they see in Augusta, as they come off the interstate onto Western Avenue,” Stokes said. “The old KJ building was shuttered — can you imagine if it had stayed that way? This (new building) is such a statement, that Bangor Savings is making a major investment. We’re happy to have them here.”

Conlon said the new bank building, which cost about $4 million, has created six new jobs.

A total of 20 Bangor Savings employees work at the bank, which opened earlier this month. Six of them work in the branch itself, while the rest work there in commercial and business lending, treasury and cash management, and in mortgages and loans, according to Yellow Light Breen, executive vice president of the bank.

The new bank building has a sweeping view of Augusta, especially from its top-floor training center. Visitors to the upper-floor training center walk into a large “great room” featuring a massive round skylight. Directly below the skylight is a clear glass table above a glass-covered hole in the floor, which allows sunlight to pour down into the second-floor lobby below.

Conlon said the facility will be used by bank staff statewide for training and meetings. The branch is Bangor Savings Bank’s 57th in Maine, and second in Augusta.

Breen said the bank plans to keep open its other Augusta location, on Capitol Street across from the State House complex, because it will continue to be used by many customers.

Stokes said the construction of the new bank branch is another positive development in Augusta, joining the ongoing revitalization of the downtown, the construction of a new MaineGeneral Medical Center hospital in north Augusta, and the expansion of retail stores.

“We all feel it — it’s palpable,” Stokes said. “Even over the last five years, with the recession, Augusta has held its own. Businesses are discovering that Augusta is a destination for them.”

Conlon said the numbers were already there for the bank to justify adding a much larger branch in Augusta. In the city, the bank has added 1,500 personal customers and nearly 300 business customers since opening its first branch 10 years ago, he said.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647
[email protected]

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