AUGUSTA — Bangor Savings Bank’s presence in the capital has grown in the last two years from fewer than a dozen employees in a small, one-story branch in the shadow of the State House to nearly 30 employees and a three-floor office building that greets people as they enter the city from Interstate 95.

The small Capitol Street branch is still there, but the new 16,000-plus-square-foot building off Western Avenue gives the bank prominence it didn’t have before. It’s also a resource for the community’s nonprofit organizations, which can use the bank’s third-floor meeting and event space at no charge if it’s available.

“We were busting at the seams at Capitol Street,” said Yellow Light Breen, executive vice president of the bank.

When employees at the older branch had to work individually with clients, they had to jockey for space in the small office building, he said.

“We just knew we needed a place where all our officers could do their work simultaneously and not trip over each other,” Breen said.

The bank also saw the need for a community space for organizations in the area, he said. The third-floor space, which includes a skylight-capped rotunda and a meeting room with projection screens, is used for training by the company, but nonprofit organizations also can sign up to use it. The bank even hired a full-time employee to manage events and requests for the space.

Breen said besides providing a venue for organizations in the Augusta area, the space gave the bank a chance to show what it can offer these organizations.

Nonprofit organizations, along with commercial and governmental entities, are some of the major clients served by the Augusta branch, Breen said.

Molly Gerencer, manager of the Augusta branch, said the new Augusta location, with a more open concept than traditional bank branches, is set up for conversational-style personal banking; but corporate offices also are in the building.

The Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce is honoring the bank with its President’s Award at the chamber’s annual banquet on Jan. 23.

The Bangor-headquartered financial institution, the largest locally owned bank in the state, first expanded to Kennebec County a little more than a decade ago with the openings of the branches in Augusta and Waterville, Breen said. The bank’s next expansion was around 2007 in the Portland area and with the purchase of new branches in York. The bank expanded further in 2010 in the greater Portland area and the midcoast, Breen said.

The new Augusta branch that opened in March 2013 is the bank’s 57th location.

The previous expansions had been successful at attracting new customers in the new regions, providing the bank with the capital to fund more expansions, Breen said. The bank has been adding around 25,000 new customer accounts annually in recent years, he said.

Peter Thompson, outgoing president and CEO of the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber selected the bank for the award because of the $4 million investment in the new facility, its work for organizations in the area and the bank’s charitable contributions to community groups.

“They’ve been a big impact in short period of time, and they’ve been huge contributors to the community,” Thompson said.

Without the bank’s investment at the former location of the Kennebec Journal offices, the plaza probably wouldn’t have developed as quickly, Thompson said. Now there is a Goodwill store, Men’s Wearhouse, Supercuts and U.S. Cellular in the development, called Journal Square. A Starbucks coffee shop also recently was proposed for the plaza.

Breen said the bank tries to be a responsible member of the community, such as when it gave $50,000 to Lithgow Public Library in April to support the capital campaign for an upcoming renovation and expansion.

Breen said he thinks the bank, now with around 750 employees, thrived in the years after the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008 because customers appreciated the locally owned bank more than ever.

“The appeal of the local bank was growing faster than the economy was shrinking during the depths of the recession,” he said.

Still, it was important to explain to customers how Bangor Savings Bank differed from some of the national banks and financial companies whose practices led to some of the financial problems, Breen said.

“One of the challenges that local banks all have is explaining those differences and, frankly, living up to those local differences,” he said.

Paul Koenig — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @paul_koenig

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