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Santa Cruz County Bank snags new home in vacant building downtown

December 18, 2017

Next year, Santa Cruz County Bank will move into a new headquarters at 75 River St., filling a downtown building that was vacant for nine years in the wake of a big bank merger.

“It’s the gateway to downtown,” Casey Beyer, Santa Cruz Chamber of Commerce executive director, said of the location at River and Water streets. “It improves that corner.”

Mayor David Terrazas applauded the bank’s move, saying it “shows the commitment to our community.”

He added, “This signifies a significant investment in our downtown.”

The 14,000-square-foot building was last occupied by Coast Commercial Bank until the bank was acquired by Wells Fargo and the office shuttered in 2008. Three years later, after big banks had foreclosed on more than 2,000 homeowners, Occupy Santa Cruz demonstrators barricaded themselves inside the empty building protesting Wall Street investors and, according to police, caused $30,000 in damages.

The building, built as a savings and loan 51 years ago, was not leasable until Wells Fargo’s lease expired.

Access to the spacious parking lot of the deserted building had been chained off, sending a message of “keep out” to downtown visitors.

Now that will change.

GROWING

David Heald, Santa Cruz County Bank’s president and CEO, had his eye on 75 River St. since the bank’s founding in 2004, but the building was not available then.

With the locally owned bank’s 10-year lease for 720 Front St. expiring in mid-2018, Heald inquired again and secured a 20-year lease.

“We’ve grown enough so this makes sense,” said Heald.

The bank had $634 million in assets as of Sept. 30.

As of June 30, when the FDIC reports market share, Santa Cruz County Bank had $569 million in deposits and ranked fifth in Santa Cruz County, behind Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Comerica and Chase.

The owners of 75 River St. are a partnership of the Swenson construction company, which has built extensively in Santa Cruz County, and the Malek family.

The building opened as Salinas Valley Savings and Loan and was last remodeled in 1999, Heald said, and renovations will be needed inside and out.

He plans to reconfigure the 52-space parking lot to add eight to 10 more spaces.

The bank will consolidate two offices, the branch at 720 Front St. and administrative office at the Galleria next door, moving 44 employees.

After starting with fewer than 20 employees, the bank has grown to 90 full-time equivalent employees spread among five branches, and five open positions.

Beyer, the chamber chief, said Santa Cruz County Bank was outgrowing space for its employees and for community events such as Wednesday’s holiday mixer, which “was packed. You could barely get in and out.”

Fortune Fresquez, 29, of Santa Cruz, who joined Santa Cruz County Bank six months ago, is enthusiastic about the new office.

“We’re expanding because we’re taking on a lot more loans,” she said. “I’m really excited about the parking.”

Customer Kaya Lindsay said she’ll have to walk a bit further, but customer Paula Feinberg, who biked in, said the new location will be closer for her.

OFFICE SPACE

Reuben Helick of Cushman & Wakefield, a commercial real estate firm, said the downtown office market has “tightened up nicely.”

He’s expecting a local company to take 12,000 square feet in the five-story Cooper House, leaving just 6,500 square feet to lease.

However, quite a bit of retail space is available including 10,700 square feet formerly occupied by Logos used books.

What is needed is more shoppers who live and work downtown, Helick said, noting the city’s new downtown plan is designed to do that by allowing more housing to be built.

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY BANK

What: Locally owned bank with branches in Aptos, Capitola, Santa Cruz, Scotts Valley and Watsonville and $634 million in assets and $569 million in deposits as of Sept. 30.

Founded in: 2004.

President and CEO: David Heald.

Employees: 90 full-time equivalent.

Open positions: 5.

Recognition: Top lender with U.S. Small Business Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture; ranked first among California banks for quarters ending March 31 and June 30 by Financial Management Consulting Group.

What’s new: A 20-year lease of 75 River St. in downtown Santa Cruz for bank headquarters.

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