By Brian Amaral
JOHNSTON, R.I. — Citizens Bank’s new, 425,000-square foot, $285-million campus here means a lot of things to a lot of people: jobs coming to town, a 20-year property-tax deal, walking trails open for public use where a landfill used to sit, two years of construction work, a chance for politicians to wield scissors at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday.
But to Anna Costa, a longtime Citizens employee who came to the event in a bedazzled green hat and green beads, it’s much more than even all that.
“It means a commitment to the community, and a commitment to us,” said Costa, a Lincoln resident who’s worked at Citizens for 23 years and started as a teller. “It’s going to feel like home.”
Costa was one of the hundreds of Citizens Bank employees who came out, clad in green, to watch the ceremonial opening of the new corporate campus. Company officials and local dignitaries said the new campus would be a boost for the town and the Rhode Island-based bank.
“This was going to be the largest construction project in Rhode Island in over a decade, so there was a lot at stake here, making sure we got this right,” CEO Bruce Van Saun told a group of employees and visitors.
The project, built on an old landfill off Route 295, took two years almost to the day from the groundbreaking to the ribbon-cutting, and very nearly was finished on budget, Van Saun said.
Within months, some 3,000 people will be working in Johnston, moving from other parts of the company, according to bank officials. Citizens’ headquarters will remain in Providence.
Of the new people who will be working in Johnston, about 800 will be call center employees moving in from space the company is currently renting. The design goes against the stereotypical image of a corporate call center: the windowless warren of cubicles, dimly lighted in fluorescence. No matter where anyone sits, said Keith Kelly, president of Citizens Bank Rhode Island, they won’t be more than 40 feet from a window.
“Creating a state-of-the-art facility like this will help perform and collaborate better,” Kelly said in an interview Monday.
The campus also features ball fields that local youth leagues will be able to play on, space to play bocce — Costa said she was going to challenge the mayor to a game — and a rain-collection system on the roof.
Any rain-collection system would have been put to use Tuesday: it rained on and off all morning, including a quick burst the exact moment that a group of politicians and bank officials snipped up portions of a Citizens Bank ribbon outside to applause.
Patrolling it all was the Knightscope K5, a robotic security guard resembling a portlier R2D2. It is equipped with cameras and can read license plates to make sure people don’t come onto the campus that aren’t supposed to, said Derek Lemire, senior physical security officer.
“It shows we’re forward-thinking,” Lemire said.
For the ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday, Citizens pulled out all the stops: Groups of employees, whom the bank refers to as “colleagues,” waved and smiled to cars as they drove in. Local students marched and sang, and a local police honor guard took part.
The entire congressional delegation — U.S. Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and U.S. Reps. Jim Langevin and David Cicilline — were there, as was Gov. Gina Raimondo.
“It’s a wonderful partnership,” said Raimondo, noting the bank’s two-century track record, “and we hope it continues for the next 200 years.”
The dignitaries lauded, in particular, Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena. Whitehouse referred to the site of the bank as the “wind-swept Mount Polisena.” Langevin noted that Polisena was always ready to talk turkey.
Polisena, for his part, said the development will change the town for the better.
“We all know they could have gone up the road to Taxachusetts — err, I mean, Massachusetts,” Polisena said to laughter.
The town approved a tax deal under which Citizens will pay $250,000 per year in property taxes per year. Especially compared to a big development with lots of housing units and lots of students, it was a good deal for the town, Polisena said.
“This place,” Polisena said, “will put Johnston on the map.”