TAMPA, Fla. – It isn’t often a credit union can be grateful to a bank for swiping its site. GTE Federal Credit Union President/CEO Bucky Sebastian says the day Bank of America took over the first site his credit union had slated for its new headquarters turned out to be the credit union’s luckiest. “Yes Bank of America gobbled up our original parcel and the city knew I was upset, so they showed us what turned out to be a better parcel – drop dead gorgeous site about two blocks north of downtown Tampa on 12.5 acres with lots of oak trees that we acquired for about $3.2 million,” said Sebastian. “For what we got it would’ve been three to five times as much money any where else. Here we could invest in a way we wouldn’t have been able to invest at the other site and still have enough room to grow and stay for a very long time.” Sebastian says being located in the enterprise zone of Tampa Heights where impact fees were waived made the property not only financially attractive but the $20 million project also provided other advantages as well. “About 100 years ago this area used to be prime property. It sits 50 feet above sea level, the importance of which in Florida cannot be stressed enough, and it is in an ideally centralized location for our employees,” said Sebastian. “Another bonus which I would love to say we knew going in but we didn’t is that our office is in full view from three major highways that intersect here I-4, 275 North and 275 South – our building is right in the crease. Our building is like the cornerstone between downtown Tampa, the arts and entertainment district of Ybor City and what will eventually be a mix of residential and office space.” GTE FCU Senior Vice President of Marketing Traci Germain adds the location is a marketing dream come true. “It is a huge benefit in terms of name recognition and visibility- so much so we’ve partnered with the local ABC News station and they’re going to place Web cameras on top of the building,” said Germain. At 125,000 square feet, the four-story state of the art facility that will house all administrative and call center staff is hard to miss. Designed by local firm Reynolds Smith and Hills and built by Whiting Turner Contracting Company the facility has an open, airy feel with colors drawing from the outdoors with greens, yellows, blues and orange. With lots of open areas and windows to let natural light in, the building includes amenities designed to keep employees happy ranging from a gym with new top of the line Nautilus equipment and an aerobics room complete with locker rooms and showers to a breakroom outfitted with stainless steel appliances leading to an outdoor patio area. The facility is also one of only two properties in Florida that is a “smart building”, meaning that many of the systems run under the floor rather than from the ceiling, enabling more modular flexibility. Open -environment cubicle workstations, which comprise about 90% of the space, can have equipment connected directly from the floor much like plugging into a wall, eliminating the need for poles that can obstruct staffers’ view of the outdoors. In addition all the systems such as heating, air conditioning, water and security are all controlled/monitored from one location and can also be run remotely as well. The second floor has a whole learning suite for training and includes four main classrooms and an adjacent kitchenette. Three of the rooms can be divided into two rooms each to train some 75 employees at any one time. “Eventually in the future we’d like to add a building to the campus that would serve as a community center and a meeting space for all GTE FCU employees that could be rented out for community activities or credit union chapter functions,” said Germain. “It is such a beautiful piece of property and it is huge- we have green spaces that are big enough to have a driving range or even host company picnics.” Adjacent to the main headquarters is a separate two-story, 20,000 square foot IT facility joined by a walkway. Referred to as “the bunker” the silver and black state-of-the facility can sustain a level five hurricane and boasts six levels of back-up support. “When we hit one billion in assets we thought we had crossed a threshold where we shouldn’t ever be down. So to ensure that we have power brought in from two separate grids and we also have several completely independent generators so if one goes down there is always a back-up power supply,” said Sebastian. Sebastian says another advantage to building the GTE FCU World Headquarters here is that it will go a long way to improving the surrounding underserved area. Plans are already underway for the city to tear down some of the area’s worst buildings and develop some affordable market rate housing to the east. “There are two other pioneers that have headquarters east of us, Tampa Electric and K-Force. One of the things for us is that an urban planner said that when 1,000 people report to the same destination all ancillary services start popping up like the shops, hair salons, Walgreens etc. and when we move in we’ll take the neighborhood from 850 to 1,150. We expect that will spark the revitalization of the whole area,” said Sebastian. “We’ve petitioned NCUA to add an underserved area in the heart of that area, so our intention is to look into building a full service branch so we can get financial services to them.” -mdigiovanni@cutimes.com