By Rod Lee
Like so many other businesses of every sort imaginable, Webster Five Cents Savings Bank recognizes what fertile ground the town of Auburn is for commercial activity and investment.
As evidence of this, Webster Five recently announced plans to relocate its headquarters from Thompson Road in Webster to Millbury St. in Auburn. The bank’s acquisition of a property at 35 Millbury St. for $2.75 million makes this possible.
The decision could not have been an easy one. Webster Five has had a presence in the town of Webster for well over a century; indeed, the bank recently celebrated its 150th anniversary. Established in 1868, it was known from 1954 until 1980 by its iconic red-brick building at 290 Main St. in Webster That site remained in operation as a downtown office after Webster Five moved its headquarters to Thompson Road, before 290 Main closed its doors in 2009.
Webster Five President and CEO Donald F. Doyle said during an interview by telephone on September 25th that a move of the main office, which the bank has outgrown, had been discussed “off and on for the last couple of years.” In saying that, he emphasized that “we have a long history with Webster and we will continue that commitment to the town.”
Mr. Doyle pointed out that “we are primarily a retail bank. Our Board decided that to stay competitive we needed to grow our product line, so we got very involved in commercial lending, and we were seeking to expand geographically.”
Some of this burst occurred before Mr. Doyle joined Webster Five in 2004 but he is pleased to see it continue under his stewardship. He is viewed as the right man to carry the impetus forward. A graduate of UMass Amherst with a BBA in Finance and Suffolk University with an MBA, his more than thirty-year banking career includes stints with Mechanics Bank, Bank of Boston and Flagship Bank. He came to Webster Five as division manager of the Business Banking team, was promoted to senior loan officer in 2006 and to president/CEO in 2016. He serves on the boards of Open Sky Community Services, the Center for Financial Training, United Way of Webster/Dudley, the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Worcester Regional Research Bureau and the Worcester Business Development Corp.
Indicative of Webster Five’s growth was the launch of branch offices in Oxford and Dudley in the 1960s and 1970s. The bank subsequently expanded into Auburn, Worcester and Shrewsbury.
With that stretch in a northerly direction came the awareness that the bank was outgrowing its building “here on Thompson Road,” Mr. Doyle said. In recent years, he noted, “we moved our operations center to Auburn and our banking and HR offices to Worcester” while keeping “branch services here in Webster.”
From an efficiency standpoint, he said, “it makes sense to combine all non-branch activity in one building. Also, many of our employees are now living outside the Webster-Dudley area. Auburn is pretty much central to our footprint. About thirty jobs will be leaving here for Auburn.”
“There will be no change in the bank’s branch configuration,” he said.
The sprawling and low-slung Millbury Street building on eight to nine acres of land (which includes a second parcel) will provide Webster Five with 40,000 square feet to work with. Extensive redesign and remodeling of the property, which had formerly been occupied by Reliant Medical, will commence soon. Mr. Doyle said the bank is aiming to take occupancy in the first quarter of 2021.
“We are excited,” he said.
Auburn Town Manager Julie Jacobson sees the twin news that Eversource has purchased three industrial properties on Westec Drive for a new work center to support future operations and that Webster Five has taken a vacant property on Millbury Street with plans to make it the bank’s new headquarters as ratification that business covets the town of Auburn.
“We are excited about Eversource’s plans to develop a new work center here in Auburn on Westec Drive,” she said. “We anticipate receiving their site plan application soon and we look forward to working with officials from Eversource to facilitate this project.”
Auburn is also excited about Webster Five’s proposed plans to establish its new headquarters on Millbury Street, Ms. Jacobson said.
“Both of these projects will have tremendous economic impact on the town of Auburn, creating new jobs and generating revenues, and redeveloping vacant and underutilized properties into value-added facilities.”
In expressing his elation at the Eversource and Webster Five announcements, Mark Sarkisian Jr. of Capitol Siding and the Auburn Chamber of Commerce said such factors as Auburn lowering its dual property tax rate from 1.62 to 1.17 “while Worcester keeps increasing its business tax rate” are figuring in businesses’ choice of Auburn as a place to set up shop. Town boards “are more receptive to business as well as the town manager,” he said. “Before businesses were always battling for permits and approvals.”
Mr. Doyle said Webster Five’s ties to the town of Webster and the communities it serves through such mechanisms as the Webster Five Foundation will remain strong. Recently the bank donated $1000 by way of its “Web of Caring to Make a Difference” initiative to VNA Care in support of that organization’s “Tonic Focused Health Education and Screening Programs for Older Adults.”
Reiterating his allegiance to Webster Five’s longtime home base, he said “we will never forget our roots.”
Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.