More than 2,000 bank employees, family members, and local leaders converged at the Citizens Bank Campus off Greenville Avenue in Johnston Saturday for an open house tour of the more than 420,000-square-foot facility.
“It’s amazing to know we’re coming here. I have to say I’m incredibly proud to be part of Citizens, but I think this is amazing,” said Jen Faria, who has lived in Johnston for two and a half years and has been with the bank for eight.
“Not only what we’re doing here at the campus but also other things in the town, such as cemetery cleanups. Everybody is really excited about this,” said Faria, whose husband worked for the bank previously for 13 years, and her son has also worked for the bank two years. She currently works in Cranston at the Davol building as a member of the automation team. “I know some people locally had a little bit of hesitation with the project, but I think it’s going to be such a great thing for the town as a whole and for the state, to have another big employer making their home here and cementing their place, it’s really fantastic.”
The 123-acre campus project, with more than 420,000 square feet of office space and a parking garage with 1,263 spaces housed in a 414,000 plus square foot building, is on schedule to open later this summer.
“I love that we’re coming here, oh my God yes, it’s going to be awesome here,” said Sharon Dansereau of Warwick, who took a campus tour with her daughter. Dansereau works at the Citizens Bank call center and has been with the institution for 17 years. “It’s going to be so much better taking walks at lunch on the pathways here, and there’s going to be so much greenery and they’re going green, I love that.”
Mike Knipper, head of property and an executive vice president at Citizens, helped organize the day’s event. Having been involved with the campus project since its inception, Knipper has intrinsic knowledge about the development and was eager to show employees and the public the progress workers have made.
“This event came from our employees, who came to me to talk about the campus,” said Knipper, who also runs a company blog about the construction project. “In the blog I asked the question, ‘Is this a subject of conversation at the dinner table,’ and the response was off the charts. So we said we’d do an open house…and we had 2,270 people register for it.”
The tour provided a chance for bank employees and their families to view the project’s progress and ask questions about the construction. While the bank has offered dozens of smaller tours to employees since selecting the site in February 2016, construction is now well over 50 percent complete and Citizens colleagues can get a truer sense of the scope and scale of their new work environment, which is scheduled for a staggered opening beginning August 17.
Upon completion, more than 3,000 employees who currently work in East Providence, Smithfield and Cranston (and elsewhere) will occupy the buildings. The campus will be open around the clock seven days a week. The grounds will also offer public playing fields, including a volleyball court, two basketball courts, little league fields, a soccer field, a tennis court and two formal bocce courts. In addition, there will be multiple walking loops and trails. All of these facilities will be open for the public to use.
The campus will be open to the community. There’s no guard shack at the entrance,” said Knipper. “The campus is secure and the buildings can’t be accessed, but security will be on hand to keep the campus safe, not to keep people out.”
Also part of the tour was the company’s staggering cafeteria setup, which contains a giant two-ton pizza oven that was recently delivered. Employees, regardless of the time they are scheduled, will be able to make a food purchase at any time of day. They may also take advantage of an outside setup with hundreds of picnic tables, gas grills and available fire pits.
“We believe when folks move in they will become more engaged because it’s an exciting place to work,” said Knipper. “We believe, even in our contact center, that customer satisfaction will also get better because of that excitement. Mostly, our workforce stays with us a long time; we have a very productive workforce. It helps us retain talent and it helps us attract talent.”
For the first time, many employees got to see the campus’ wellness and fitness center, which will be equipped with a full staff and can provide medical assistance, including prescriptions, if needed. There will also be a drone and a robot that will monitor the facility, along with their human counterparts. The devices can be used to communicate and will be used to complement a human security force.
While the open house saw a major crowd visit the site for the first time, traffic problems on Greenville Avenue were minimal as visitors made their way to the campus from 9 a.m. until noon. Greenville Avenue’s condition is very rough due to the sewer and water line construction project to connect the campus. However, several Johnston police officers directed traffic to the site and Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena was pleased with what he saw.
“With all the traffic signals that will be placed on the road, I don’t think we’ll have a problem because of the traffic controls. People will jump right on and off of Route 295,” Polisena said. “I think when it’s all said and done everything will work out well for everybody.”
The mayor again highlighted a hidden benefit of the project – that nearby residents are going to get a free sewer assessment. He added that the town has also stabilized its tax base by having businesses like Citizens make the move to Johnston.
“This is something we can brag about. This place is going to be beautiful and it puts us on the map,” said Polisena. “Once Citizens bank has immersed themselves in the community, which they have – and Mike Knipper has been very attentive answering questions – I think we’ll alleviate fears.”
Other local leaders who were on hand to see the progress and to speak with employees who live in the districts they represent were quick to heap praise on the development.
“This is impressive. I think this is a great time for the town of Johnston, but more importantly this is a great time for the state of Rhode Island,” said North Providence Mayor Charles Lombardi at the event. “We all would love to see businesses such as this in our own community and selfishly, for me, if it couldn’t come to North Providence, Mayor Polisena and I have done so much together, coordinated so many different services, that this is the next best thing that could happen to us.”
Added Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, who attended the open house with her daughter, Monica, “It’s really exciting to see an institution like Citizens Bank really live up to its name. The amount of detail that has gone into making this a welcoming, productive place for not just employees but also the community, I’ve never seen any other construction project like this; it’s unprecedented.”
While cities like Warwick missed the opportunity to attract Citizens, leaders still saw statewide opportunities.
“This is so impressive, it’s going to be a great addition to Rhode Island, and I’m happy to say that Citizens stayed in Rhode Island. I have to congratulate the Mayor of Johnston, for doing a good job to get them permitted fast, he did a good job and he did it well,” said Rep. K. Joseph Shekarchi during the open house. “I wear two hats as a Warwick representative and the House Majority Leader, I’m sad they’re leaving Warwick obviously, but I hope those buildings in the city can be repurposed. Warwick’s booming because of the airport, lots of things going on there and new hotels being built, so I’m excited about that. But I’m happy that Citizens is staying right here in Rhode Island.”
While construction workers at the site didn’t miss a beat and continued their work throughout the open house, there is still much to complete before August, including landscaping, furnishings and installing technological equipment. But Knipper was quick to say how pleased he was with the progress at the site.
“I find it fascinating that people in the state still talk about how hard the state is to do business in. We decided on a location in February 2016 and moving in August of 2018 and building a 420,000-square-foot campus,” he said. “We removed an onsite landfill, we had to have highway ramps put in, sewer and water lines installed, it’s mindboggling. I have noting but positives to say when talking about the Department of Transportation, the Department of Environmental Management and the town.”