Worcester Real Estate Podcast: Sherri Pitcher, VP Business Development at Fidelity Bank

November 2019
Join the Worcester Real Estate Podcast host Chris Naff as he speaks with Sherri Pitcher (Fidelity Bank) about Worcester becoming a thriving 18-hour city.

02:58… I worked in Silicon Valley for a startup and that was really, really fun and super intense. I ended up working for them for a couple of years until I had my daughter and took some time off.

06:08… I think having the city being an 18-hour-city is important. So that’s why I’m really excited about all the new residential development that is happening

07:55… You asked me earlier about how I would improve the City. By making the city more walkable.

12:30… And that’s why it’s so important that we look at the tax rate. I’m gonna get a little political here. You know I think you know what our commercial tax rate tax rate is among the highest in Central Mass.

15:15… We {Fidelity Bank} just opened our second location here in Worcester Besides being on Shrewsbury Street we’re downtown. We really felt like it was important for us to contribute to what was happening in the city.

Chris [00:00:02] Sherri pitcher welcome to the Worcester real estate podcast. How are you?

Sherri [00:00:05] I’m doing very well thank you. How are you?

Chris [00:00:07] I’m good. Thanks for joining. It’s not easy to get away during the business day to do a silly podcast. Thanks for coming here.

Sherri [00:00:18] Happy to be here.

Chris [00:00:19] I’m excited to talk to you because you have a ton of experience in the city. You have a ton of connections in the city and you more than most have a real pulse on where we’re at in the city of Worcester. But before we get to all that I kind of want to take a step back and kind of understand how you got to where you are.

Sherri [00:00:41] Okay.

Chris [00:00:41] So you’re originally from the area.

Sherri [00:00:44] Yes I grew up in West Boylston.

Chris [00:00:45] Yes but so post high school you go to where?

Sherri [00:00:50] Fairfield University in Fairfield Connecticut.

Chris [00:00:51] What did you study?

Sherri [00:00:52] I was a communications major. I wanted to be get into news broadcasting which is it wasn’t necessarily a major that they offer there but it was a path that I thought I would take. I worked every summer when I went through college at State Mutual Insurance which is now Hanover, a large employer here in the city. After graduation I moved out to Northern California. Give that a shot.

Chris [00:01:39] From a high level why one what one would want to move out to California. What was the driving force behind that?

Sherri [00:01:53] When I was in when I was in college… I think my junior year… my parents sold the house that I grew up in and they moved to East Brookfield for my dad’s job. He was employed by Norton Company – Saint Gobain – for 45 years. He was working for them in Connecticut at the time and they moved so I really didn’t have a tie to the area and the economy here was not that great it was 90s. I mean – now you know how old I am!

Chris [00:02:21] Wasn’t going to ask Sherri! Not my goal.

Sherri [00:02:24] And so I thought that there would be better opportunities for me career-wise in Northern California. So I relocated (to California) and ended up working for an advertising agency for several years. My first job I was working on a Saturn account which at the time was a new car brand.

Chris [00:02:40] That must have been exciting.

Sherri [00:02:42] Yeah it was really, really fun.

Chris [00:02:43] My mom drove a Saturn.

Sherri [00:02:46] A different kind of company a different kind of car. So I learned a ton there and then after that leapt into the dot.com world which in the mid to late 90s was really big.

Chris [00:02:57] Huge.

Sherri [00:02:58] I worked in Silicon Valley for a startup and that was really,really fun and super intense. I ended up working for them for a couple of years until I had my daughter and took some time off.

Chris [00:03:14] What was the start of what were they working on?

Sherri [00:03:15] It was a company called Pointcast which was Internet news and an information network. It was really ahead of its time. It was a free to the user… supported by advertising. It was my job to meet with advertisers…. going out and telling people about this news and information network…and how Pointcast was replacing the screensaver on their computer and how it could deliver customized news coming across their screen.

(The challenge was) It relied on the Internet. In the mid to late 90s no one knew what the Internet was.

Chris [00:04:01] No one knew what the internet was??!!

Sherri [00:04:02] No. And everyone was on dial up connections. I ended up being. I really fun and I learned a ton. It was a product that was way ahead of its time.

From there I went into work for more traditional companies doing sales and marketing. I worked for a company called Kensington that is based in California. And then they had an opportunity to relocate me back to Central Mass.

I took the opportunity to move back here because I had a daughter who was two and really never thought about raising a family in California. I sort of went out there with the intent of moving back in three to five years. When after seven years this opportunity became available, I jumped on it and literally packed my bags and moved back here. My husband said we can move back East as long as we don’t live in Worcester!

{Fast forward} we’ve been living in Worcester for 20 years! I just I really love living in the city. We live right near WPI on the on the west side of Worcester where my husband and I raise our family. It’s been great!

Chris [00:05:42] It’s I love working with Worcester. There’s a lot going on. It’s like it’s a city that’s finally realizing its full potential.

Sherri [00:05:50] Yeah.

Chris [00:05:51] Yeah but you’ve seen the complete opposite end of the spectrum in Silicon Valley – these high thriving, highly dense cities. Are there things you think Worcester could replicate that Silicon Valley does well?

Sherri [00:06:08] Yes. I think having the city being an 18-hour-city is important. So that’s why I’m really excited about all the new residential development that is happening downtown because we don’t want people just here during the day and then it become a ghost town. Having that vitality that 18 hour city has… is really really important and that’s why I think these residential projects are so important. You know the building where Fidelity Bank is right now… One Forty Five Front Street. A hundred and seventy units split luxury apartments. They Are 100 percent full right now.

Chris [00:06:42] Very successful project.

Sherri [00:06:42] And I think that’s very indicative of what people are looking for. People are gravitating towards an urban lifestyle. When I look at other cities that are successful and places where I’ve lived like I lived in Menlo Park they have a blend of residential people that live there and also people that work there… and that’s what I think really drives the success of the city.

For downtown to be successful, it needs to be a place where people live, work, visit, go shop eat or have some cultural experience. I think it’s really important to have a downtown that serves all those needs.

Chris [00:07:40] And that’s what you mean about the 18 hour cycle. For example, I was out a couple of Fridays ago… downtown around the corner from where we are now… and there was a ton of young people milling about downtown Worcester on a Friday night. That wasn’t the case five or ten years ago.

Sherri [00:07:55] I know. I’ve witnessed it myself. I worked at the Chamber for three and a half years and there were so many naysayers. There’s still a lot of people out there. But I’ve always been really positive about this city. I used to tell people: “Worcester is not obvious. You have to kind of get in here and explore the neighborhoods and explore all the great things that the City has to offer.

You asked me earlier about how I would improve the City. By making the city more walk-able. It would be great to be able to walk places and making connections that are connections from the downtown to the neighborhoods like Pleasant Street corner down to Shrewsbury Street to Washington Square, under the Green Street Bridge to the Canal District. These are all areas that where there’s a lot of things happening. By helping people get there either by car or on foot I think would help a little bit. Making those connections easier would help improve the City experience.

Chris [00:09:19] Does improving the walk-ability of Worcester require a cultural change?

Sherri [00:09:26] Yes. Most people when they’re here downtown have never thought about walking to Shrewsbury Street. It’s really not far….but it’s difficult to get there currently. You have to go under the under a bridge… go through the rotary. Yeah there’s there’s no easy way to get there. I don’t want us to build sky bridges or anything like that. I want feet on the streets. I just want to make the city a little bit more walk-able and easier to navigate.

Chris [00:10:15] I think downtown and parts of the Canal District are walk-able. I think that the missing piece to your point is Shrewsbury Street because there’s a ton going on down there.

Sherri [00:10:26] Right. And even if you go to North Main toward Lincoln Square. That’s really tough area and there’s a lot of stuff happening there… with new residential development at the old courthouse… and the Auditorium… and MCPHS is growing. But, it’s really hard to drive to Lincoln Square…. and it’s hard to walk on Lincoln Square As these developments become activated, it is important that connections to all these different places be made.

Chris [00:11:04] Did you ever imagine 10, 15, or so years ago, that Worcester would get to where we are now?

Sherri [00:11:18] Yes and no. I was very optimistic. I used to tell people when I was at the Chamber that I wanted the city to be a place where my daughter would want to move to when she graduated from college. When I would say that… people understood. I wanted a place that she would say “yeah I would consider living in Worcester”. There’s a lot of young people that are choosing to to live in Worcester whether they’ve gone to school here for college or they grew up here and maybe went away to college And the, they come back to live. That to me is very indicative that the city is doing something right.

Chris [00:12:06] And that has not always been the case. As you mentioned earlier, we have the number of universities here in Worcester. When students come here and leave, that’s the “brain drain” we are trying to stem. That brain drain I think has slowed and sort of started to reverse.

Sherri [00:12:26] Yeah I think so but again it’s having the companies that are going to be able to hire them for jobs.

Chris [00:12:30] Right.

Sherri [00:12:30] And that’s why it’s so important that we look at the tax rate. I’m gonna get a little political here. You know I think you know what our commercial tax rate tax rate is among the highest in Central Mass.

Chris [00:12:41] Very high, yeah.

Sherri [00:12:42] And that makes it really challenging for people that are in your business to bring to bring companies here or for property owners and anyone to do construction our lease rates don’t support new construction. So there needs to be some appreciation in our lease rates so we can get those companies here to employ the students that are either…

Chris [00:13:00] yeah.

Sherri [00:13:00] Either going to school here or that that want to come back after that after they graduate. So they need to have the jobs and that’s a real critical piece of the puzzle here.

Chris [00:13:10] You’re so right. Not to get too technical…as it relates to commercial real estate… if a rental lease is going to be triple net… the owner of the property is passing all the expenses (including taxes) along to the tenant.

Sherri [00:13:19] Right.

Chris [00:13:20] The Tax Bill here is a hurdle especially a lot of retail still are small business startups. And that’s an obstacle for them. And what we’ve seen is some companies established or startups are choosing some of the suburbs around Worcester.

Sherri [00:13:37] Right.

Chris [00:13:38] Because in some of these towns and you know just for example in Millbury alone, the tax the commercial tax rate is half of Worcester.

Sherri [00:13:47] Right

Chris [00:13:47] That’s much easier if a tenant has to pay triple net expenses to take that on. I think you’re absolutely right.

Sherri [00:13:53] I think it’s a huge, such a huge challenge for us and that’s something that I hope that the next election and the City Council will take up and start moving towards a single tax rate. I think that would be really beneficial for the city in so many ways.

Chris [00:14:08] And at the same time it feels like though the public sector and the private sector are at least on the same page… so a lot of the key stakeholders are trying to move in the same direction. There is there’s a lot of synergy.

Sherri [00:14:22] There’s a lot of coordination. That’s one of the things I like about the city Thee public private-partnerships… you know between the Chamber the city and organizations like the WBDC… working together… defining what our priorities

And then there’s the City making significant investments in infrastructure You have this Main Street Project that has Main Street re-imagined It’s gonna be amazing. Make it walk-able… and hopefully that will encourage some more retailers to come downtown…because I do think having that mix of retail and restaurants and experiences amenities is really key for the city to continue to grow and succeed.

Chris [00:15:09] I would agree. So now you’re the vice president of business development at Fidelity Bank… trying to help the bank grow.

Sherri [00:15:15] Yes. We {Fidelity Bank} just opened our second location here in Worcester Besides being on Shrewsbury Street we’re downtown. We really felt like it was important for us to contribute to what was happening in the city… particularly downtown. We have a relatively small branch right here… but it is a full service branch for consumers and commercial to service our retail and commercial customers. And then we’re co-located with Protein House which is a great restaurant. So that’s been really fun.

Chris [00:16:00] It’s very cool in there.

Sherri [00:16:01] Yeah. It’s not a new concept, I mean Capital One has their cafes. It’s a new concept for Worcester and we’re gonna start to be doing some programming at the branch in September. So we’re going to be doing some yoga classes.

Chris [00:16:14] Yeah, I was going to ask you about that.

Sherri [00:16:16] Yoga classes are happening… and we’re gonna be doing some other events… like cybersecurity workshops… And maybe even a wine tasting or something like that. Because we don’t want the bank to shut down at 5:00. We really want to contribute to that 18 hour city that we talked about earlier… and add to that vitality… particularly with the One Forty Five Front Street apartments being full. Most residents may want to choose to do something and go out.

Chris [00:16:59] I understand that Fidelity Bank just merged with Familiy Federal Savings of Fitchburg?

Sherri [00:16:59] Yes. A hundred million dollar bank. They have a location in Stow and Needham, which is going to extend our footprint a little bit towards some closer Boston which we’re really excited about that. So that’s going great.

Chris [00:17:10] Yeah.

Sherri [00:17:11] It’s a great place to work.

Chris [00:17:11] It’s great to have great local lenders. Investing heavily into the area. I think that’s been a key to the region’s success.

Sherri [00:17:21] Yeah. We were the lead bank on the construction that financed 20 Franklin Street. We financed the Fidelity Bank Worcester Ice Center and obviously did the naming rights for that building. We’ve also done a couple other been some participation on some other big projects down here in Mercantile Center as well some buildings on Main Street. So we really wanted to make an impact on the market and start putting our money where our mouth is I guess… and where our branches are.

Chris [00:17:49] Well it’s definitely an exciting time to be in the City. It’s great to be able to work alongside professionals like yourself as we’re all trying to.

Sherri [00:17:59] Thank you Chris.

Chris [00:17:59] Well thanks for coming on.

Sherri [00:18:01] Thanks for having me.

Chris [00:18:09] Thank you.

2019-11-25T19:11:05+00:00