SC Community Credit Union finds new downtown home as Cruz Hotel project faces new challenges

Santa Cruz Community Credit Union's office at 324 Front St. in Santa Cruz.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Following a saga of planning, moving and controversy, Santa Cruz Community Credit Union has found a new home in downtown Santa Cruz. Focused on serving underserved community members, its new River Street office — to be occupied next year — answers members’ concerns about access. At the same, the Cruz Hotel, which would be built on the parcel currently occupied by the credit union, could be challenged by upcoming Santa Cruz city ballot Measure O.

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Last fall, Santa Cruz Community Credit Union (SCCCU) became one of the first symbols of large-scale, unprecedented change in the Front Street area downtown.

Last September, the 45-year-old credit union sold its 324 Front St. property, near the intersection of Front and Laurel streets, to developers spearheading the six-story, 228-room, 153,000-square-foot project dubbed “Cruz Hotel.” It heard protests about the sale from critics concerned about trading the long-standing credit union for a large hotel in downtown Santa Cruz.

Over the past year, the credit union has been looking for a suitable new home in Santa Cruz, which it has now found. SCCCU will be moving to the two-story, 20,000-square-foot building at 55 River St., just across the street from the Wells Fargo Bank branch on the west side of the San Lorenzo River. SCCCU will take over 4,900 square feet of the building, the rest of which is occupied by a number of law offices.

55 River St., just steps away from Front Street.
(Max Chun / Lookout Santa Cruz)

The credit union assessed multiple downtown Santa Cruz locations before settling on 55 River. One major reason: dedicated member parking, a major priority for SCCCU amid ongoing parking challenges in its current location, now square in the middle of lower Front redevelopment.

In the months ahead, the new location will receive a makeover and is expected to open sometime in 2023.

SCCCU Chief Experience Officer Katie Fairbairn says the move fits the credit union’s needs well.

“The new location reflects input from our members, who said they want the credit union to maintain a branch in downtown Santa Cruz that includes new ATMs and access to parking,” she said, adding that the new location is aligned with the credit union’s member access plan, which seeks to increase banking services for underserved community members. “The new location will undergo a refresh to reflect our brand and commitment to serving our members.”

The protests of a year ago, led by a group calling itself Build Community Not Hotels, are now history, with the Front Street location sold and the hotel in planning. One of the group’s leaders, former Santa Cruz city councilmember Micah Posner, is now devoting himself to what looks to be the hot-button issue on the November ballot in the city of Santa Cruz: Measure O, or the Our Downtown Our Future General Plan and Downtown Plan Amendment Initiative.

That advocacy carries forth similar issues as the protests a year ago: affordable housing, perceived gentrification and continuing opposition to the hotel to be built where the credit union now sits.

Measure O, if passed, would amend the Downtown Plan and require that certain city-owned parcels within the Downtown Plan area be developed with permanently affordable housing, thus throwing a wrench in the hotel development plans (see section 5.B. of Measure O).

Posner said he views the measure as a means of stopping the city from supporting what he views as gentrification.

“A couple of those small lots on Front Street are critical to the hotel project, and the city needs to sell those lots to the developers in order for them to move forward,” he said. “So, as a whole, it effectively stops the city from being a handmaiden to gentrification.”

A map of city-owned parcels within the Downtown Plan area.
A map of city-owned parcels within the Downtown Plan area. The parcels in question are the south portion of Lot 11 and the landscape portion of Lot 27.
(Via County of Santa Cruz)

The hotel developers are pursuing two of these city-owned parcels — the south section of parking lot 11 on Front Street between Sherwin-Williams Paints and the credit union building, as well as a small parcel that currently holds trees and a path near the intersection of Laurel and Front streets.

The hotel building would take over both parcels if the developers take control of them. However, as of publication time, the city had not yet officially signed over the parcels.