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Bank won't build in Midtown after all

Bank of America had envisioned a branch at a shopping center at 18th Avenue S and 22nd Street.

Published May 1, 2005

ST. PETERSBURG - Bank of America has decided not to build a branch in Midtown, despite being a major contender for more than two years in the city's efforts to get a bank in the economically challenged area.

"I'm very disappointed in the Bank of America's decision," Mayor Rick Baker said last week. "It was not the right decision to make. But they made it."

It was an especially wrong decision, Baker said, considering the city has its accounts with Bank of America. On any given day, that means from $2-million to $10-million on deposit there.

"They left us standing at the altar," said Deputy Mayor Goliath Davis, who is in charge of improving living conditions in Midtown.

Bank of America decided against the Midtown branch because it has three branches in the area, said spokesman George Owen in Jacksonville.

"Basically, we had agreed to put a banking center in that area," Owen said. "But we couldn't come to an agreement on the northeast corner. Folks wanted us to take the southwest corner."

Owen was referring to 18th Avenue S and 22nd Street. A shopping center is being built on the northeast corner. The southwest corner is vacant. Bank of America wanted to be in the shopping center but there was not enough room, said David Goodwin, the city's economic development director.

"We were barely able to fit the grocery store and a few ancillary tenants on the site. A bank with a drive-through is a pretty big space eater," said Goodwin.

While negotiations over the southwest corner were progressing, Bank of America refigured customer count and banking needs in the area, using a new model, said Denise Freedman, senior vice president for community development. She is based in Tampa.

"That tool determined we were overservicing the market," Freedman said. "It would not be responsible for us to open a banking center ... and then have to close it. It would be a detriment to the neighborhood."

While Midtown can't get one bank, other areas of the city are flush with new branches. For example, three have opened or are about to open on Fourth Street N just between Fifth and 27th avenues. Established banks also are located on the busy thoroughfare and, farther north, even more are opening.

City officials targeted Midtown, a 5.5-square mile area that sits mostly south of Central Avenue, for additional resources several years ago. And they have aggressively sought new retailers to meet basic needs, including a grocery store, post office and bank.

The majority of Midtown residents are African-American and in lower income brackets. The area is bounded by Second Avenue N and 30th Avenue S and Fourth and 34th streets. It has banks on its periphery but none at its core. Many Midtown residents do not have transportation and depend on family, friends, public transportation and take taxicabs.

Residents say a bank is sorely needed and long overdue in Midtown.

Remonica Warren lives in Midtown and says she probably spends $40 to $50 per week doing banking for herself, family members and friends. Her total includes the cost of gasoline and ATM fees at banks where she is not a customer.

She is a Bank of America customer but avoids the nearest office, the downtown center.

"It's so crowded," she said. "I would like one here."

Moses Holmes has a business in Midtown and believes a bank in the area would make it easier for residents to get loans. Actually, he would like to see several banks so residents could have a choice and banks would compete for their accounts.

"Then we would have more leverage," said Holmes, who owns Paragon Services.

Michael Summers lives near the Enoch Davis Community Center on 18th Avenue S. He travels out of the area to a credit union. Midtown needs a bank, he said.

"I guess we are used to it," he said of traveling to a financial institution. "I got to go way over there to the bank, and I live right here. It would be nice to have one in the neighborhood."

Donnie Corbett drives his parents who live in Midtown down to Wachovia Bank on 54th Avenue S. "They rely on us to take them. If I'm at work or my brother is out of town, they pretty much have to catch a cab. That can take up to $15."

A Sweetbay Supermarket is part of the shopping center being built at 18th Avenue S and 22nd Street. Officials celebrated its ground breaking in February with great fanfare because Midtown has only one chain grocery on its northern edge. Sweetbay will be located closer to the middle of Midtown and accessible to more residents.

The post office is on its way also. An area for retail postal service was announced last year and is being built at the postal annex at 1750 16th St. S.

That leaves the bank, which a lot of people thought was going to be Bank of America.

"They were one of three or four who have been working with that site. They were the leading contender but never the sole one," Baker said. He would not name the other potential banks.

[Last modified April 30, 2005, 23:59:18]

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