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Banking on Midtown

SunTrust's decision to build a bank branch in the St. Petersburg neighborhood is one more sign that the area is taking part in the city's prosperity.

A Times Editorial
Published August 4, 2005


Roy Binger has more than a casual interest in the direction St. Petersburg's Midtown area is taking. For the past two years, as economic development vice chair for the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, he has seen signs of renewal in the neighborhoods south of downtown. Now Binger and the company he works for, SunTrust Bank, are ready to put their money on what they see as a winner.

SunTrust was the only bidder on a parcel of city land at the corner of 22nd Street S and 18th Avenue, where the bank will build a full-service branch. That's the latest symbol of progress that has already brought a public library, post office and grocery store to the underserved area.

"The words people are using to talk about Midtown are starting to change," said Binger, SunTrust's city president for St. Petersburg.

Under Mayor Rick Baker's guidance, the effort to include Midtown in the city's growing prosperity has had plenty to cheer, as well as more to look forward to. A few projects either at or near completion include: SweetBay Supermarket rising cater-corner from the bank site; Johnnie Ruth Clark Clinic, where residents can seek medical and dental care; a post office branch, which will open down the street from the grocery store.

Those are all improvements to the basic quality of life, but Midtown also needs jobs. That unfolding story involves small businesses that have expanded or are relocating in Midtown, and a big prize that hasn't yet been claimed. The city is negotiating with the federal government to bring a $34-million Job Corps center to Midtown's Dome Industrial Park. The center would prepare young people for rewarding careers and help lure more businesses to the area.

So SunTrust's decision to build a bank in Midtown isn't only an act of faith, but a good investment as well. "We're in it for the long haul," said Binger, who believes the bank's success will grow with the community's.

Despite such optimism, it wasn't a sure thing the city could pull off this deal. Local Bank of America officials had expressed interest in the project but couldn't convince those at national headquarters. SunTrust, a regional bank, gave Binger and other local executives more say in the decision.

Not everyone believes Midtown is on an upward trajectory, but the skeptics are wrong. There will be no single project or miraculous development that will announce that Midtown has arrived. It will be a series of small, forward-thinking decisions - like the one SunTrust made - that add up to success.