Nothing says community pride like making an investment in your hometown’s downtown.
So it is with Cleveland’s last remaining locally owned bank.
The Bank of Cleveland has signed the paperwork to purchase the former SunTrust building, a neighboring facility that was closed in April.
As part of the purchase, the Bank of Cleveland also acquired all the furniture that was in place.
The Cleveland-based bank purchased its current site — the Fillauer Building — in 1987 and completed renovations less than a year later. The downtown landmark, located on Bobby Taylor Boulevard, was eventually listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Now, the two buildings from different eras will be joined in such a way that will improve customer access and service, as well as provide a potential new gathering area for downtown activities.
Bank of Cleveland Chief Executive Officer Scott Taylor said the bank’s mortgage business has been growing “because Cleveland’s housing market has gotten so strong.”
He said business has been so steady that the current area for those services on the third floor were running out of space and thoughts began on how to solve the problem.
“We own a building across the street and we thought about fixing up part of that to be a kitchen/lounge area for our employees and turn that area here on our second floor into an office,” Taylor said. “That was our only option.”
The news then came that SunTrust was going to shut down its main office downtown.
Taylor quickly jumped on the opportunity, contacting people who had associations with SunTrust and the local real estate market.
“We didn’t hear anything for a while,” he said. “Even after they closed on April 11, we weren’t hearing anything other than they would get back to us.”
At that point, only Taylor, Vice President Christy Griffith and President
Julian Sullivan were in the loop about the potential acquisition.
“The Realtor we were in touch with finally got the rights to market the building and we were given the price and the fact sheet on the building,” Taylor said.
Simultaneously, a new district attorney general was elected — an office that had a lease on the second floor of the building which was set to expire.
“I talked to [District Attorney General Steve] Crump very early in the process after he had won the primary to see if he would want to stay and he said he would,” Taylor said. “He said knowing SunTrust was leaving that he had already considered options because he did not know if a new owner would want them to stay. I told him we wanted them to stay. We didn’t need the second floor.”
Taylor said due diligence was performed on the modern structure and found the building “has been well maintained.”
The papers were signed recently and Taylor said preliminary work has already begun on how to transform the building into a Bank of Cleveland facility.
“The whole first floor will be the expansion of our mortgage operations and we will connect the two buildings on the first floor,” Taylor said.
The third floor in the Fillauer Building will then become available for the bank to expand other parts of the operations when necessary.
He said there would be slight modifications to the new addition, but “... it’s really almost like it’s set up for what we need.”
Taylor said the addition will now give the bank more of the parking area that was shared in the rear of the buildings.
“We’re picking up 22 parking spaces,” he noted.
He said it would probably be the first of the year before the move is complete.
“The biggest thing is figuring out how [to design] the connector between the two buildings,” Taylor said. “Where the drive-thru area is we are going to make that the main entrance, dress that up, take out a lot of that concrete, put some green space in there and put in an airlock with a glassed-in area.”
He said the idea is to make it more friendly, useful and inviting.
“And, maybe have some functions there during nice weather,” he added. “It’s another place for something else to go on downtown.”
The SunTrust building was actually built as the Merchants Bank in 1964 and Taylor’s father [Bobby] was in charge of making that building become a reality.
“It makes it a little like coming home,” Taylor said.
Going through the building, an old bank safe was discovered which appears to be dated to the early 1900s with the name “Merchants Bank” on the front.
“We plan on placing this out as a display much like we did with the old theater memorabilia we found in the Fillauer Building,” said Senior Bank VP Christy Griffith.
Taylor admits the decision was both an offensive and defensive one.
“We didn’t want a bank from out of town saying there’s a nice building here,” he said. “But, we need the space and it’s uncanny SunTrust announced their move when they did.”