Don Black found himself crying as he prepared to cut the ribbon for a new BB&T branch on North Avenue in West Baltimore.
Black, the branch manager, is originally from an area of southeast Washington, D.C. not too different from the bank’s new Coppin Heights neighborhood, and grew up in Maryland’s foster care system. His three employees at the North Avenue branch grew up in Baltimore and transferred from branches in the suburbs to work at the location.
“It’s very personal,” Black said in an interview before a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday.
Truist Financial Corp. (NYSE: TFC) opened the branch at 2636 W. North Ave. adjacent to Coppin State University. The branch is currently branded as BB&T, but will eventually fly a purple Truist flag. The banking giant, formed by the $66 billion merger between BB&T and SunTrust in December, is working through a massive integration process expected to take 18-24 months.
catalyst for revitalization in a neighborhood that has historically suffered from disinvestment.
“I think this neighborhood has so much opportunity,” Black said. “People just have to realize it and give people the opportunity to change their mindsets and make it a beautiful place. It can be a really beautiful place and we are so happy to be here to help small businesses and people in the community achieve financial wellness.”
Black said he wants the branch to be a valuable community resource. The branch provides credit consultations and offers financial wellness classes at nearby libraries. The branch also partners with Operation Hope so if someone does not qualify for a bank loan, they can be referred to the nonprofit for assistance.
Truist’s branch is part of a $20 million redevelopment of the old Walbrook Mill by Coppin Heights Community Development Corp. Inc., Annapolis-based Osprey Property Cos. and Neighborhood Housing Services. In addition to the bank branch, the project will also bring a food hall managed by Connie’s Chicken and Waffles, 65 affordable housing units and offices for the Coppin Heights CDC.
The site was home to the Walbrook Mill & Lumber Co. until the company moved to Cockeysville a decade ago and later closed. Construction on the site began last year and is being partially funded by Gov. Larry Hogan’s Project Core initiative, as well as federal low-income housing tax credits.
Gary D. Rodwell executive director of the Coppin Heights CDC, said the branch opening marks the beginning of a community development plan that has been in the works for more than a decade.
“We are really excited about this as really signaling the start of the renaissance in this area,” Rodwell said.
Residents are expected to begin moving into the housing units later this month, Rodwell said. The development group is also exploring student housing possibilities with Coppin State.
Truist’s new branch is located less than a mile and a half away from the intersection of North and Pennsylvania avenues that was the center of riots in 2015 following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody.
“We believe in Baltimore City,” said Penny Hall, a senior vice president and regional retail banking manager. “We see the good over any bad.”
The physical presence of a bank branch makes people feel more secure and safe, Hall said. She also said the location of the new branch embodies Truist’s mission to inspire and build communities.
“We want to be a part of the success of Baltimore City and everyone that is a part of it,” Hall said. “Today, all the people here shows how excited the community is.”
Throughout the grand opening event, customers came in to check out what was happening. They were greeted with raffle tickets and food from Connie’s Chicken and Waffles.
Tangela Campbell, who lives nearby on North Avenue, happened to be walking by when she saw the balloons outside. She does not belong to a bank but now plans to become a BB&T customer.
“It makes my life easier,” Campbell said. “I can just walk down here. I think it’s great. Now people don’t have to go up to Mondawmin [Mall].”
By Holden Wilen – Reporter, Baltimore Business Journal
Feb 5, 2020, 4:03pm EST