West Side protests U.S. Bank closing

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Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) criticized U.S. Bank at a community meeting Nov. 10 for its plans to close a branch in Austin, saying bank representatives didn’t tell her about plans to close the site at 4909 W. Division St.

“No one in the community even knew the bank was closing,” Mitts said at the meeting hosted by the Northwest Austin Council. “U.S. Bank needs to do a better job of serving the community.”

The branch will close Friday, and the building will be taken over by the Chicago Municipal Employees Credit Union, according to Bob Vondrasek, executive director for the South Austin Coalition Community Council. This will leave Austin with one U.S. Bank location at 5201 W. Madison St.

Besides U.S. Bank, Vondrasek added there are about seven to nine other bank sites in the Austin area.

Greg Cromwell, Chicago central district manager for U.S. Bank, said his financial institution gave Austin residents a 90-day notice of the closing. He added that since the space for the bank has already been leased, U.S. Bank cannot keep the site open.

Mitts said U.S. Bank needs to work directly with city officials. She added that she is willing to co-sponsor a community meeting with bank representatives.

Some residents at the meeting objected to the closing.

“They claim they gave a 90-day notice, but they didn’t say who they notified,” Oddis Johnson, founder and CEO of United Front Anti-Crime of Illinois said. “Ald. Mitts didn’t get a 90-day notice. She has no reason to lie.”

Johnson said he blames the closing on the lack of communication between U.S. Bank and the South Austin Coalition Community Council.

“Don’t let my community and my seniors suffer behind your mistakes,” Johnson said.

Vondrasek said the South Austin Coalition Community Council has been in disagreement with U.S. Bank since it took over Park National Bank on Oct. 31, 2009.

Cathy Palmer, coordinator for the Coalition for Community Banking, a group that formed after Park National Bank closed, said the coalition has an agreement with U.S. Bank requiring it to communicate with the coalition before it closes branches.

She added the coalition represents six organizations:  Bethel New Life Inc., Global Network Community Development Corp., Housing Helpers Inc., South Austin Community Coalition Council, the Westside Federation and the Westside Health Authority.

“Out of the six organizations, U.S. Bank only notified one, Bethel New Life, about the bank closing,” Palmer said.

Bethel New Life operates three senior centers, one of which is located across the street from the U.S. bank branch closing Nov. 17.

Palmer said a senior who lives at Beth-Anne Place senior center, a supportive living facility, showed a letter from U.S. Bank about the closing to the Northwest Austin Council.

Marvis Seals, an organizer for the council, said U.S. Bank is closing the location because it was not drawing enough customers.

“U.S. Bank didn’t do enough marketing and advertising in the local papers and didn’t talk to any elected officials,” Seals said.

Seals said the closing will mostly affect seniors who live near the bank. After the bank closes, seniors will have to take a free shuttle bus provided by U.S. Bank to the other locations in and near Austin, which are about a mile and a half away.

“They’re only providing the shuttle services twice each month,” said Seals. “We’re demanding they increase that number to six times a month.”

Last week, AustinTalks reported the branch’s closing after Mitts accused its owners of redlining the community in an interview with WBEZ.

In that story, a U.S. Bank spokeswoman said they are closing the branch because the building did not adequately meet their needs. She told AustinTalks representatives they hope to find a new location in the Austin community, and the Coalition for Community Banking’s Palmer said she was helping with that search.

AustinTalks will continue to follow the story.


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