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Highland Park residents push back against BofA leaving neighborhood

Posted at 11:01 AM, Feb 06, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-06 11:01:43-05

RICHMOND, Va. — A group of Northside businesses and residents is trying to stop a banking giant from pulling out of their neighborhood.

Bank of America is slated to shut down its Highland Park branch at 1307 E. Brookland Park Blvd. in March. The closure was announced in December and an organized effort has since sprung up, bent on changing the bank’s mind.

Led by City Councilwoman Ellen Robertson, whose district includes that stretch of Highland Park, the group also includes residents, nearby nonprofit Boaz & Ruth and representatives of D.C.-based developer Community Preservation and Development Corp., which is finishing the $11 million conversion of the former school building across from the bank branch.

The group argues that the BofA outpost is the only bank branch in the neighborhood, with the next closest being 2½ miles away. The closure, they say, would leave the area without an easily accessible, traditional banking option.

Robert Johns, CPDC’s director of community development, said that 2½ mile distance isn’t as manageable as it seems for the neighborhood’s low-income residents who rely on the bus, particularly seniors.

“It sounds close, but on a bus at night it’s 35 minutes and during regular business hours is 45 minutes to an hour,” Johns said.

A community meeting was held on the topic in late January, and Johns said the worry is leaving residents to check-cashing stores and payday lenders, financial alternatives often described as predatory because of high fees and interest rates.

“The loudest sentiment that came out of the meeting was, ‘Please, no payday lenders or check cashing,’” Johns said.

Robertson said the group sees the closure as ill-timed, pointing to CPDC’s Highland Park Public School project as one of several changes that are taking the neighborhood in a positive direction that will attract more residents – and potentially more customers for the bank.

“We’ve made the argument that now is not the time to consider pulling out of this community,” Robertson said. “We feel the community is on the cusp of major development.”

BofA Bank spokesman Matthew Daily said the branch’s closure is based on a review of its performance, coupled with changing trends in branch traffic due to online and mobile banking.

“In this case, the customer traffic isn’t there like it’s been in the past,” Daily said of the Highland Park location.

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