New banks, opportunities in the Hill District

With the closing of Dwelling House Saving and Loan, Hill District residents who had accounts there now face new banking choices. All those accounts are currently being serviced by PNC Bank at the Dwelling House location on Centre Avenue, but they will be transferred to PNC’s existing branch across from the Hill House Association.

PNC has a long record of serving Pittsburgh’s African-American community, opening branches in Homewood, the Hill District and predominantly Black neighborhoods on the North Side when other banks did not. Spokesman Frank Solomon told the New Pittsburgh Courier last week that he expects many of those customers to remain.

NEW MONEY—Fifth Third Branch Manager Ralph Parks and Michele Y. Thompkins stand outside the bank’s newest branch at 2125 Centre Ave. in Pittsburgh’s Hill District.

“You’d have to ask customers how they feel about staying with us,” he said. “But we’ve already helped a number of customers realize what they can do with our wider array of options—checking accounts, ATMs and more branches.”

Spokesman Brian Goerke added the PNC branch at 1860 Centre Ave. has seen steady, moderate growth since it opened in December 1996. Sixty percent of its clients are from the Hill District.

“We’re developing outreach plans for businesses and churches and financial literacy training and continue to demonstrate our commitment to the neighborhood,” he said. “Since 2003, we’ve contributed more than $1.2 million in grants and housing construction to the community, most notably to the library and Ebenezer Baptist Church. Dwelling House was an unfortunate situation, but a growing opportunity for us, and we want those customers to know they’ll be taken care of at that branch.”

However, there is another choice for banking in the Hill, Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bank, which quietly opened its newest local branch at 2125 Centre Ave. July 27, and is already servicing former Dwelling House clients.

“I’ve had six to 10 people who specifically came in asking about accounts because of Dwelling House closing,” said Branch Manager Ralph Parks. “Personally, I think we’re establishing great community relations. We’re doing a lot of word-of-mouth marketing.”

STEADY PRESENCE—A customer uses the ATM at PNC Bank’s Hill District Branch across from the Hill House Association on Centre Avenue.

Parks is a former pharmaceutical salesman currently living in Canonsburg, but he is originally from the Hill District.

“I grew up three blocks from this branch and I’m impressed with the progress I see the Hill making,” he said. “I’ll be doing a lot of selling and community relations, and because I’m from the Hill, people remember. People like it when folks come back to the Hill and give back. I’m excited to be doing this for Fifth Third and proud to be able to do this in the Hill.”

Parks said the Centre Avenue location also gives him the opportunity to market clients in Shadyside and Oakland.

“This is a busy corridor, and we hope to have people stopping on their way to and from Oakland and Shadyside,” he said. “And with our 9-5:30 weekday hours, that extra half-hour is big for people who like face-to-face banking.”

Senior Vice President Jill Sandilla said locating a Fifth Third branch in the Hill just made business sense, from the standpoint of the market, the population and potential business development. The exact branch location, though, next door to the Legacy senior housing facility and near both the new Carnegie Library and, soon, the new YMCA, involved a little luck.

“We wanted to be on Centre Avenue, and I was driving through and saw the spot and was able to work out a deal with McCormack-Barron,” she said. “The library and the Y, that was pure chance—I like chance.”

Sandilla said even though it’s been open just a month and with no fanfare, the branch is already exceeding expectations in terms of accounts opened and she expects to see an increase in residential mortgages and business banking—and the grand opening, with food, refreshments and dignitaries helping with the ribbon-cutting, isn’t scheduled until Oct. 15.

In the interim, the bank has already held several “Dream Guard” financial education seminars in the community covering topics such as first-time home buying, credit restoration, avoiding foreclosure, saving and even talking with children in a down economy.

Similar service, as well as applying for bank accounts, loans and employment opportunities will be available when the bank’s mobile “eBus” stops at state Rep. Jake Wheatley’s community appreciation day event Sept. 12.

During the eBus visit last year, Sandilla said the bank managed to help one person avoid foreclosure on her home.

“It’s part of what we do to help people understand their finances,” she said.

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