Citibank’s grand opening in Germantown seen as sign of neighborhood ‘rebirth’

Before he made his way to Harrisburg on Tuesday morning, state Rep. Dwight Evans made sure to stop off at Chelten Plaza for the grand opening of Citibank’s new “Germantown Lending Center.”

What Evans saw at the ribbon-cutting event attended by dozens of community, business and political leaders reminded him of Ogontz Avenue revitalization efforts.

“This is a tipping point. Right here, we have a school, a bank, a supermarket, all the elements people look for in a neighborhood,” he said, referring to the nearby Mastery Charter and Sav-A-Lot. “This is the kind of stuff that you need to build up a community. We’re seeing the pieces fall into place.”

First new Germantown bank in two decades

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The piece that was falling into place as Evans spoke was a global holding company which officials said was committed to enabling, and educating residents about, homeownership through its mortgage programs.

Beyond that, when the “lending center” becomes a full-service branch, which is expected to happen by year’s end, it will be the first new bank to open in Germantown in two decades.

Local leaders like John Churchville and Betty Turner, presidents of Germantown United and Germantown Community Connection respectively, happily greeted another anchor tenant at the controversial development at Chelten and Pulaski avenues.

Said Churchville, “Its presence is the catalyst we need to bring higher-end businesses into the area. Because of the [Chelten Plaza] chaos, I think it’s better; it made people think about what they’re doing here on the corridor.”

Turner added that she was “delighted to be here to welcome Citibank to historic Germantown. … I’m looking forward to 100 percent tenant occupancy. I know that’s coming, and it’s going to happen soon.”

Jobs and development

With the economy a focal theme of the hour-long event which drew Citibank honchos to Germantown, Evans noted that the office brought six new jobs to the neighborhood.

He also said this would not have happened without the “synergy” of city, state and neighborhood officials working with developers to make Chelten Plaza a prospective hub for Germantown business-corridor revitalization.

Kevin Dow, the city’s Chief Operating Officer and Deputy Director of Commerce, concurred. He told those assembled that it’s an important issue to City Hall, and noted that new bank openings in the city “are few and far between.”

“On behalf of the city, and the mayor, I want to tell you that this corridor is critically important to us,” Dow said. “We want to make sure it’s successful.”

Working with neighbors

As they chatted prior to the event, Evans and Kareem E. Thomas, Citibank’s vice-president and regional market manager, talked about a company with plans to lend $10 billion to small businesses nationally this year.

While there was no breakdown of how much of that was earmarked for the Germantown office, Citibank officials kept coming back to mortgages and homeownership assistance programs they plan to offer here, naming Irv Brockington as the local point person.

“We are committed to this neighborhood,” said Brockington, who grew up in North Central Philadelphia and recalled days of old when “friends would say they were moving to Germantown and it was like they were moving to the suburbs.”

Desmond Smith, Citibank’s managing director, spoke about a mission to help locals get mortgages.

“We’re not just going to be a participant. We’re going to be a leader,” he said. They plan to educate residents on how to buy and “sustain home ownership, helping to make this great community even greater.”

Open for business

Evans hearkened back to the neighborhood of his Germantown High School student days and hoped Tuesday marked an important event for the Chelten Avenue business corridor.

“Do you understand what this means to the people of this community?” he asked Citibank Mid-Atlantic Division Manager Scott Stokes inside the bank office located at the opposite end of the development from the Sav-A-Lot which opened in December. “You’re part of a rebirth.”

Then, at 10:54 a.m., a Citibank ribbon was cut in a blistering wind, with ceremonial scissors, to signify the lending center was officially open for business.

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