San Antonio Federal Credit Union (SACU) will open its newest branch location in Southtown this year, credit union representatives said Tuesday.
SACU will soon move into the historic building on the southeast corner of South St. Mary’s and South Alamo streets – what is now the King William District CrossFit, and what was once home to the Texas Highway Patrol Museum sham. The decision was influenced in part by the real estate market and location, said SACU Senior Vice President Sharon Spring who leads the credit union’s avant-garde initiative, but also from feedback from dozens of Southtown residents that attended any of the three community meetings SACU hosted over the past three months.
Typically a neighborhood won’t know a business is moving nearby until a lease or deed is signed – or nearly signed if local media gets a hold of it. But SACU enlisted the help of Concordia, a consultancy firm based in New Orleans, and local firm Ximenez and Associates to organize meetings that engaged residents on everything from location to services to interior design of the new branch.
The first meeting I attended in January felt more like a community master plan development session. Bahareh Javadi of Concordia led several small groups – which included SACU staff members that will work at the new branch – in an asset identification exercise that mapped out areas of cultural, educational, organizational, social, and physical aspects of Southtown. It was more than a meeting about where to put a bank and served to spread awareness of SACU as well as gather input.
“It is different for a financial institution to use the methodology that we’re using,” Spring said during the fourth meeting of the community outreach effort that culminated with yet another round of feedback and snacks at Liberty Bar Tuesday evening. “Typically yes, it is about a real estate deal and finding the best egress and regress but we’re really interested in becoming a part of the community. … We want to understand where we fit and if there are things we can bring to the table to help solve some gaps.”
Spring declined to name other buildings that SACU was looking at in the area, but said there were “numerous properties in Southtown.”
Rumors about other new tenants of the building, which has room for at least two more store fronts on St. Mary’s Street, have been brewing in the neighborhood for months. Several neighbors have their money on a coffee shop, perhaps Brown Coffee Co., and a high-end restaurant.
That lot will be turned into a small parking lot, Spring said. While residents surveyed said they would mostly walk or ride their bikes to the branch location, they recognized the needs of the elderly and handicapped neighbors that may not have that choice.
Work has already begun on the design of the new SACU and at least minor construction has begun on other storefronts.
Blake Carpenter has lived in the neighborhood for 40 years and has been looking forward to a new bank in the neighborhood for about as long, he said. “It’s about time.”
He has been going to the SACU location on Military Drive, a 15-minute drive in light traffic.
SACU, like most credit unions, are member-owned. Much of its membership is based on proximity to its branch locations, Spring said. “Anyone who lives, works, or worships” in SACU’s southern field of membership (service area) are automatically eligible to become a member.
The community planning process used to engage the community is inline with the philosophy of SACU.
“We are consumer oriented versus business oriented,” she said. “The emphasis of the branch itself is not transaction-based, it’s relationship-based.”
The function of most bank branches has shifted away from simple deposits and withdrawals – a function largely replaced by online/mobile banking and debit cards – towards financial consulting.
“We want to spend time with our members to help them reach their financial goals,” Spring said.
Concordia typically works on much larger community planning projects, said its CEO Steven Bingler. His company has worked on the Wheatley Community School transformation in the Eastside and has been part of various renewal projects in New Orleans.
“In some ways it’s more natural for this particular business (a credit union) to take on outreach in the community … because its work is centered around neighbors,” Bingler said. “It speaks highly of the community spirit and being a good neighbor rather than just being a business in the community.”
SACU plans on opening at least one more branch location in San Antonio this year and two more in 2017.
Top image: The CrossFit gym at 812 S. Alamo Street will become a San Antonio Federal Credit Union by the end of 2017. Photo by Iris Dimmick.