Reorganized bank tries to reconnect with community

March 2, 2011 2:58:33 PM PST
A South Side bank reopens with new name, but same old desire to work with the community, according to the new owners. But some are questioning the closure of two Bronzeville branches.

ShoreBank was closed by the government last summer, but has since reopened as Urban Partnership Bank. Now, as Urban Partnership gets its footing in a recovering economy, some people are questioning the bank's recent decision to close two local branches.

"We're adopting the fundamental mission that ShoreBank started with, which is to serve under-served, under-banked communities," David Vitale, Urban Partnership Bank, said.

With loans from ShoreBank, All About Kids Learning Academy now offers daycare to more than 60 children in the Park Manor neighborhood. Owner Tess McKenzie a former public school teacher, said other banks had rejected her business proposal until she came to Shorebank.

"It's good to know that someone believes in what you're trying to do," McKenzie said.

Vitale said ShoreBank get caught up after investing too much in real estate in the recession. Last year the FDIC stepped into the insure accounts. Urban Partnership won the bid from the FDIC. Chairman Vitale says in order to return to its mission, the bank had to pull back and re-evaluate.

"The original idea was to raise capital, to recapitalize the bank so that it can continue what it's been doing for close to 40 years," Vitale said.

For now that means the bank is only servicing existing loans. And they are closing two branches in the Bronzeville neighborhood. Some who cheered the mission of ShoreBank are concerned about the branches closing.

"There is a bankable community that has replaced the low income community and they should be trying to attract those customers into their bank instead as opposed to closing the bank," Harold Lucas, Bronzeville Visitor Information Center.

"I wish they would keep them. I think they have the potential to be successful," said Dr. Sokoni Karanja, Centers for New Horizons.

The bank's chairman said the closures are part of the big picture.

"We're not abandoning any neighborhoods," said Vitale.

Bank executives say they plan to open new branches in Bronzeville, but they won't say where exactly or when. However in the suburbs, the bank announced last week they are opening a new branch in Bellwood to replace an old branch.

As for new loans, the bank hopes to start offering new loans this spring or summer.