Many attending the ribbon cutting ceremony March 1 at the new Sun Trust Bank at Memorial and Columbia drives saw the business opening as yet another indication that the once-depressed Belvedere community is on the road to again being an economically viable area.
“It’s definitely an asset to the community,” commented Ann Brown of the Belvedere Civic Club, who said she is passionately devoted to restoring a community that she has seen struggling economically and in other ways. A resident of Belvedere for more than 30 years, Brown said she wants to see the area have some of the amenities that attracted her initially. Now community relations coordinator for the Walmart adjacent to the new bank, Brown was among a large group of business executives, elected officials, community leaders and others who had come to welcome the new business.
Belvedere was once a booming business area and home to Avondale Mall, anchored by such department stores as Sears and Macy’s. Belvedere Plaza on the opposite side of Memorial Drive had a Rich’s department store and other national and regional chains. As these businesses left, the area not only started to look shabby, but also saw an increase in crime.
“It’s great to see a business like Sun Trust put its footprint here,” said DeKalb County Sheriff Thomas Brown, who expressed the hope that revitalization would bring with it a reduction in crime.
On the Memorial Drive side of the area’s Walmart, the bank was built on previously undeveloped property. “That’s the great thing about this,” said Leonardo McClarty, president of the DeKalb County Chamber of Commerce. “This building isn’t a retrofit. Sun Trust was willing to build from the ground up, to put bricks and mortar here. That shows that they have confidence in the potential of the area.”
McClarty said that among his priorities when he accepted presidency of the DeKalb Chamber was to restore the once-thriving areas around Candler Road and Memorial Drive.
“When a Walmart was first proposed for this area we were under a lot of pressure not to approve the zoning for it,” said DeKalb County Commissioner Larry Johnson. “But the Walmart has been the start of a lot of building and revitalization in this area.” He pointed out that the Hibachi Grill restaurant had opened recently across the street in Belvedere Plaza.
“And just look at the new $20 million streetscape that we’ve been able to build with stimulus money,” Johnson continued. “I had a vision for this community and it started with Walmart.”
Roberta White, Sun Trust assistant vice president, who heads the staff at the new branch, said, “I’ve been with Sun Trust nine years and had been trying for a while to get the company interested in opening a branch here. I live in south DeKalb and I believe in this area’s potential. I’m delighted that when Sun Trust decided to open a branch here they thought of me.”
White said that the bank branch and the Walmart should complement each other. “We will be partnering on many community activities,” she noted.
The branch, which has been operating for approximately a month, is among the newest of Atlanta-based Sun Trust’s 1, 658 retail branches.