The Largest Bank in the U.S. Has Ceased Operations in Benton Harbor

The largest bank in the United States has closed up shop in Benton Harbor and the head of the city’s Downtown Development Authority isn’t too happy about that. The Riverview Drive branch of JPMorgan Chase Bank ceased operations about a week ago and sign crews were busy removing the first of the ground level pylon signs from the four-story fortress along the St. Joseph River.

Richard Hensel, President of the Downtown Development Authority is distraught, telling me, “The loss of Chase and their ATM affects individuals visiting our city and residents who bank there. Neither Benton Harbor or St. Joseph will have a downtown (Chase) branch, leaving the customers to travel several miles to the east and south.”

Chase has four other active full service branches in the market with offices at 1088 E. Napier Avenue in the Fairplain Plaza, at 1310 Hilltop Road in St. Joseph in front of Papa Vino’s Italian Restaurant, at 5689 St. Joseph Avenue in downtown Stevensville, and at 4249 Lake Street in downtown Bridgman.

It will be the first time in decades that there is no longer a full service bank branch along Riverview Drive in Benton Harbor. The building Chase was leasing space in is a privately held property that was originally built as the headquarters for the forerunner, Farmers & Merchants National Bank which opened there in the early 80’s. F&M and its successors, NBD, Bank One, and Chase have all been an important anchor for the city and the region dating back to 1888.

Hensel points out that,”As the first ‘million dollar’ bank and its role in the city (and region with its eventual 12 branches before being sold to NBD) F&M financed homes, businesses, and the development of the region’s commercial, industrial, and agricultural facilities and markets,” locally.

The 41,059 square foot, four-story building has been on the market locally under the guidance of commercial real estate broker Bob Winters of Winters-Associates Realty in Benton Harbor. Winters says this afternoon that a sale of the building is pending, but that wasn’t necessarily what drove the Chase decision to shutter the branch. Because the deal is still in the works Winters was not at liberty to divulge the buyer(s) or their intent for the property which is on a very scenic stretch of the St. Joseph River directly across from several marinas and a condo development on Marina Island.

Hensel says, “I’m sure they have reasons for this, as this branch has been slowly diminishing in volume of business as the downtown lost activity over-all, but beyond the social and cultural impact, there is a negative implication some may draw about whether to locate and invest in our city.”

Reality is just the opposite with Whirlpool’s $83-million investment in their three-phased Riverview Campus, the ongoing work of key business leaders like Peter Colovos of Prairie Real Estate, Chicago real estate developer Bryan Secklemann, Cornerstone Alliance, Abonmarche Consultants, Pearson Construction and others as proof that the future is increasingly brighter for the central business district.

Customers of Chase likely knew something was up when the drive-up ATM’s at the south end of the parking lot in Benton Harbor were rendered ineffective and unusable sometime in the past two weeks followed by the offices being cleared out in the past week.

JPMorgan Chase & Company is a U.S. multinational banking and financial services holding company headquartered in New York City. It is the largest bank in the U.S., the world’s third-largest bank by total assets, with total assets of roughly #2.5-trillion, and the world’s most valuable bank by market capitalization.

ARM Signs & Lighting of Lawton had a crew taking down the pylon sign and cutting it up for removal this afternoon, and a considerably larger boom is parked along the drive, ostensibly to aid in the removal of the larger, lighted building signs near the top of the building.

As for the impending takeover by new owners and their proposed use of the building…stay tuned.