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July 21, 2016

The Bunker

Here’s the “dirt” on how MIDFLORIDA’s Mall Branch in North Lakeland came to be.

In the mid-1990s, soon after I had started with the credit union, the board of directors and management team had decided that we needed a branch in north Lakeland. At the time, we were a small credit union and were just coming out of some financial difficulties. I knew we couldn’t afford to purchase land and build a facility, so I began looking at old bank buildings and other less-expensive possibilities.

One morning, I was reading the paper and noticed that a large bank planned to close a branch right where we wanted a location. Today, at my current advanced age and understanding of proper protocol, I would have asked my person to call their person, etc. However back then I was young and brash, and just picked up the phone and called the area president, and asked him if he wanted to sell “that there” building.

Now first of all, bankers generally hate credit union people. So I can just imagine his shock when some young president of a speck of a credit union called him and asked to buy a branch that his bank hadn’t even closed yet! Well, the biggest surprise was that not only did he actually agree to sell the branch, but he agreed to sell the building at the bank’s book value.

Now of course, like any “good” deal, there was more to it. First, the building was full of mold because it was one of those 1970s earth buildings, where they put dirt on the exterior walls to reduce AC costs. The only problem is that the dirt holds moisture and causes mold to grow inside the building. So we had to re-drywall the whole building and lose the “bunker look” by removing the piled up dirt.

The biggest issue was that there was no good entrance to the building’s parking lot. The city had put in a divider on the side street that made it almost impossible to get into the branch without driving over the curb. So, I went to the owner of the nearby Beef O’ Brady’s and cut a deal. He agreed to share his entrance if I would put a small sign for his restaurant on our pole.

What we now call the “Mall branch” has turned out to be one of our most successful locations. It was a good lesson for us that details really matter. The building was already at a good corner, we added visibility and accessibility and the branch took off!

“Every Branch Has a Story” is a blog series by Kevin Jones, President/CEO of MIDFLORIDA and an employee of the credit union since 1992. The blogs chronicle the history of the MIDFLORIDA branches, and discusses how each came into existence.