Bank enjoys warm welcome

FAIRMONT – Bank Midwest has moved and, based on the sounds of laughter and chatter that filled the spacious building on Monday, employees and customers approve of the new location.

“We want it to be an active environment in here. Banking has always been about relationships,” said Tom Lytle, regional market president for Bank Midwest.

The bank has long been located on Downtown Plaza in a building rich with history but less than ideal for modern banking.

“There were three entrances, and people would walk in and not know where to go,” Lytle said.

The new facility on South State Street is one story, with vaulted ceilings, and lots of windows to let in natural light. Artwork of scenic spots around Fairmont hangs throughout.

An open floor plan features a center hub where customers are greeted by cheerful bank staff and directed where they need to go. If a client needs to wait for service, the bank has an Internet cafe, coffee and cookies. Free books on finance and banking are available for anyone who wants to take one home.

“We want to make it a little more personal; that’s what we’re trying to achieve,” Lytle said.

On the south end of the bank is the insurance and wealth management department. On the north are the lending offices, which look out onto the central hub.

“We tried to have all the offices with sightlines out to the lobby, so we can go out and greet people,” Lytle said.

The convenience isn’t limited to indoors. Outside, vehicles have a straight shot on the back side of the bank to the drive-through window. The lanes for cars were widened to 11 feet, to accommodate larger vehicles, and there’s a special truck lane with a raised cannister to make it easier for customers in taller vehicles to access the chute system.

The bank also has some new technology its leaders are excited about.

Tellers at the drive-through window have an electronic cash recycler that counts out bills, which means fewer trips to the vault for the teller and a quicker transaction for customers, Lytle explained.

The bank also has a new system for its safety deposit boxes. Instead of needing two keys to access a box – one kept by the bank and one by the customer – a customer can now enter the room with his safety deposit box with an electronic hand scan and then use his key to open the box.

The new technology and the building itself are indications Bank Midwest has held strong through the economic uncertainties of the Great Recession.

“Bank Midwest is very financially sound,” Lytle said. “We did not have any lending issues in 2007, 2008 or 2009, like so many other banks did. … We feel this is an investment in our community, an investment in our people.”

Beyond the cost of the building, Bank Midwest has put a lot of time and effort into the site, starting with its acquisition.

Negotiations on the property were a lengthy process, with the bank purchasing the land in June 2011 from VFW Post 1222. A tribute to Post 1222 can be seen outside, with a memorial that includes bricks from the old VFW and an American flag and POW flag flying overhead.

The project hit a roadbump when creosote-contaminated lumber was found buried underground after the VFW building was demolished, but the contamination was cleaned up with help from a state grant, and Bank Midwest held its groundbreaking ceremony in July 2012.

Heavy spring rains delayed pouring concrete for the parking lot, and also pushed back the opening day at the new site by a couple weeks to July 1. Landscaping should be completed in the near future.

The end product was worth the wait, based on the atmosphere in the bank on Monday.

“We’re excited to have a facility our employees and customers can be proud of – and the community,” said Jared Pomerenke, vice president and senior commercial lender.