Elm bank

David Littlewood, president of TFNB Your Bank for Life, said a bank in East Waco is “long overdue.”

East Waco will get its own bank courtesy of a local institution known for financing visionary projects such as Magnolia Market at the Silos.

TNFB Your Bank for Life, based in McGregor, has acquired the recently renovated Train Waco building, 713 Elm Ave., and will open a full-service bank and micro-business incubator there, president David Littlewood said.

Littlewood said he likely will make lease space available to entrepreneurs, and may earmark areas for holding financial literacy and mentoring classes and community events.

Once isolated from the downtown resurgence on the other side of the river, the Elm Avenue area of East Waco is now awash in public works projects and private investment in hotels, restaurants and retail venues.

Littlewood said as far as he can tell, the area has never had a bank, and one is “long overdue.”

“I’m 58 years old, have lived here my whole life, and it came crashing down on me: ‘Why is there no community bank serving East Waco?’” he said.

Littlewood’s bank has been in expansion mode, growing to $490 million in assets with four locations before this purchase. Its latest banking center opened last month at Eighth Street and Cleveland Avenue.

Littlewood scouted locations in East Waco and pounced when the 13,000-square-foot Train Waco Crossfit training center became available this summer.

Listing the building was Raynor Campbell, with the Reid Peevey Real Estate Company, who said it remained on the market less than a week. The parties involved did not reveal the sales price, but the site is appraised at $735,880 for tax purposes, according to the McLennan County Appraisal District.

The building has quite a history. Built as a Safeway grocery store in the early 1950s, it sat mostly vacant from the 1970s through the 1990s. In the late ‘90s, Tom Salome, a partner in M. Lipsitz & Co., the longtime scrap metal business, acquired the building and donated it to the nonprofit Eastern Waco Development Corp. The group opened the building in 2003 as Brazos River Plaza, a place for public and private events.

The organization fell dormant, and the space was little-used in recent years. Leaders of the nonprofit group last year sold the building for $469,000 to the owners of CrossFit Waco, who had to relocate from leased space near the Silos, where Magnolia’s coffeehouse is now under construction.

Remodeled and sporting a freshly painted white facade with black lettering, the Elm Avenue property became popular with CrossFit clientele, most from outside East Waco. The owners announced in June they would move yet again, this time to a much larger building at 300 N. Valley Mills Drive.

The nonprofit City Center Waco, headquartered on Elm Avenue, secured a purchase contract for the building but assigned it TFNB. Executive director Megan Henderson said TFNB’s vision for East Waco meshed with those of City Center Waco, and she was happy to allow the building to pass into private hands.

“City Center Waco is committed to doing all we can to continue and foster the growth in East Waco,” Henderson said in a statement. “The need for financial services is something commonly expressed by businesses and residents here. We receive constant feedback from the East Waco community about the need for full-range banking services. A bank has been number one on that list, and TFNB is stepping into that in a big way.”

Littlewood said the branch will provide lending, new account, deposit and drive-thru banking services, and will employ at least a dozen staffers. He said preparation of architectural plans followed by remodeling probably will push the opening into early 2021. He said he intends to use as many local craftspeople and material providers as possible. He used Sterling Architects and Pearson Construction, both of Waco, on his Eighth Street project.

“I think it’s wonderful, one of the many signs of new life in East Waco,” said Sam Brown, a key Elm Avenue property owner and a commercial lender at Extraco Bank. “A lot of banks have downtown locations, but not across the river. David and TFNB are to be commended for making that jump.

“I’m eager to see them succeed,” Brown said.

Mayor Pro Tem Andrea Barefield, who represents East Waco as District 1 Waco City Council member, heaped praise upon TFNB’s commitment.

“I am elated that TFNB will be opening a location in the historic Elm Avenue District,” she said in a TFNB news release. “The lack of bank-owned ATMs has inconvenienced East Waco for far too long. TFNB is committed to their part in seeing this community economy grow: providing institutional knowledge, access to capital, and financial education. The new location is a welcome game-changing development for our community.”

John Bible, president of the Cen-Tex African American Chamber of Commerce, said the sale did not surprise him, having met with Littlewood and TFNB executives Christy DeLeon and Jason Lavender to discuss their intentions and “their purpose for coming into this part of the community, the partnerships we could forge going forward and the needs of small business.”

“I think this is one of the great things to happen in this particular part of Waco,” Bible said. “This speaks highly of where we’re going as a community. I would love to see other banks take into consideration the importance of East Waco, not just Elm Street but elsewhere. There are other corridors that would benefit from a bank location, parts of North Waco, for example.”

Jeanette Bell, president of the North East Riverside Neighborhood Association, responded with, “Praise the Lord,” upon learning of the sale.

“You know our vision is an enjoyable, livable, sustainable and walkable neighborhood,” she said. “We’ve been disinvested, blighted, decayed and neglected for decades. We want amenities other communities have. We want investments that address our many challenges. We want opportunities, and I think this bank will provide those opportunities. I’m all for it.”

Kris Collins, senior vice president for economic development at the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, said the bank on Elm Avenue should well serve businesses that have survived there through good times and bad, “but also longtime residents who have been without banking services.”

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