A branch, and its community, begin to rebuild
Plans for the redevelopment of a Minneapolis branch destroyed in protests, and related actions, underscore Wells Fargo’s commitment to communities and equity.
The bank branch that once stood at 3030 Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis offered clients, customers, and its surrounding community much more than banking services, many recall. Employee Shoua Lee fondly remembers children arriving from a nearby school for the blind and low vision as part of lessons about using ATMs and public transportation. As a second-generation Hmong immigrant, Lee also enjoyed working with the recent-immigrant customers the bank served, including people from Latin American countries and Somalia, some of whom attended English as a Second Language, or ESL, classes and financial education courses in the basement of the building.
Regional Bank President Joe Ravens said that at one point, at least ten languages were spoken by tellers and bankers at the branch, and customers would commonly bring in family and friends to connect them with the service and support offered there. The memories of those customers made it especially difficult for employees like Ravens and Lee to watch on TV and social media as the branch burned down in May 2020, amid protests following the murder of George Floyd.
“It was devastating,” said Lee, a Community Relations senior consultant on the Wells Fargo Social Impact and Sustainability team, who had an office on the second level. “It was an old building, maybe not the best-looking branch, but it was definitely one of the most connected to the community.”
After a year of emotional turmoil, and as the path to rebuilding in Minneapolis becomes clearer, Wells Fargo is inviting the community to help determine the future of the branch site.
Along with several buildings in the area, the Wells Fargo bank branch and office building was a total loss, and its charred remains sat dormant as the community awaited the court case of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin. The many neighborhood customers reliant on the location could only use the ATM left standing, and eventually a temporary bank kiosk.
While attending some of the peaceful daytime protests in the area, Yusra Mohamud, who had worked at the branch up until 2019, was approached by customers who still recognized her.
“It was a very sad time,” Mohamud said. “At first, the number one customer concern was for their safe deposit boxes. Some customers said they had their children’s passports in those boxes. Some had gold that they were saving to give to their kids when they get married, or their diplomas.”
Customers of the destroyed branch safely retrieved the contents of their safe deposit boxes before crews completed building demolition in March. Wells Fargo formally announced its redevelopment plans in April just days before the Chauvin trial ended.
Wells Fargo is collaborating with local housing affordability nonprofit, Project for Pride in Living, or PPL, to inform future uses and the site’s overall development. They have determined the site will include 200 or more housing units, mostly offered in affordable price ranges, which are badly needed in the city. Plans also call for more community space for educational courses in the new, LEED-certified building.
“It is unfortunate, what happened to the branch,” said Mohamud, who started her career as a teller at the bank, one of several who served Somali customers in their shared language. Now a small business banker, Mohamud remains active in the local community as a board member of the Lake Street Council, which includes several small business owners from the area. Mohamud is also a committee member of the local African Development Center.
”What happened to the branch was not done by people who banked there,” Mohamud said. “I know that place meant a lot to a lot of people of the neighborhood. Seeing the branch return will help symbolize that the area is healing.”
Under direction of the nonprofit Cultural Wellness Center, a research and knowledge-production organization, the details of the rebuilding process will be shaped by input from employees of the destroyed branch as well as community members. The first small group discussion about the redevelopment of the 3030 Nicollet site was hosted by Lead Central Region President Laurie Nordquist on May 4, and included Mohamud and Lee, as well as other employees. Additional sessions will continue frequently throughout the summer. Ground-breaking on the new branch is expected in summer 2022.
“This is about making the best of situation, finding a silver lining,” said Megan Teare, managing director of Wells Fargo Community Lending and Investment, who also had an office in the building, and was able to recover soot-covered personal items that survived the destruction.
“I am focusing on Wells Fargo’s ability to continue to be a community asset in the neighborhood, but now just a bigger and better one,” Teare said.