Thursday, June 12, 2008
Downtown bank under renovation
By SUE WATSON
A slogan “Pardon Our Progress” is mounted on signs at the back entrances to the Bank of Holly Springs on Memphis Street while contractors rebuild the drive-thru, parking lots and utilities to the oldest state bank in Mississippi.
The bank opened in 1869 in a single building on the north end of the bank, then expanded southward taking in a second and third building, one at a time, to keep pace with growth of the community. But the original bank building outgrew its britches and added a branch on the south side of Holly Springs - finished in December 2006 - with the vision of restoring the downtown facility afterward. That time has come.
Downtown Bank of Holly Springs customers can use the drive-thru at the South Branch across Highway 7 South from the Sports Corral. But all customers who are accustomed to taking care of business downtown are welcomed to come on in and make their transactions.
Vice president Gary Hickman is excited about the upgrade - the first major renovation since the late 1960s, because of what it will mean to downtown and the new Main Street Program.
“The project is to help Holly Springs Main Street as well as to modernize the bank,” he said.
With modernization the historical look will not change but service will be improved and the addition of a four-lane drive-thru in back will take pressure off traffic on the square, Hickman said.
“We are blending traditional architecture with new workplace changes,” he said.
One feature that will certainly contribute to the improved appearance behind the bank is the total rebuilding of the electrical utilities which includes buried utility lines and installation of attractive modern lamp posts. The drive-thru will be paved with concrete with the only entrance off East College Avenue.
Hickman praised John Collins and George Humphreys with Holly Springs Utility Department for helping plan the buried electrical work.
Bain & Sons is remodeling the back parking lot which will enter off Alderson Street and exit on Van Dorn.
Green space will be added in the drive-thru and parking lot areas in keeping with modern city design practices.
The new parking lot will also be available to the public for after-hours events downtown such as festivals.
Old antique-style lamp posts make the area behind the bank attractive.
The entire electrical system inside the bank is also being remodeled. Acoustic ceiling panels are being added and all office areas are getting a complete overhaul.
Heffington Electric is handling all the electrical work.
Southern Commercial, and Barry Ray, is doing the inside remodeling.
“We’ve also had support from our neighbors,” said Hickman. “We will paint the back walls from East College to the corner of the old Sears building in one color.”
The facade was repainted last fall. The north wall and wrought iron will be painted also.
Hickman said the planning for this project took lots of coordination with the Historic Preservation Commission, the Planning Commission and the city.
But he thinks all the work will be worth the effort because it will benefit the entire town.
“I want to thank the board of directors,” he said. “It took a lot of courage to spend the kind of money we are spending on the square. The Bank of Holly Springs has made a commitment to the square by the capital improvements we are making. Bank president and CEO Steve Gresham has done an outstanding job moving us forward when the planning process has stalled.
“Dick Sanders, appointed chairman of the building committee, has also done an outstanding job. It’s an incredible responsibility to put on Dick to make timely decisions to make this happen.”
While burying electrical service, HSUD will also replace old gas and water lines while the drive-thru and parking lot areas are reworked.
The bank is using all local contractors to make the renovations.
Hickman said many authorities were involved to carry out the project, including Mayor DeBerry and and the board of aldermen.
“They have been very helpful and had the vision of this falling into the Main Street Program and met with the Historic Preservation committee to make sure we met the standards,” Hickman said. “It’s been a difficult project, but everyone has been courteous and helpful. It’s truly been amazing the different authorities involved.
“And our employees haven’t grumbled and complained. I’m thankful I’ve got such a good group on the square.
“I am sorry for the inconvenience to customers, but I think this is something everyone will be proud of.”
Planning for the remodeling began in January 2007. The project was approved for tax credits, a process that is detailed and exacting in its requirements for documentation. Architect Bill Wage assisted with the applications, Hickman said.
Barry Ray with Southern Homes is doing the remodeling and restoration of the building and the work on the drive-thru islands.
Ray said the roof has been stripped down to the original decking which was found to be in unbelievably good shape.
Inside, bank employees are being shuffled around as the interior offices are being worked individually.
The bank has a temporary teller row, while workers remove the old paneling and replace it with drywall behind the teller row.
The interior will be painted to match the interior of the new South Branch bank, Ray said.
Ray praised subcontractors who have worked small areas and left, willing to do the work in stages, to keep from disrupting bank work. He said bank employees have been very patient as their work spaces have been disturbed.
He praised the bank’s board of directors for their vision and commitment to keeping a presence downtown.
“We’re preserving history, but continuing to hold the vision for the future of our city,” he said.
Collins, HSUD general manager, said the relocation of the utilities both improves the appearance of the rear of the building and improves overall appearance of downtown.
The renovation also gives HSUD an opportunity to replace cast iron gas lines with plastic pipe, he said.
He said some underground electric projects are cost prohibitive, but the benefits in terms of appearance and maintenance are great.
“There was a push all over the country in the 1960s with Lady Bird Johnson to beautify and put utilities underground, then another push in the 1970s. Memphis requires most of its new residential to put electricity underground,” Collins said.
The improvements would be noticed by drive-thru customers as well as from the street.
“The utility wants to help improve appearance and also provide quality service,” he said.
Alderman-At-Large Tim Liddy confirmed that bank representatives had presented their plan to remodel the parking lot drive-thru to the Historic Preservation Committee and Planning Commission.
“Technically, the parking lot is not in the Main Street District,” he said. “I know what they do there will be good for Main Street.”
Liddy said he spoke once with bank president Steve Gresham about making sure there was plenty of green space in the lots.
But it is the financial commitment the Bank of Holly Springs is making to stay downtown that Liddy thinks is most important to the district.
“They are one of the key anchors downtown,” he said.
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