Glut of New Banks Turn UWS Into a 'Second Wall Street,' Residents Say

By Leslie Albrecht on May 29, 2012 9:08am 

A Citibank is set to open soon at Columbus Avenue and West 86th Street, raising alarm by some in the area who think there are too many banks.
A Citibank is set to open soon at Columbus Avenue and West 86th Street, raising alarm by some in the area who think there are too many banks.
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DNAinfo/Nick Hirshon

UPPER WEST SIDE — Four new banks are slated to open soon on the Upper West Side, bringing the number in the neighborhood to a whopping 70 branches, which has renewed calls for proposed zoning laws meant to keep the financial outposts from "deadening" the area.

Reps for TD Bank, Chase Bank, Bank of America, and Citibank confirmed they're all opening new branches within a 20-block radius between West 67th and West 88th streets, from Broadway to Columbus avenues.

The bank openings come as the City Council prepares to vote this summer on proposed zoning laws that would prohibit banks from having storefronts wider than 25 feet on parts of Broadway, Amsterdam and Columbus avenues.

"It's crazy," said Anthony Kim, owner of The Wine Place at 2406 Broadway, which will close in early June to make way for a new 4,000 square-foot TD Bank slated to open in early 2013. "They're making a second Wall Street. Maybe they think there's a lot of money around here."

The new TD Bank at West 88th and Broadway also displaced a Ritz Camera and Price Wise discount variety store, employees said. The Wine Place is moving three blocks north, the Ritz Camera moved across the street and the Price Wise is relocating to the Upper East Side, an employee said.

A Chase Bank is under construction on Columbus Avenue and West 67th Street; a Bank of America is scheduled to open later this summer or in the fall on Broadway and West 81st Street, replacing a Hale & Hearty soups and discount pharmacy that both moved to new locations; and Citibank will replace the 3 Star Diner on Columbus Avenue and West 86th Street by the end of the year, bank officials confirmed.

City Councilwoman Gale Brewer said the upcoming bank openings will bring the total number of banks in her district, which runs from West 54th to West 96th Street, to almost 70.

"Who needs 70 banks?" Brewer said.

"I see the signs [for the new banks] and it's so depressing," said Brewer, a major backer of the proposed zoning laws, formally known as the Upper West Side Neighborhood Retail Streets Proposal. "We need our retail proposal more than ever. A bank is a killer for the pedestrian environment."

The Chase branch moving into Columbus Avenue and West 67th isn't inside the proposed zoning area, which runs from West 72nd to West 87th Street on Columbus.

The other three new banks, though, are inside the proposed zoning area. 

The city's Planning Department created the new zoning area at the request of Upper West Side leaders who said oversized banks were gobbling up too much of their once lively streetscape.

City planners researched the neighborhood and found a flood of large banks, especially on Broadway. "Many close their offices on the weekends and on weekday late afternoons, deadening street vitality and reducing foot traffic, and potentially jeopardizing these successful retail corridors," city planners wrote in the zoning proposal.

The New York Bankers Association has battled the zoning proposal, arguing that it would "have a negative impact on the neighborhood’s vitality, and deprive the city of much needed jobs and tax revenue," in a letter that the NYBA submitted to Planning Commission chair Amanda Burden.

Opponents have also said the proposed zoning restrictions aren't necessary because banks are no longer interested in having large retail sites, said Community Board 7 Chair Mark Diller.

"The suggestion was that banks seeking to occupy more and more space in our district was a thing of the past, [but] the plans of these [four] banks has proved that be untrue, and it's proved once again the prescience and the appropriateness of the zoning proposal," Diller said.

Business groups such as the Real Estate Board of New York and the Columbus Avenue Business Improvement District have lined up against the proposed zoning laws, while supporters presented the Planning Commission with signatures from 800 local residents in favor of the proposal.

Community Board 7 approved the plan in March. The Planning Commission followed suit in early May after tweaking the zoning proposal in response to input from business and real estate interests.

The proposal originally restricted all retail storefronts, not just banks, to 40 feet wide. Under the modified version the Planning Commission approved, small businesses will be able to expand to up to 60 feet with permission from the city. The modified zoning proposal also grandfathers in existing storefronts larger than 40 feet.

Community Board 7 member and City Council candidate Mel Wymore said news of four new banks coming to the neighborhood only reinforces his belief that the new zoning laws are sorely needed.

"It's a shame we didn't manage to pass it sooner," Wymore said.

He pointed to the corner of West 64th Street and Broadway as a prime example of how too-big banks have an outsized affect the neighborhood's vitality, he said. The corner once housed a large Chase Bank, but then the branch closed and was replaced by Bar Boulud.

"It really transformed that entire corner from something that you walked by and didn't notice to something that you're drawn to," Wymore said. "It's never empty. It went from essentially a ghost corner to one of the most thriving locations in the Lincoln Center area."

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