Effective Friday, Jan. 7, 2022, the Fifth Third Bank branch in downtown Marion will close for good and customers will have to go elsewhere to do their business.
In addition, officials with the city of Marion hope this historic building, which houses this bank branch and has become the symbol for Marion, can be used for a new and better purpose.
Recently, the Fifth Third Bank company sent out a letter to local customers informing them that the Marion branch would close permanently as of 4 p.m. Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. All accounts currently maintained at this branch will be transferred automatically to the Black Mountain branch. The letter also told Marion customers they can use the Forest City branch.
The McDowell News reached out to Beth Oates, a spokesperson for the Fifth Third Bank company. When asked why the Marion branch is closing, Oates said “We regularly review our banking center traffic and locations and have decided to consolidate this location in Marion.”
She said all employees of the Marion branch will be placed at other nearby financial centers, either in Black Mountain and Forest City. She added that all of the customers at the Marion branch have been notified about the closing and told they can use the Black Mountain or Forest City branches.
Since the announcement about the closing, officials with the city of Marion have approached Fifth Third Bank officials about possibly donating the building at 14 S. Main St.
Probably the most recognizable symbol of downtown Marion stands at the corner of South Main and West Court streets. The cupola over the 118-year-old building at 14 S. Main St. has become an important part of the city of Marion’s official logo and can be seen on welcome signs, mugs, letterheads and Websites. It is often accompanied with the slogan “Where Main Street Meets the Mountains” and has become an iconic symbol of Marion.
“The cupola is such a vital iconic image of our downtown,” said Mayor Steve Little. “We feel it is worth preserving.”
If the city could get ownership of that building, then it would probably be leased out for a retail business or resold with some restrictions for its use, he added.
Little said this is similar to what was done years ago when the city acquired the top of Mount Ida and preserved that mountain from developers.
“The history of downtown Marion sort of revolves around that corner and that dome is a vital part of our downtown,” said the mayor to The McDowell News. “We just want to protect it.”
Oates said her company is well aware of Marion city officials’ desire to preserve this structure either through donation or purchase.
“We are aware the request has been made but it is too early in the process to comment,” she said to The McDowell News.
When asked about the structural integrity of the building and its cupola, Oates said “I cannot comment on the structure, but I can assure you that we always operate a safe working environment for our employees.”
The building was constructed in 1903 as the First National Bank of Marion. This was likely a part of the rebuilding process that Marion went through following the great fire of 1894, which destroyed much of the downtown. The bank had its roots in the Commercial Bank of Marion, which had been established in 1896. At that time, the building had a meat market in the lower level, according to the book “Marion” by Kim Clark.
For the largest portion of its history, this structure has been a bank. First Union probably was there the longest. This long-time banking company later moved to another building and became Wachovia and then eventually Wells Fargo.
At one point, the old bank building became an exercise gym. But in the late 1980s, Community Bank & Trust took it over and made it into a bank again. From 2000 to 2008, the building was the home of First Charter. In 2008, Fifth Third Bank acquired First Charter. As a result, the local branch became a Fifth Third Bank and the building at 14 S. Main got a new owner. Fifth Third invested a lot of money into painting the exterior, restoring windows and installing a new roof and new carpet, according to a McDowell News story from 2015.
The building has a main level, a lower level and an upper level, along with its distinctive cupola on the roof. It comprises approximately 4,000 square feet and has 25 rooms.
During the Community Bank & Trust era, all three floors were in operation and used by company employees. The bank president and the auditors were located upstairs. The lower level was used by the loans and collections departments.
In 2015, Fifth Third only used the main level. The lower level had not been used for a long time. The upper level still has the boardrooms and offices, although they were mostly empty.
The room that used to be the office for the president of Community Bank & Trust looks out over the corner of Court and Main streets. It offers a good view of the old Hotel James and the courthouse. Empty boardrooms and offices could be found down the hallway in 2015.
An official with the local branch said in 2015 there were no plans by Fifth Third to use the upper floor or rent it out for other uses. The building does not have an elevator and therefore had issues with disability access.
Furthermore, a McDowell News reporter was unable in 2015 to go up into the cupola because of liability concerns.