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Hope bank set to close

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Many people in Hope are concerned because the community of 2,000 is about to lose one of its two bank branches. Additionally, the high-profile location to be closed by First Financial Bancorp has major architectural significance.

“Closing the bank branch on the town square will be a great inconvenience for customers. There’s been some sort of bank there since the 1800s,” said Shirley Robertson, Town of Hope clerk-treasurer.

The closure, scheduled to take place Feb. 15, also will take a famous building designed by the late Chicago architect Harry Weese out of commerce. The building, a sleek one-story design, is part of the extended Columbus architectural tour, which draws tens of thousands of visitors per year.

Cheryl Lipp, director of communications at Cincinnati-based First Financial, said customers who use the downtown Hope branch have been notified their accounts will move to a separate First Financial location at 2531 Eastbrook Plaza in Columbus, about nine miles away.

“First Financial owns the bank building in Hope. While we continue to finalize our plans for the building, we do expect to offer the property for sale,” Lipp said.

First Financial, with $6.3 billion in assets, took over the Hope bank branch at Harrison and Jackson streets when it acquired assets of the failed Irwin Union Bank & Trust in 2009.

The red brick-and-glass bank branch was designed in 1958 by Weese, a friend of Cummins’ Engine scion J. Irwin Miller. Weese’s long list of achievements includes designing Chicago’s Time-Life Building and numerous other examples of modernist architecture from Chicago to Washington.

But what appears to have most Hope residents upset is the fact that a familiar bank location at 645 Harrison St. will soon disappear, leaving behind only an automated teller machine at the site to take deposits and provide cash withdrawals.

“I’m positive there are people in town who’ve never used an ATM, much less done any online banking,” said David Miller, branch supervisor of the Hope Branch, Bartholomew County Library.

After mid-February, the town’s only bank branch will be an Old National Bank location on the southern edge of town inherited when Old National acquired Indiana Bank & Trust.

Robertson said the town also is concerned because her office must make daily deposits of utility payments in coins, cash and checks. The treasurer said she’s been doing that with bank tellers at First Financial up to now, but someone might have to drive to Columbus or use the bank’s ATM for the same chore after Feb. 15.

Miller and Robertson said they’re also concerned that the Harrison Street branch will stay empty after First Financial pulls its employees out.

“Personally, I don’t want to see it remain empty. It’s architecturally significant, and no one wants to see an empty building on the town square,” Miller said.

“There’s a lot of community concern being expressed,” Robertson said.

Lipp said bank customers have the option of going to other First Financial locations, including the Eastbrook branch, or using First Financial’s Internet banking services.

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