Mercantile Gets Branch Approval

June 4, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Christmas came about 10 days early for Mercantile Bank of West Michigan, as the city’s planning commissioners gave the bank their approval on Dec. 13 to build a branch office at Knapp’s Corner. The branch will be Mercantile’s fourth location in Kent County.

Mercantile will put up a 3,200-square-foot branch, complete with a three-lane drive-thru, on the southwest corner of Knapp Street and the East Beltline. Mercantile bought the site from Meijer Inc., which opened its local flagship store on the property four years ago.

The brick building will be similar to the bank’s Alpine Avenue branch, while the landscaping will mirror what exists on the Meijer development. No trees will be lost, but some smaller ones will be moved. Customers will only be able to access the branch from internal streets, as the bank will not have an outlet to either Knapp or the East Beltline.

“We anticipate very low traffic volume,” said Stephen Fry, president of Concept Design Group, the project’s architect. Moore & Bruggink is the project’s engineer.

Mercantile Senior Vice President and COO Robert Kaminski explained that because 93 percent of the bank’s business is commercial, a Mercantile branch has less customer traffic than a retail-oriented bank.

“The fact that we are a commercially focused bank means a couple of different things. It means that we have less transactions than your typical banking institution does. We have less numbers of customers because our customers are usually businesses that have a bigger relationship with the bank,” he said.

“Mercantile Bank branches have a unique setup. The sit-down customer service desk is really the predominant feature of our branch building. It’s very conducive to the commercial customer that has a more lengthy transaction than the retail customer that just cashes a check, more or less,” added Kaminski.

Kaminski reported that bank officials began searching for a northeast side site last spring. He said the bank had to follow some strict development standards set by Meijer to build on Knapp’s Corner.

Assistant City Planning Director Val Lazdins said the Mercantile site plan met the zoning and setback requirements of the North East Beltline Master Plan and appeared to be within the guidelines of the North East Beltline Overlay Zone, which has a public hearing before city commissioners on Jan. 8.

A few opponents of the project, however, told planning commissioners that two banks were already located at Knapp’s Corner and a third wasn’t needed. They also said that more commercial development there could turn the Beltline into another 28th Street.

But Planning Director Bill Hoyt remarked that the East Beltline zoning plan restricts much of the commercial development to the area near Knapp’s Corner, and that should keep businesses from being strung out along the Beltline.

Mercantile was founded in 1997, and Kaminski said it has nearly $700 million in assets. In addition to its location on Alpine Avenue, Mercantile has a downtown office on North Division and recently opened a southwest side office in Wyoming. The Knapp’s Corner site will pretty much put Mercantile in each business sector of the county.

“We feel this proposed location will provide the community with another banking option for the northeast side of Grand Rapids,” said Kaminski. “And we feel it will be an excellent banking location for a financial institution.”           

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