Chase Bank Pulling Out Of Coney Island, Leaving Sandy-Damaged Property To Rot

Chase Bank Pulling Out Of Coney Island, Leaving Sandy-Damaged Property To Rot
The property owned by Chase Bank at 2909 West 17th Street.
The property owned by Chase Bank at 2909 West 17th Street. (Photo: Alex Ellefson / Sheepshead Bites)

Coney Island has made significant progress this year stitching together the neighborhood’s broken pieces after they were shattered by Superstorm Sandy. The Ida G. Israel Community Health Center reopened this summer, renovations have been made to the Coney Island Cathedral, volunteers rebuilt a local playground, and the city is moving forward on resiliency projects to protect the neighborhood from future storms.

The grit of the community has restored many of the institutions vital to the neighborhood’s success.

Yet one piece of the puzzle continues to blight Coney Island, and the property is owned by one of the world’s largest and wealthiest companies — Chase Bank. For more than three year’s the bank has operated out of a mobile trailer while the community awaits renovations to the four-story structure that used to house the local branch. Instead, the boarded-up building, located at Mermaid Avenue and West 17th Street in the heart of Coney Island, has been left to rot and accumulate building code violations, mostly for failure maintain the property or file annual inspection reports, city records show.

Two months ago, Chase announced it had abandoned plans to restore the building and informed customers in a letter that it was pulling the trailer out of Coney Island on December 14. The decision to move leaves the neighborhood with only one full-service bank, a Citibank on Mermaid Avenue, and forces Chase’s Coney Island customers to commute outside their neighborhood in order do business with the bank.

Last week, members of the community and elected officials hauled a Chase Bank representative into the Coney Island Library to discuss the issue.

“We indicated to them that it is really insulting to suggest to residents that they have to travel such a far distance to handle such important day-to-day matters as banking,” said City Councilman Mark Treyger, who attended the meeting along with Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, State Senator Diane Savino, and Assemblywoman Pamela Harris.

“This deprives the community of having a full-service bank. Further, the condition of the structure on West 17th and Mermaid is unacceptable. It is a major eyesore. It sends a terrible message to the community,” Treyger said.

A spokesperson for Chase explained they had inherited the property from Washington Mutual after the two companies merged during the 2008 financial crisis. The location already had extensive damage before Sandy and the building is not conducive to Chase’s standards for opening a branch. The spokesperson said Chase was committed to working with elected officials to explore other options for serving the community.

At the heart of this story is the historical neglect by banks in low-income neighborhoods like Coney Island. For years the New York City Council pushed to enforce the Responsible Banking Act, which sought to provide oversight of banks that manage more than $6 billion in city assets. The law created a committee to evaluate whether those banks were providing critical services, such as full-service bank branches and small business loans, in middle- and low-income neighborhoods. The law was struck down in August when a federal judge ruled it was unconstitutional, the New York Times reports.

“The bottom line is Chase informed the community late in the game about its decision to close up the branch. And I believe Chase made this decision way before two months ago,” Treyger said. “The problem I have is that Chase cares about their bottom line and they are leaving a community high and dry.”

After responding to our initial inquiry, Chase reached out to us again Wednesday afternoon to say they would extend the life of the mobile trailer, located behind the closed branch. The trailer will remain in Coney Island until mid- to late-January, the spokesperson said.

In a statement released by his office, Jeffries said he was pleased by Chase’s decision to keep the trailer open for another month.

“The residents of Coney Island have been heard, and I commend Chase for its decision to temporarily delay relocation of its banking trailer into the new year. In the interim, we will continue to work together to find a permanent location so that Coney Island residents will have access to quality banking services,” Jeffries said.

However, keeping the trailer around a little longer still leaves unresolved the future of Chase’s dilapidated property, which Treyger said needs to be fixed up and occupied by a bank or retailer.

“What they are trying to say is: ‘As a courtesy, we gave you a temporary trailer all these years.’ But my question is: why didn’t you fix up your structure all these years?” said Treyger. “Chase is a multi-billion dollar company. And they have not put a penny into the building since the storm. It’s a major eyesore and it’s holding the community back from having better retail options on Mermaid Avenue.”

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