Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Another Local Bank Hero

“None of what I’m showing you would have happened if it weren’t for the local bank. Joe Frampton, its CEO, used the book “Good to Great” as his guide and understood that for this project to succeed he was going to have to stick his neck out. Sometimes he was lending 300% of appraised value to make this program work. He really took a chance.” Renee Nunez was explaining to me how the transformation of the Lower Town area from crack houses to artist’s studios was accomplished in the past six years.

Mark Palmer, one of the first artists in the program told me, “The bank lent me $220,000 to redo my place but when we were completed it only appraised for $150,000. Today, five years later, it’s probably worth over $350,000.”

Wow! It is bankers like that who can really make things happen in a town. I knew that I had to go meet him. After my tour I walked down to the Paducah Bank and even though it was already 4:30 on a Friday afternoon, Joe Frampton agreed to meet me. Whoever makes comments about “banker’s hours” hasn’t met Joe.

Joe explained to me about his bank, “We are a $400 million bank with five branches, all located here in the county. We are the only locally owned bank in the entire region. We committed $1 million to the program because we knew the history of the Lower Town area and took pride in what it once was. We’d seen it deteriorate into a horrible place of absentee landlords, a nice phrase for slumlords, that was filled with transient residents. It was unstable and unsafe. The property was deteriorating quickly as drugs, noise, crime and prostitution had moved in.”

He went on, “The mayor came to see our president Wally Bateman and I and said, ‘We’ve got this crazy idea for revitalizing the Lower Town. What can your bank do?’ We were so impressed with what they wanted to do that we committed to them that day for the $1 million. We told them we will do it at market rates, but we will get very creative on longer terms, appraisals, etc.”

“The artists started coming in and frankly we’ve been very pleasantly surprised at the financial capacity and quality of them. We originally thought we were going to get a bunch of hippies. But we found that we got some very high quality folks. One of our first one was an M. D. from the east coast.”

You would normally think that with this type of program that you’d have some significant write-offs but Joe told me that they’ve yet to take a write-off to date, even though the program has grown to over $10 million invested in Lower Town. The bank is assisting the city with a similar program, but not arts related, in another historic part of town, committing another $1 million.

I asked him about how the Artist Relocation Program has worked out compared to what he envisioned. He told me, “We thought we would be lucky if we got 90% back on that first $1 million commitment. But, it has been wildly more successful than we ever imagined. We’ve grown our business as a result, both in the Lower Town area and in the community because people saw our commitment to the town.”

“For the community it has been a big boost. The artists who have come in are well educated, creative, diverse and have a tremendous intellectual intensity that wasn’t here before. Our tourism has grown greatly. Coffee shops have sprung up. We are now making plans to start an art school here which could completely dwarf everything that we’ve done with the Artist Relocation Program.”

If you get a chance, be sure to visit Paducah and see what they’ve accomplished in only six short years with this program. And, all because one banker took a big chance.

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