Tuesday, December 11, 2012

"Legal loan shark" to occupy prominent North Nashville intersection

I was disappointed to read that a development going in at the corner of Jefferson Street and Rosa Parks Boulevard is Advance Financial, a payday loan business that profits on working-class desperation and houses itself in tedious buildings:

“We’re trying to rebrand and reinvigorate a community,” Kwame Lillard, a community activist and owner of property off Jefferson Street, said. “That’s a sign of regression.”

There’s not much critics can do because the Advance Financial site was already zoned for commercial use and the storefront will meet requirements under the historic district overlay for that area. [CEO Mike] Hodges hopes to eventually win over hearts and minds with the design of the planned building — which includes a glass-and-brick structure with 15 teller windows and a drive-through window ....

“Part of that is a perception issue — our industry has done a very poor job of curbside appeal,” Hodges said. “You’ve got a historically underserved Jefferson Street and we just think it’s a great location. We do well where you have high-traffic intersections.”

Some of their "high-traffic" intersections do not exactly have what I would consider "curbside appeal" (images via Google Maps):

Clarksville Hwy

Tusculum Road

Gallatin Avenue

The concept of a "glass-and-brick structure" does not sound attractive when I see pictures of Advance Financial structures of the same materials elsewhere. Bad enough, they are located on parking lots at odds with walkability but their strip-mall styling is out of character with high density urban character.

Contrast Advance Financial's status quo with the development scenario for Jefferson Street near Rosa Parks Boulevard laid out by the 2010 North Nashville community plan that many of us here helped formulate:

In this development scenario buildings are shown with shallow setbacks sitting close to Jefferson Street with parking placed behind the building. Parking is also located beside the building, and in some cases off-site in other parts of  the Community Center to facilitate shared parking between businesses. New buildings along Jefferson Street and Rosa Parks Boulevard should be among the tallest and most urban in the area. As a transition between mixed use development the existing residential development, new residential building types such as townhomes and multifamily are located on the edges of the Community Center.

How the community plan envisions Jeff St at Rosa Parks
Here's hoping that Advance Financial will not follow its standard practice of showcasing parking lots, especially on a corner dominated by a drug store and gas station with parking in front. However, the 2010 plan also recommends innovative building types compatible with existing residential patterns and increasing neighborhood density. I do not see Advance Financial offering much in the way of innovation given their low-profile, cookie-cutter, convenience-store layout with screaming signs disproportionately mondo to the modest size of their buildings.

In fairness, I have not seen any drawings of the new building, but the current Advance Financial holdings do not offer me much hope that it will fit the community plan or the character of the North End as it has developed. And frankly the existing outlets look trashy and unkempt. The last thing Jeff St needs is the scruffy and dirty look of what passes for "curbside appeal" on Tusculum or Gallatin.

Furthermore, council member Erica Gilmore's comments to journalists do not give me much faith that Advance Financial will bring the quality of life of our community up to what we expected in participating in the planning process: “You don’t want it to be predatory or whatever, but if other banks or businesses aren’t coming in, you have to have something at the end of the day. They’re not going to set up anywhere where people have adequate banking needs.” That's not exactly a ringing endorsement or assurance that the development is going to amount to what the major, historic intersection deserves. (Will the National Museum of African American Music ever be built so that its patrons can stop across the intersection and pick up an Advance Financial loan first for admission and souvenirs?) The fact that CM Gilmore cannot at least throw us a bone to discourage us from feeling like we are a leeward dumping ground for industries that prey on systemic poverty and community hardship is astonishing (Advance Financial will have a bail bonds business as a neighbor).

I do not know whether Advance Financial greased the skids for this deal by donating $7,000 a few months ago to Historic Germantown, Inc. for their October street festival, but I have not heard complaints coming from their affluent end of the community. I did receive a forwarded email exchange in which one festival organizer defended the donation to a critic who called the loan company a "legal loan shark". The festival organizer called the critic "assuming" and offered to send him an invoice next year with their expenses to see how much he could finance before they start soliciting other donations. Hence, I am not expecting bold opposition from Germantown leadership on this question, which means they may get the ugly that they deserve for $7,000. Some living there already complain about their Autozone.

The rest of us free from the Advance Financial dole deserve better, and by better, I mean something along the lines of the community plan that caters to people's everyday lives instead of scoring on their lowest moments.

7 comments:

  1. Advance Financial does not want the area to prosper. By so doing, more gentrification will come, thus pushing out more of their client base.

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  2. from Brenda Gilmore's 7/28/2010 Campaign Finance Report:

    HODGES, TINA
    921 KIRKWOOD AVENUE
    NASHVILLE, TN 37204
    VICE PRESIDENT & COO
    ADVANCE FINANCIAL, INC.
    Primary
    07/12/2010
    $1,000.00

    Ms. Gilmore has also routinely accepted contributions from World Acceptance Corporation http://www.worldacceptance.com/

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  3. CM Erica Gilmore was a paid employee of her mother's 2012 house campaign

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  4. There are two issues presented here:

    (1) the business and its business model
    (2) the building as it relates to the neighborhood design plan

    Interested parties would do well to focus on #2. As the title of this blog post notes, this is a "legal" business, as distateful as some may see it. It also is a local business that has donated significant sums locally (there is $30,000 mentioned in the linked article).

    After coffee shops, hot dog restaurants and bookstores thrive and overflow in the area, then take aim at payday lenders and pawn shops.

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  5. Because, Anon, the free market will always decide what's best for us?

    The good is not strictly defined by the legal.

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  6. No, because people have limited resources and should pick their battles in the hopes of actually winning one instead of just complaining about several.

    You torched that straw man, though. See my last paragraph.

    Brian

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  7. Nice straw man yourself with the assumption that I don't pick my battles just because the battles I pick aren't yours. I'll keep your criticism about complaining in mind when your pet oxen are being gored.

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