Citibank weighs full-service branch in Germantown

Citibank hopes to expand its new "lending center" at developer Pat Burns' Chelten Plaza Shopping Center, 301 W. Chelten Ave., Germantown, which opens Tuesday, into a full-service bank branch "by the end of the year, if all goes well," says Don Haskin, the long-ago Germantown High School grad (and ex-Daily News reporter) who heads what Citi calls its Community Development unit for PA.

The new Citi office, across the parking lot from Burns' new Save-A-Lot grocery adjoining the Chelten Ave. Septa train station, is "the first new banking services office to open in Germantown in the last 20 years," Citi said in a statement, citing city planning commission data.

The branch marks a departure from Citi's other Philadelphia-area branches, which are mostly in wealthy suburban and Center City neighborhoods. Haskin says he expects Citi to win business in the Germantown Ave. retail revival as it spreads south. "We think a location here makes a positive statement" about Germantown's prospects, Haskin told me. ""Germantown has tremendous potential."

There are currently just three bank branches (Wells Fargo, PNC, Citizens) in Germantown (Zip Code 19144), down from four in 1994, when FDIC's online database begins. That compares to 11 bank branches today in nearby Chestnut Hill (19118), including a Citi office, and 12 in Roxborough (19128). Federal law requires banks to make loans available in poor neighborhoods if they are also lending in nearby rich areas.

At first, the Chelten Plaza Citi will focus mostly on mortgage loans, including a low-rate, low-down-payment loan partly guaranteed by a program run by the city Redevelopment Authority. Haskin says Citi is rolling out a similar program in four other U.S. cities.

Aren't low-down, low-rate loans what got the nation (and Citi) in so much trouble a few years ago? These loans aren't for "subprime" borrowers, but for people with good credit, Haskin told me.