Miami’s first Wynwood-based C1 Bank branch puts artsy twist on banking

March 4, 2014

C1 Bank has opened its first full-service branch in South Florida — a design-savvy event space in Miami’s Wynwood district.

Picture a bank branch where the teller table converts to a bar, moveable “pods” offer intimate tête-à-têtes on plush banquettes, and a stocked catering kitchen is ready to accommodate a cocktail party for guests mingling amid Andy Warhol and Keith Haring-adorned walls.

C1 Bank’s new branch in Miami’s Wynwood is just that — a bank branch that doubles as an event space. As the only banking office open in Miami’s warehouse-turned-arts district, C1 wants to fit into the edgy neighborhood while providing the services of a traditional financial center.

It’s a whole new breed of bank, created by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs, said C1 Bank Chief Executive Trevor Burgess.

“Our idea was how can we have a location that says something about who we are, but also makes sense in the context of the neighborhood in which we are operating,” said Burgess, one of four investors who own a majority share of the St. Petersburg-based bank.

During the day, the space operates as a regular bank, taking deposits, cashing checks, making loans — albeit in an stunningly avant garde environment. “This isn’t your grandfather’s bank,” Burgess said.

Rather than having customers stand in a teller line, visitors are greeted by a banker at a rounded table under a grand chandelier of black Murano glass. Two silk-walled pods are set off to the side, allowing for private meetings around white Eero Saarinen tables. Larger gatherings can take place in a video-conference room, currently outfitted with Andy Warhol’s Mick Jagger screen prints. Nearby, white moveable bookcases reveal safe-deposit boxes. At another end of the open room, a 12-foot square gilded frame contains Keith Haring’s Andy Mouse silkscreens. The artworks were borrowed from C1 customer Gallery Art in Aventura and are expected to rotate with other exhibitions in the future, Burgess said.

When the 9-to-5 workday is over, the space can morph into the ultimate party room. A streetfront glass wall opens like an accordion, allowing guests to spill out onto the sidewalk. Every piece of furniture can be moved aside to make room for a showcase of cars, a fashion runway, or a dinner party for 20, complete with an overhead movie projector. Food and drinks can be served from the stainless steel catering kitchen outfitted by Burgess’ friend, chef Jeffrey Jew, who competed on Bravo’s Top Chef. The bank said it has ample security to oversee any events.

Burgess said he envisions the event space being used by customers or charities. “What better way to entertain clients than to bring them into your home?” said Burgess, who won the 2013 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year Award in Florida in the financial-services category. “And this space lends itself to be very welcoming.”

Even when the branch is closed at night, a green laser light show beams inside, reflected off mirrors near the ceiling.

For Wynwood, C1 represents the first full-service bank in at least two decades, said Albert Garcia, vice chairman of the Wynwood Business Improvement District, which was formed in October.

“It’s a great addition to the growth and renewal that has been taking place during the past few years in Wynwood,” an area stretching from 20th to 29th Streets, and from about N. Miami Avenue to NW 5th Avenue, he said. Once home to manufacturing warehouses, the hip district is now known for its galleries and has also sprouted restaurants and shops, such as the soon-to-open Nespresso. Several residential projects also are underway.

“With C1, they took the time to understand what we are and didn’t just open another generic box,” Garcia said. “It’s clear when you go in there that it’s sensitive to the arts and the innovation that is happening here.”

C1 bought the 3,700-square-foot space (and adjacent property. which it will lease out), for $2.85 million, brokered by commercial real estate broker Michael Comras. The bank spent another $1 million on the interiors, Burgess said. The space was gutted and redesigned by St. Petersburg architect Lisa Wannemacher. Interior designer Rob Bowen handled the furnishings, joking that they depict “ Alice in Wonderland’s Mad Hatter’s tea party.”

The sleek design features terrazzo floor and teller tables that convert into a bar. “The vision really came from Trevor,” Wannemacher said. “Trevor wanted something unique to further the brand and that was provocative in terms of design … a clean, industrial, edgy look that would complement the Wynwood Arts District.”

The branch is a key step in C1’s South Florida growth strategy. The bank called off its deal to acquire U.S. Century Bank at the end of 2012, turning instead to organic growth. Last year, it entered the South Florida market with a temporary loan-production office (which could not take deposits) in Miami’s Brickell area. That office closed when the new Wynwood branch opened last week.

So far, the branch has garnered $25 million in deposits. Of the $419 millon in new loans C1 booked in 2013, $154 million came from South Florida, said Alan G. Randolph, C1’s South Florida Market manager. The bank focuses on lending to small and medium-sized businesses, real estate developers, entrepreneurs, and professionals, including SBA-guaranteed loans. The goal, Randolph said, is to reach $100 million in deposits and to book $150 million in new loans by year-end.

To further its growth in South Florida, C1 has bought two more buildings, in Coral Gables and Doral, which it is now renovating and plans to open this summer. Next year, C1 expects to open a branch in Miami Beach’s Sunset Harbour neighborhood.

C1’s four majority investors — Burgess, two Brazilians, and a Dutch man — formed a holding company in 2008 and acquired a controlling interest in Community Bank of Manatee in 2009. Other purchases followed. Today, C1 has 27 branches in seven counties, with 219 employees and $1.3 billion in assets. Burgess came up with the name C1 on a plane ride: it is a simplification of the bank’s core values, “Clients 1st, community 1st.”

C1 also prides itself on its tech savvy. Bankers are equipped with iPads linked to Florida Division of Corporations’ Sunbiz website, so they can roam, visit businesses, and quickly set up accounts onsite.

Ken Thomas, a Miami independent banking consultant and economist who operates the website, said C1 exemplifies a community bank being innovative in order to compete with giant banks in an environment of increased regulatory pressure and increased costs. “They’re never going to compete on number of branches or advertising, but they can make a splash in a different way,” Thomas said.