BB&T to replace downtown Wilson 'towers' with new $35 million building

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Wilson County's tallest building will become a green space in the coming years as BB&T constructs a new facility about a block southwest.

"From the standpoint of the associates, this is a tremendous source of pride for what BB&T is doing in terms of reinvesting in Wilson and looking to the future," said Wes Berry, senior vice president and market president at BB&T. "As the towers were a beacon in the '70s and '80s, we hope this building will be transformational in the community."

Bank officials said the construction of a 95,000-square-foot, four-story building parallel to Pine Street will relocate the 550 employees currently working in the towers as well as about 100 other Wilson employees, but the remaining properties owned by BB&T in Wilson will be unaffected. Roughly one year of construction for the $35 million project is expected to get underway later this year. 

BB&T Regional President Scott Evans said he's optimistic operations - including the branch for personal and professional customers - will relocate in late 2019 or early 2020 with the towers demolished shortly after. The city plans to exchange the Paul Berry Park land for the site of the towers, which will become a corridor of greenspace along with the lawn at the Wilson County Public Library.

"We've had conversations about how it would be nice to have an open space component to the site, particularly since the project itself will be encroaching on some current open space in downtown," Wilson City Manager Grant Goings said. "The bank and the city have mutual interests in seeing that replaced, but the possibilities are endless. This is an attractive corner of downtown and integral to making a good impression, so we appreciate the bank being willing to partner with us to make something positive happen."

Internal discussions about the project have taken place behind closed doors for about a year, but Goings said it was very clear that BB&T was committed to Wilson.

"Unfortunately in today's world, it is increasingly rare to find a corporate citizen with the degree of loyalty that BB&T has continuously shown Wilson, N.C., for generations. So for me, this is more than just a story about a building and an economic development project because it symbolizes what is still right in terms of corporate America," Goings said. "We have this hometown bank that has become one of the largest banks in the country and the fact they'd have the confidence in us to invest for another several generations in a midsize eastern North Carolina city, I just think that is a very powerful statement not only about the bank, but also about their confidence in the community."

Evans said the towers, which were built in 1971 and 1985, are in need of considerable renovations.

"We looked at ways to reinvest in the towers and what it would take to bring this up to where it needed to be, then we weighed that with being more efficient and modern with our space," he said. "This space has served us extremely well for upwards of 50 years, but when we looked at our needs, it was decided building a new facility would be more economically feasible than doing all the renovations here."

Evans said he's hopeful the project will encourage other companies to follow suit with downtown investment.

"Rural communities like Wilson are economically challenged because of the rural-urban divide, and to be able to make this type of reinvestment in the community is obviously very exciting, but it also opens the pathway toward other businesses following our lead with future growth in the Wilson community," Evans said.

BB&T will not receive any local or state incentives. Goings said the development will complement another downtown project with the planned creation of an Innovation Hub, which received significant funding from the Golden Leaf Foundation.

"Golden Leaf is proud to support Wilson's efforts to attract and keep the quality talent that companies like BB&T expect and require," said Dan Gerlach, president of the Golden Leaf Foundation. "The Innovation Hub was a key factor in this welcome announcement from one of North Carolina's premier banks."

BB&T employs 2,200 people in Wilson and operates more than 1,900 financial centers in 15 states and Washington, D.C. 

"BB&T's legacy in Wilson goes back to the 1800s. Over the years, the bank has done so much for the Wilson community," said Mayor Bruce Rose. "The bank has employed thousands of Wilsonians, contributed to countless causes in the community and funded the dreams of Wilson families and business owners. BB&T has always believed in the strength of Wilson, and we couldn't be more proud of the renewed commitment to our community.

"It is a great day for Wilson."