Noe Valley Voice November 2007

Wells Fargo Banking on Rite Aid Spot

By Corrie M. Anders

For 11 years, Wells Fargo Bank has taken care of its Noe Valley customers and handled millions of dollars out of a cramped shoebox of a branch on 24th Street.

That's about to change.

The bank is in contract to take over approximately half of the recently closed Rite Aid drugstore at 4045 24th Street -- a few doors away from its current cubbyhole at 4023 24th Street near Noe.

Joanne Schultz, Wells Fargo's San Francisco regional president, said the bank is in lease negotiations with the property owner and is working with the city to obtain various city permits.

Last month, the project won Planning Commission approval, and if all goes as expected, the branch would relocate sometime next spring.

"We are excited about really increasing our space," Schultz said. "It's going to be a very nice brand-new facility."

The 2,827-square-foot-space, four times as large as the bank's current site, will offer a more comfortable working environment for both customers and employees, she said.

The branch now has three teller windows and a single desk. The new location would feature eight teller windows and eight desks.

Schultz said the bank also would provide expanded financial services for mortgages and investments. "This is what our customers have been asking for quite some time," she said.

In addition, the branch would provide better service for its merchant business accounts.

The bank "probably" will double the number of employees at the new location, going up to about 12 workers, said Schultz. The current staff will remain intact, and Andrew Espeto will continue as branch manager, she said.

The bank plans to make space available for after-hours workshops, including homebuyer seminars and mortgage training. The new location will continue to have ATM service.

Adrian Putra, a planner with the San Francisco Planning Department, said Wells Fargo was prepared to spend an estimated $300,000 in construction costs to make improvements, including dividing the space into two commercial storefronts.

The California American Automobile Association has indicated it wants to lease the other half of the former Rite Aid space.

"Nothing has been signed yet," said Karen Griggi, property manager at Sausalito-based Charter Properties. "I'm still showing the property and still trying to find a tenant for the site."

The Wells Fargo move required Planning Commission approval, which came after an Oct. 25 public hearing. No one spoke against Wells Fargo's plan, which had the support of the Noe Valley Merchants and Professionals Association.

Under the Noe Valley Neighborhood Commercial District rules, such approval is necessary for any new financial business moving into a space larger than 2,500 square feet. The Rite Aid building is authorized for general retail sales.

The bank's proposed changes are on display at the current branch site, and the bank has invited local residents to take a look.

"Right now is a great time for the community to see what we're proposing and give us feedback," said Schultz.

One local suggestion--a community bulletin board--already has gotten a thumbs up.

Money won't be the only thing green at the new branch. Its current location has been certified green, and the branch plans to continue its environmentally-friendly philosophy, Schultz said.

The branch will use all recyclable products, green-certified materials in carpets and furniture, and energy-efficient lighting, she said.

Schultz said it would be premature to make a decision about what will happen with the current branch facility until the Rite Aid deal is finalized.

According to city planner Putra, if the site is vacated, it will remain a designated financial services location for three years, and another bank or savings and loan can move into the location during that time.