NCB to close Red Hills Road branch after 42 years

BY JULIAN RICHARDSON Assistant business co-ordinator

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

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NATIONAL Commercial Bank (NCB) will shut down its Red Hills Road branch in March after more than four decades in operation on the St Andrew strip.

The financial institution said it will consolidate the outlet, located inside the Red Hills Mall shopping complex, with its Half-Way-Tree branch. The NCB automated teller machine (ATM), however, will remain at the entrance to the shopping halls at the mall.

NCB's manager of group corporate communications, Belinda Williams, said yesterday that the move is "in order to achieve greater operating efficiency". But the firm's exit from Red Hills Road is another blow to the once commercially vibrant thoroughfare that has become a shadow of its former self, milked of its appeal by criminal activities and feuding politically-aligned gangs over the years.

Williams did not directly address how much of a role, if any at all, crime and a subsequent decline in economic activity on Red Hill's Road played in NCB's decision to close the branch.

"We engage in continuous assessment of our resources in order to ensure we are operating with optimal efficiency," Williams said in response to a Business Observer query.

"The consolidation of the Red Hills branch into the Half-Way-Tree (HWT) branch is the result of such deliberations and is in keeping with our strategic imperative to increase shareholder value," she said, adding "We value the relationship with the Red Hills community and will continue to serve its residents through our HWT branch, any other location of their choice and our convenient electronic channels."

But it means the community is now left without a commercial bank, with Scotiabank having left there in the 1990s, and more importantly another major employer. NCB did not disclose how many workers are employed at the Red Hills Road branch, but Williams noted that "staff will be redeployed throughout the NCB network".

Running from Eastwood Park Road to Meadowbrook Avenue in St Andrew, today there are two Red Hills Roads: the upper stretch that intersects with Eastwood Park Road, where several businesses continue to thrive, and the other end where Whitehall Avenue, 100 Lane, Park Lane, and such communities have become synonmous with trouble and flare-ups of violence over the years.

Red Hills Mall is located across the road from Whitehall Avenue. The NCB Red Hills Road branch was first established in 1971, but was moved to its present spot inside the complex in 1976, said Williams, who noted that the location is owned by the financial institution.

Red Hills Road was once one of the main commercial corridors in Kingston, with a range of successful businesses, including hardware stores, supermarkets and financial institutions.

It was particularly known for being the city's hip strip, with lots of night-time entertainment. Any night of the week, its entertainment spots flourished with a choice of more than six nightclubs, including Tit For Tat, Turntable, El Rancho, Top Hat, or Stable.

However, Red Hills Road developed a disturbing reputation in the 1990s to early 2000s which resulted in an exodus of a lot of the businesses. The road traversing once peaceful uptown communities became one of the city's feared flashpoints of violence with stories of extortion, turf wars and political infighting. The decline of Red Hills Road reached its lowest level in early 2002 when a violent flare-up resulted in the killing of seven people and the burning of a housing block at 100 Lane.

In retaliation, four residents from Park Lane were killed by gunmen allegedly from 100 Lane. That infamous incident helped to kill the reputation of Red Hills Road and the stigma remains today.

NCB operates 38 branches and 170 automated teller machines across the island.

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