Investing in Downtown – National Bank of Arizona’s Role in the Revitalization

June 7, 2013

by Bree Collins

“We love our Downtowners,” says Rachel Sugden, employee of the National Bank of Arizona branchbank2 at 136 N. Stone Ave. “Once I started at this location, I couldn’t imagine working anywhere else.” People walking through the doors are greeted by name. Newspaper clippings of Downtown developments are posted on white-boards in the waiting area. Since Tucson is known for its friendly attitude, it seems only natural that our banks are gracious as well, but there’s a reason for this interest – NB|AZ has financed a lot of the revitalization of Downtown, including quite a few of developer Scott Stiteler’s projects. Stiteler, who owns or co-owns many of spaces Downtown, is notorious for supporting small-business owners with a distinct vision, and NB|AZ is a lesser-known piece of the puzzle.

With all the opportunities for unique small businesses to open Downtown, it fits that there’s a community-involved bank working behind the scenes. David Lyons, Executive Vice President and Southern Regional President of NB|AZ, has worked for the bank for 18 years and knows a lot about its history. NB|AZ started in Tucson, then opened up branches in Phoenix and across the state. When it was picked up in 1984 by Zions Bancorporation – one of the top 25 largest holding companies and based in Salt Lake City, Utah – the mission and name stayed the same. “You can’t say that about a lot of banks,” says Lyons. NB|AZ has the best of both worlds – it’s independently-run, has a small board of directors (15 members), and is also backed by a strong Bancorp. “I call it a Super Community Bank,” says Lyons.

Bank1Each branch is allowed to evolve into whatever its community needs. “The Chairman of Zions, Harris Simmons, grew up in banking. He gets it.” The branch in Sonoita focuses on providing services to the small community, while the Downtown Tucson branch funds business-related projects. There are tiny branches existing in Bisbee and Florence. “It may seem costly to allow each branch its own identity,” says Lyons, “but we find it very effective.”

Tucson’s NB|AZ contributes to our community in other ways. A mistreated house that went into foreclosure was donated to Habitat for Humanity, and just recently the keys were handed over to a new family. Several groups volunteered time and materials to fix it up – NB|AZ employees, manufacturers and contractors, and even people from the county prison system. “It was great to see how all these people came together,” says Lyons. “There were even people in orange jumpsuits at the key ceremony,” he recounts with a smile.

Several bank employees are involved in their favorite charity. One employee raises money for Forgotten Children, a grassroots organization that works to enrich the lives of underprivileged women and children in his native Senegal, Africa. Lyons himself volunteers with the Tucson Conquistadores to help bring athletics to Tucson youth, especially those who are disadvantaged in some way.

Lyons himself is part of this community. He grew up in here, where his mother was involved in various projects Downtown. She recently wrote a book about the Tucson history of the famous Steinfeld’s, who built the Steinfeld’s Department Store and the Pioneer hotel. Lyons currently lives on the East-side but likes visiting Downtown. “The peanut brittle ice cream from HUB makes it all worth it.”

“Tucson needs a vibrant Downtown,” he says, gesturing around him as he drinks coffee in Sparkroot. “This isn’t like going to Starbucks or Pizza Hut. You can’t find anything like this place anywhere else in town.”

Sounds like Zions’ Chairman isn’t the only one who gets it.

You can find more information about NB|AZ on their website. The main Tucson branch is located at 335 N. Wilmot Rd.