By DENNIS SEID
OXFORD – With its eye on this rapidly growing university town, AmSouth Bank has opened its first full-service branch on West Jackson Street and will celebrate with a grand opening this weekend.
“We love everything going on here,” said Roger Weldon, AmSouth's North Mississippi executive. “We can be more active, we can serve our customers better. A lot of people are attracted to the Oxford market.”
Although the AmSouth branch opened about a month ago, the grand opening will be observed Saturday with a neighborhood block party from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. The bank will provide free food and a variety of activities, including face painting and child safety fingerprinting and identification kits.
Weldon said Birmingham-based AmSouth has been looking at Oxford for several years. But it was in the last 18 to 24 months that the $52 billion bank holding company cranked up its plans to open the branch.
With students from across the region attending the University of Mississippi, chances are many of them are familiar with AmSouth already. So, Weldon said, opening the branch gives them with a familiar brand in a new town.
“I don't really know why we took so long to open a branch there,” he said, “but as we looked at various markets, everything about Oxford said we needed to be there.”
Brad Gentry manages the Oxford branch, which bank officials say was a $2.5 million investment.
Ronnie Smith, AmSouth's Mississippi area executive, said in a press release that Oxford's growing retirement community was another appealing factor for the bank.
“The 55 to 64 age group is expected to jump 20 percent from 2004 to 2009. This will allow us to reach out to existing residents and those new to the community, who may be looking for a better banking relationship,” Smith said.
The Oxford branch is AmSouth's 64th location in the state. It also plans to open two new branches in the metro Jackson area and two on the Gulf Coast.
AmSouth joins a growing number of banks in the Oxford. Nine financial institutions have offices there, led by First National Bank of Oxford, with about a 30 percent market share. Other banks with branches are Regions Bank, Merchants & Farmers, BancorpSouth, Oxford University Bank, Bank of Holly Springs, Mechanics Bank, Southbank and Renasant.