Vista Bank CEO aims to ‘level the playing field’ with new branch near Fair Park

Dallas Business Journal 
By Holden Wilen 
April 10, 2024 

Vista Bank CEO John Steinmetz knew he wanted to help make a difference in southern Dallas after he participated in the “Principal For A Day” program at W. Carter High School in Oak Cliff.

On that day three years ago, he met students who thought that becoming a professional athlete would be their only pathway to success. Steinmetz wanted to do something to, in his own words, “level the playing the field.”

Vista Bank will take a big step toward that goal when it opens up a new branch near Fair Park in May.

The branch, located at 3225 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. in what used to be a run-down Social Security office, will become Vista’s largest location at roughly 11,000 square feet.

”There are other paths with better odds to be successful and I think nothing is a better reflection of that than taking an old Social Security office owned by the government and turning it into the first bank in Fair Park in over three decades,” Steinmetz said. Dallas-based Vista Bank is one of the fastest-growing banks in Texas and currently has more than $2 billion in assets. The bank has 17 branches across North, Central and West Texas, and Palm Beach, Florida, and employs more than 200 people.

When it opens, Vista Bank will employ five people at the Fair Park branch, all of whom live in the community, Steinmetz said. The branch will also provide office space for the Dallas Black Chamber of Commerce, Southern Dallas Progress and the South Dallas Fair Park Innovation Center. The innovation center will provide amenities such as low-cost workspace, business development training and access to funding to support the growth and development of entrepreneurs in southern Dallas.

Community members will also have access to a financial literacy center at the branch.

“I believe in my heart of hearts that we can and will teach people how to fish and create a quality pond to fish from,” Steinmetz said.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Bank of America Bank Corp. are the only other banks that currently operate branches in the area.

North of Fair Park off of R.L. Thornton Freeway, Dallas-based Comerica Bank operates a collaborative community space for small businesses, called a “Business HQ,” where entrepreneurs in southern Dallas can get access to technical assistance, coworking spaces and other services.

Vista Bank has invested $3 million into opening its new branch, which is in space owned by C World LLC. Steinmetz said the bank looked at other locations, including an undeveloped plot of land at MLK Jr. Boulevard and Malcolm X Boulevard.

The bank ultimately chose the 3225 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, location because it was easier to partner with a local business owner who already owned a building rather than having to build and own a branch. Vista Bank did not take advantage of any tax credits for the renovation of the building, Steinmetz said.

Banks have avoided the area because of the risks that come with expanding to what Steinmetz called “unproven, underserved communities.” Most banks choose to fulfill Community Reinvestment Act obligations by “taking the path of least resistance,” he said. The CRA is a federal law designed to encourage banks to help rebuild and revitalize communities through sound lending and good business judgment.

Instead of an easier route like “writing checks or volunteering,” Steinmetz felt the way to enact real change was to get the business directly involved with the area.

Steinmetz expects it will take three to five years for the Fair Park branch to start returning profits for Vista Bank. He also expects the bank will receive criticism for not approving every loan application that comes its way. However, he said he believes South Dallas has great potential and the bank will take a patient approach in growing the branch.

“Every loan request can be done; it’s just a lot of times the borrower either doesn’t have the financial capacity or literacy to get that loan approved,” Steinmetz said. “We need to help them understand how to get it done, and that’s our goal.”

Dallas City Council Member Adam Bazaldua, whose district includes South Dallas, said the Vista Bank branch will help the community in “ways unseen before.” He said the bank’s presence and commitment to providing businesses and residents with capital will “drastically raise the quality of life for so many.”

“It’s no secret that for decades our side of 1-30 has been intentionally overlooked and deprived of equitable access to capital financing and resources; Bazaldua said in a statement. “Vista Bank’s presence is not only symbolic of what we hope is to come, but their partnership with the Dallas Black Chamber of Commerce adds another element of trust and confidence to their presence.”

Bazaldua also said Vista Bank’s decision to remodel and use the old Social Security building, instead of building a new facility, “is a fantastic way to show what dedication to our community looks like.”

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