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By Cameron McWhirter
This article is being republished as part of our daily reproduction of WSJ.com articles that also appeared in the U.S. print edition of The Wall Street Journal (February 11, 2019).
ATLANTA -- SunTrust Banks Inc. is so intertwined with the history and culture of this city that news of its merger with BB&T Corp. and the loss of its headquarters stunned many leaders in the business community.
The SunTrust logo can be seen throughout metro Atlanta, most notably on the Atlanta Braves' SunTrust Park in suburban Cobb County, which opened in 2017. Sixty-story SunTrust Plaza is a major presence downtown. Parks, university libraries and streets in the city are named for families closely associated with the bank, including the Woodruffs and the Hurts.
The bank's leaders helped finance Coca-Cola Co.'s international expansion and were instrumental in the building of Emory University's campus in the Atlanta area. They also played a key role in working with Civil Rights leaders to ensure that Atlanta, unlike other southern cities, desegregated relatively peacefully under the slogan "The City Too Busy to Hate."
"For those of us who grew up here and have a history in Georgia, you think of SunTrust as one of those iconic brands in Atlanta," said Jonathan Hightower, 39, a banking lawyer at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP. "It's right up there with Coca Cola."
BB&T said it was buying SunTrust for $28.2 billion, combining the two regional lending powerhouses to create the sixth-largest U.S. retail bank. The combined bank, which hasn't been named yet, will be based in Charlotte, N.C.
Sue Mallino, a SunTrust spokeswoman, declined to say how many employees worked in metro Atlanta or how many they planned to eliminate or move with the merger. "We will maintain a significant presence in Atlanta after the close of the merger," including the new bank's wholesale-banking center, she said.
William H. Rogers Jr., the chief executive of SunTrust and a longtime Atlanta civic leader, said in a statement to the Journal that the new combined company would be committed to increasing community investment in both Atlanta and Winston-Salem, N.C., where BB&T is based.
While the move is a hit for the booming region -- now America's ninth-largest with a population of about 5.9 million -- some business leaders didn't think it would have a long-term effect on the city's economy, growth or corporate giving.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said she was "grateful to Bill Rogers and SunTrust for their investments, which have had long-lasting impacts on Atlanta's growth and prosperity. While I am disappointed that the merger will take SunTrust's headquarters out of Atlanta, I look forward to working with the BB&T team to ensure their continued success in the city."
Founded in 1891 from several smaller banks, the bank later changed its name to the Trust Company of Georgia, a name it kept for decades. In 1985, the bank merged with Orlando-based Sun Banks Inc. to become SunTrust, based in Atlanta.
P. Russell Hardin, president of the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, called the BB&T merger a body blow. "It's very hard to imagine that our hometown bank will be headquartered elsewhere," he said.
Mr. Hardin, a longtime friend of SunTrust's Mr. Rogers, said he spoke with him after the merger announcement. He said Mr. Rogers told him the new company would continue to strongly support the Atlanta nonprofit community. Mr. Hardin said he hoped "that they're going to spend the next 20 years trying to prove how much they still love Atlanta."
In a joint statement, the two banks said the combined company is committed "to increase the respective banks' current levels of community investment."
Near the bank's headquarters Thursday, taxi driver Negassi Tekie waited for a fare. He said the downtown cabbies get many customers from SunTrust Plaza, often bank employees or business people visiting bank offices.
"Always our eyes were on that building," he said. "It's no good for us and it's no good for the city also."
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(END) Dow Jones Newswires
February 11, 2019 02:47 ET (07:47 GMT)
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