Feb. 18--As the tentacles from shady deals at the Bank of the Commonwealth shrivel and die, properties once overwhelmed by its suffocating influence have begun to flourish.
The bank's collapse mushroomed to epic proportions before it was all over. Federal prosecutors said former bank president and CEO Edward J. Woodard and others hid tens of millions of dollars in bank losses. They made questionable loans to favored customers -- Tommy Arney, Eric Menden and George Hranowskyj -- incapable of repaying.
Those men used the money for lots of purposes, including to buy scads of buildings that then deteriorated from neglect.
So a local bank that claimed to support its community instead became the source of blight that hurt an entire city. Bank of the Commonwealth financing entangled building after building on Granby Street, stretching between downtown and Park Place. As the bank fiasco wound through court, those vacant buildings were trapped in limbo by the web of the criminal case.
Now that it's over -- Woodard is serving a 23-year-prison term -- legitimate developers with honestly obtained funds have begun to buy those properties. And with those purchases, hope has begun to bloom where only weeds grew before.
A tumble-down building on Monticello Avenue has become the new home of the Fort Tar apartments. Long-vacant buildings in the budding Arts District will house a theater troupe and a restaurant. And a section of Granby Street that had been home to nothing but derelict structures now hosts several thrift shops, perhaps leading to a thriving, kitschy, second-hand district similar to Richmond's Carytown.
Developer Buddy Gadams, who is converting several former bank properties to apartments and condos, found a silver lining: Downtown Norfolk is "getting quite an incredible buzz now."
Empty buildings make poor neighbors. So do corrupt banks. Finally, Norfolk will see less of both.
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