Visions Federal Credit Union, headquartered in Binghamton, is expanding into the southwest side of the city of Ithaca, with the planned branch and adjacent amphitheater set to be complete by the end of this year.
Site plans were submitted to the city in May of 2019, and since then, VFCU has worked through the leasing process and is currently working on excavation to ensure a stable foundation with the soft soil of the land. Building of the branch structure is expected to begin in March, with the entire location set to be completed by the end of the summer.
The new 3,320-square-foot facility is planned for 410 Elmira Rd. in front of the Elmira Road Shopping Plaza. Most of the lot will be fenced in to turn into an outdoor, 940-square-foot amphitheater at the southeast corner of the property. According to its Site Plan Review document, the project is expected to cost $1.25 million.
President and CEO Ty Muse said VFCU was founded in 1966 and has only grown since, with 51 branch offices across three states and over 199,000 members, and Ithaca was an obvious choice on where to grow next.
“I’ve always been in love with Ithaca, enamored with Ithaca from a kid growing up and visiting Ithaca,” Muse said.
Muse has wanted to open a VFCU branch in Ithaca for many years, and recently, VFCU obtained a charter expansion that made that dream a reality. Aside from his personal affinity for the city, Muse said VFCU already has about 1,000 members in the county and 500 in the city, so there was clear demand for a branch here.
The planned expansion will have all the capabilities and resources of other VFCU branches with the added area for an amphitheater. Though an amphitheater may not seem like an obvious choice for a financial institution’s new location, Muse said that was the point.
“Wherever we go, we don’t want to just be there for money,” Muse said. “We want to help build in the community and support the community. And it just seemed like [the amphitheater] would be a unique thing … that really fit what I wanted our brand to be in Ithaca – a place of convenience, a place that can reflect and leverage the arts and the talent around Ithaca.”
In addition, the amphitheater will help make VFCU a destination and a point of reference in the community, Muse said. The amphitheater can house events like movie showings, concerts, not-for-profit events, business events and more, all independently of the main branch functions.
Assistant Vice President of Marketing Mandy DeHate said no matter what the amphitheater has in store for residents, she and others at VFCU want it to be a source of community for Ithaca and the rest of the county.
“We definitely want to keep it family-friendly and free,” DeHate said. “We want the events there to be a place where people can congregate, they can enjoy the concert, the movie, the magician, whatever it happens to be, and just be in a really cool outdoor space that isn’t available everywhere.”
Jennifer Tavares, president of the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce, said the entire planned branch align with the overall culture of Ithaca.
“Visions has some interesting ideas about how their new branch here will serve the community,” she said. “The addition of a pet-friendly area and a small amphitheater will be uniquely Ithaca—which are all signs of good things to come.”
VFCU has met with the Chamber along with several area businesses, legislatures and organizations to get a feel for what the community needs, and Muse said the credit union is looking forward to supporting community projects that could use their help. He said the financial institution also plans to work with other area credit unions to further support community philanthropic efforts.
Tavares said she was familiar with Visions prior to talks of expansion, and after discussions between Visions and the Chamber, she’s glad the credit union is trying to integrate itself in the community.
“I’ve always found Visions and their team to be helpful, professional and community minded,” Tavares said. “From the Chamber perspective, we’re always excited to welcome new businesses to our community and see well established firms like Visions expanding their regional footprint.”
A specific collaboration between Visions and the Chamber is the “Member of the Week” program, to which Tompkins Weekly plays host every week. The biggest challenge Muse sees moving forward is community awareness – showing the community that VFCU is there to help.
“We’re not just some big credit union coming in for our own purposes,” Muse said. “We’re here because we’re trying to really support the members that we have, but we also want to support the community and others by understanding the resources we have.”
For Visions, the expansion will help the credit union continue to grow and keep its costs low. For the county, Muse said it’ll help provide help to those who need it.
“For Tompkins, I think it’s just having one more financial resource that can now give and support their community, give and support their not-for-profits, give and support the initiatives that their legislatures might come up with,” Muse said.
Tavares echoed that sentiment, adding that Ithaca and Visions can help each other succeed.
“Visions has customers all over the Southern Tier region already, and since we’re such a diverse community with students arriving from around the region and world each semester, it’s natural that they’d find the Ithaca market to be of interest,” Tavares said. “I’m sure their existing customers will appreciate Visions having a local presence and branch to visit and that potential customers may appreciate having another credit union to choose from.”
DeHate added that VFCU’s main philanthropic focus has been on children and youth, including the teachers that guide them, which is why the credit union is sponsoring the upcoming Ithaca Loves Teachers Winter Recess in February and plans to assist with similar efforts.
“Teachers are definitely something that we’re passionate about,” DeHate said. “We always want to support the educators that are leading and growing the minds of the youth.”
Muse said VFCU plans to continue collaborations and talks with community members and organizations to get to know the city and county and what residents want most. Specifically, Muse said he’d like to use VFCU and his love of art to help grow and foster the art community in the city and county.
“When artists are doing well, it just seems like it brings people to the community, it brings people to their downtown, and it keeps a thriving, healthy downtown,” he said. “And ultimately, that’s something we also want to be a part of.”
And with every business, organization and project VFCU supports, DeHate said VFCU plans to do more than just contribute funds.
“We don’t just write a check,” she said. “We write a check, and then we show up, and we show up strong and because we want to volunteer, we want to be part of your event, we want to help you make it better.”
DeHate said she’s been drawn to the culture of Ithaca and hopes that culture will help enrich the credit union.
Overall, Muse hopes the expansion will make VFCU a valued member of the community.
“I would love to one day look back 10 years from now and just see a really thriving branch that the people feel that Visions is their credit union, one of their financial institutions there that they believe believes in them,” he said. “If one day, people really care about Visions there because Visions cares about them, I think we’ve come a long way.”
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