Hartsfield-Jackson bank deal with SunTrust advances

An Atlanta City Council committee voted in favor of a contract for SunTrust Bank to open a branch and ATMs at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, replacing Wells Fargo.

The council’s transportation committee voted for the deal Wednesday over the objections of the airport’s advertising contractor Clear Channel, which wanted to offer free ATMs subsidized by advertising.

VIDEO: How much do you know about Atlanta's airport? Learn more about Hartsfield-Jackson International here. (Mandi Albright/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

But Hartsfield-Jackson general manager Roosevelt Council said the city’s law department determined the airport had to competitively bid the ATM deal, and could not simply allow Clear Channel to take over the ATM services.

The search for new options comes as the airport bank contract has struggled, and Wells Fargo closed its branch at the Atlanta airport last year. That’s because the use of bank branches and ATMs has dropped amid a declining use of cash.

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Consumers can more often use credit or debit cards as low-cost processing services such as Square and apps such as Uber become more commonplace. People are also less dependent on cash because of online and app-based payment services like PayPal and Venmo.

City council members had raised concerns about the airport bank contract, and the committee voted at a previous meeting to temporarily put the matter on hold.

When they took up the item at Wednesday’s meeting, Clear Channel representatives said they wanted to open free ATMs as part of their advertising contract.

“We were asked by staff many months ago to consider an ATM opportunity,” said Morton Gotterup, president of Clear Channel Airports, during public comments at the meeting. He said after negotiations, J.P. Morgan agreed to offer free ATMs and a five-year sponsorship.

“We believe that this is within our right in our contract” to generate revenue through a sponsorship, Gotterup said. “Financially, we believe our proposal makes more sense,” and make the service available for customers.

Clear Channel senior vice president John Moyer said the company has a master advertising agreement with the objective of consolidating all advertising and sponsorship services under one agreement, and pays the city about $12.5 million for that right. He said the deal involving free ATMs would be worth roughly $2.4 million.

Council, the airport manager, said Hartsfield-Jackson has always done a competitive procurement for banking, and Clear Channel “wanted to offer a different kind of solution.”

But, “when I talked to the Law Department, they were pretty definitive,” Council said. “Because it’s leased space, then that needed to be competitively bid.”

The SunTrust deal next goes to the full city council for approval.

Councilman Amir Farokhi at Wednesday’s meeting questioned whether the airport really needs a bank branch.

“We do see this as a service,” including for employees who may have transportation challenges and want to cash checks and for airport concessionaires that need to make change, Council said. But, he acknowledged that over the long term, “The future may actually hold something different for us.”

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