SunTrust's $66 billion banking merger with BB&T closes a defining chapter in Atlanta's history.
The as yet unnamed corporation will place its headquarters in Charlotte, the North Carolina city that supplanted Atlanta years ago as the Southeast's leading banking center.
While SunTrust will keep investment banking operations in Atlanta, the loss of the Fortune 500 company's headquarters is a blow for Atlanta's always fragile corporate self-image.
Echoing Atlanta pillar C&S Bank's fall years ago to the Charlotte upstart that turned into Bank of America, SunTrust will be subsumed into BB&T, whose Winston-Salem headquarters also will shift to Charlotte. With assets of $440 billion, the new entity will be the nation's sixth largest bank corporation.
SunTrust has deep and tightly entwined roots with Atlanta. Founded as Trust Co. in 1891 by many of Atlanta's pioneer business leaders seeking to raise a New South metropolis from the ashes of the Civil War, the bank fostered a close partnership with Coca-Cola Co. and propelled Atlanta's 20th century emergence.
Bank President Ernest Woodruff and businessman W.C. Bradley bought Coca-Cola from founder Asa Candler in 1919, and Woodruff later installed his son, Robert W. Woodruff, as Coke's president. The younger Woodruff made Coca-Cola an iconic global brand, and Trust Co. for years held millions in the soft drink giant's stock.
The bank administered Woodruff's many altruistic projects as Atlanta's "anonymous donor" such as the gift of millions in Coke stock to Emory University in 1979. Coke's secret formula was kept in a bank vault until recently.
Along with Mills B. Lane's senior and junior's C&S Bank, Trust Co. shaped much of modern Atlanta as it grew from a regional backwater into a major international metropolitan area.
Following a merger with Florida's Sun Banks and other purchases of regional companies, SunTrust remained headquartered in Atlanta, a foundational pillar of the business community along with Delta, Coca-Cola and Southern Co.
Despite Atlanta's downfall as a banking center decades ago, the city has thrived, drawing a number of Fortune 500 companies and millions of new residents. But the loss of SunTrust headquarters to Charlotte will hurt Atlanta's national image.
That follows Colorado-based Liberty Media's purchase of the Braves from local hero Ted Turner, and the loss of CNN headquarters to New York, small ripples in Atlanta's economy but wounds to the city's esteem. The deal also comes after Amazon's snub of Atlanta for a second regional headquarters.
SunTrust trumpeted its local ties by purchasing naming rights to the Braves' stadium when the team recently moved to Cobb County. The stadium will be renamed, perhaps with whatever name the new banking company's brand consultants create.
Like Rich's and Davison's, the SunTrust name will disappear from Atlanta's landscape, another significant endpoint in the city's history.