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LA MESA, Calif. — Thirteen months after a riot that roiled the city of La Mesa, construction began Wednesday for the building that will replace a bank branch that burned to the ground in the unrest.

It’s been a long recovery for businesses and residents in the East County city after the chaos in late May 2020 that started as peaceful marches on policing and racial equality, but devolved into looting and rioting after dark.

In the weeks and months that followed, as a business recovery fund helped local shops make repairs and residents debated the path forward for the city’s police department, the sites of two bank branches that burned in the riot remained empty.

“We were naturally heartbroken, me especially, because my first thoughts went to my clients and then also went to my team and what was going to happen with all of that,” said Carlton Hill, a 14-year Union Bank branch manager, recalling the night the bank burned.

As time passed, Hill told FOX 5 he remained confident that he and his team would eventually return. That came one step closer to reality Wednesday, when the company held a groundbreaking event for a replacement building

“Union Bank is proud to be rebuilding right alongside of you,” a spokesperson told the crowd gathered at the groundbreaking event Wednesday. Officials said they’re hoping to complete the project as early as winter 2021.

“It’s a great moment, a great step forward,” Hill told FOX 5.