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Central Bank being bought

The South Carolina concern that bought Mercantile Bank this summer takes the first step to expand the franchise.

By HELEN HUNTLEY, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 4, 2002


The South Carolina concern that bought Mercantile Bank this summer takes the first step to expand the franchise.

TAMPA -- Central Bank of Tampa will become part of Mercantile Bank in a $68-million stock deal announced Thursday by Mercantile's out-of-state owner, South Financial Group Inc.

South Financial, based in Greenville, S.C., pushed into the Tampa Bay market this summer with the acquisition of Mercantile's parent, Gulf West Banks Inc. of St. Petersburg. Buying Central Bank is the first step in the expansion of that franchise.

Central Bank's $215-million in assets will bring Mercantile's total to $1.6-billion. The bank has five offices, which will give Mercantile a total of 36, including 20 in the Tampa Bay area. However, two branches may be closed in areas where Central Bank branches overlap existing Mercantile branches, said William S. Hummers III, executive vice president of South Financial.

He said he expects merging Central Bank into Mercantile to reduce Central Bank's projected operating expenses by about 25 percent next year. Back office operations will be consolidated, and Hummers said an undetermined number of jobs will be eliminated.

"We are enthusiastic about the opportunity to strengthen our presence in the greater Tampa Bay area, which is one of the most attractive banking markets in the country," said Mack I. Whittle Jr., South Financial's president.

Shareholders of Central Bank, a closely held community bank, will receive South Financial Group stock valued at $68-million, which is 237 percent of book value.

The transaction still must be approved by shareholders and regulators, but is expected to close this quarter.

In another acquisition Thursday, BB&T Corp. of Winston-Salem, N.C., said it will buy FloridaFirst Bancorp for $134.8-million. The deal will allow BB&T to enter the Bradenton, Winter Haven and Lakeland markets.

-- Helen Huntley can be reached at huntley@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8230.

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