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BankAtlantic can't bank on claim

BankAtlantic said its merger with Community Savings will make it the largest Florida bank. That title may belong to newcomer F.N.B.


© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 11, 2001

BankAtlantic Bancorp of Fort Lauderdale is buying another South Florida bank, Community Savings Bankshares, in a $170-million deal that BankAtlantic says will make it the largest financial institution with headquarters in Florida.

Or will it?

In disclosing the planned merger with Community Savings on Monday, BankAtlantic said the combined size of the institution -- $5.7-billion in assets and $3.1-billion in deposits -- will push it ahead of fellow thrift BankUnited of Coral Gables to become the state's largest financial institution.

But a recent transplant to Florida, F.N.B. Corp., takes exception to the claim.

F.N.B., which moved its headquarters from Hermitage, Pa., to Naples earlier this year, has about $4.1-billion in assets. But it is buying Promistar Financial Corp. in a deal that will push it to $6.5-billion in assets and $5.2-billion in deposits. F.N.B. points out that the Promistar merger is supposed to close in January, before BankAtlantic and Community Savings officially tie the knot.

"Maybe they didn't even think about us," F.N.B. spokesman Clay Cone mused.

Of course, being the No. 1 bank based in Florida doesn't provide the bragging rights it used to. Mergers have turned Florida into a colony largely controlled by out-of-town behemoths such as Bank of America (about $600-billion in assets nationwide) and the newly joined Wachovia/First Union ($322-billion in assets).

The mergers left a handful of relatively small Florida institutions vying for top honors.

For a while, it was a battle between the Republics: Republic Bancshares of St. Petersburg and Republic Security of West Palm Beach. In moving to Florida, F.N.B. billed itself as the state's largest bank (differentiating bank holding companies such as itself from thrifts, or savings and loans, such as BankAtlantic and BankUnited).

In an interview Monday, BankAtlantic chief executive Alan Levan backed off the claims the company touted earlier in the day. "This is being provided to us by the investment bankers off their stats," he said. "I'm not plugged in to F.N.B."

In any case, the merger has little direct impact on the Tampa Bay area, where BankAtlantic has seven branches and $144.3-million in deposits. Community Savings has no operations in the bay area.

Community's assets of $948-million come from 21 branches in Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River counties.

"It's an ideal fit for us because of (BankAtlantic's operations) in Miami-Dade-Broward and South Palm Beach," Levan said. "This is just a natural extension for us to continue to go north up the coast."

BankAtlantic has agreed to pay Community shareholders $19 a share in cash, a 31 percent premium over its Friday close. Shares in BankAtlantic closed Monday at $9.09, up 6 cents, while Community Savings shares closed at $18.62, up $4.12.

- Jeff Harrington can be reached at or (813) 226-3407.

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