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Jax Daily Record Monday, Jul. 31, 200612:00 PM EST

St. Pete-based bank setting up shop Downtown

by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

by Max Marbut

Staff Writer

It’s going to be a few months until the ribbon-cutting ceremony, but the newest full-service financial institution in Jacksonville is in business and has hit the ground running with a $20 million initial capitalization and $40 million in reserve.

“We are currently operating as a branch of the Bank of St. Petersburg and we’ve actually made some loans. We are open,” said Thomas Gibbs, an attorney at LeBouef Lamb who represented Florida Bank Group in its acquisition of the Bank of St. Petersburg in 2002.

He also joined FBG’s board and when the decision was made to open the Jacksonville market, Gibbs was named the Bank of North Florida in Organization’s chairman.

He tapped his friend Stewart Baker, formerly senior vice president of wealth management at SunTrust Bank, to be president and CEO of the new institution.

A long-time Jacksonville resident, Baker said the North Florida market’s growth is the reason 11,000 square feet of space on two floors of the Bank of America building will soon become the home of the Bank of North Florida. The lobby will be on the first floor while the bank’s operations will be on the fifth floor.

“The demographics have changed dramatically. Bank deposits have doubled in the past three years from $13 billion to $26 billion. The growth is phenomenal and there is a good economic base and many different types of businesses. Land is relatively cheap compared to many markets in Florida and there is lots of it,” he said.

There was never any question as to where the bank would be located.

“We like Downtown. It is by definition the center of things. It gives people and businesses access from wherever they are,” said Gibbs. “We’re right in the middle of where we want to be in terms of law firms, accounting firms, brokerage houses and small businesses. A lot of what we perceive as our target market is within a few blocks of us here.”

When it was suggested that the area around West Bay Street is quickly becoming Jacksonville’s “financial district,” Gibbs said, “That’s okay with me.”

Baker added that, “Downtown is the hub of the wheel for everything that goes on. We wanted to be here and I think it makes a statement about what we want to do.

“We’re going to focus on small- to medium-sized businesses – what I call ‘locally-owned’ businesses. We will look to executives and professionals as our customer base.”

Gibbs predicted that retail-banking customers will be making deposits in the lobby no later than the first week of November.

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