Bank Of St. Pete Looks To Acquire Tampa Customers
By Jo-Ann Johnston
May 7, 2004


TAMPA – The Bank of St. Petersburg says its new branch in the heart of downtown Tampa asserts its revamped market strategy. No longer content to be a modest community institution with two branches in Pinellas County, the Bank of St. Petersburg wants to become a regional commercial lender giving equal emphasis to both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, said Joseph L. Caballero, chief executive officer.

The privately owned bank is readying a 12,500-square-foot, street-level branch and headquarters operation in One Tampa City Center for an opening the first or second week of June. Passers-by on Jackson Street can see a temporary placard in the window displaying the bank's logo, a likeness of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, linking both sides of Tampa Bay.

"If you draw a circle two blocks around us, you capture almost every [high rent] office building in Tampa with professionals, lawyers and accountants,'' Caballero said. Such professionals, along with doctors and architects, and small businesses with up to $30 million in annual sales, will be the bank's prime lending targets, he said.

The bank also expects to gain the personal checking and savings accounts of those business owners and professionals, Caballero said.

That matches the strategy another independent, the Bank of Tampa, has used over the past 20 years to build a base in Hillsborough County. In fact, the Bank of Tampa, whose executives declined to comment about their new competitor, operates a branch nearby in downtown Tampa at 202 N. Franklin St.

The Bank of St. Petersburg contends there's room for another commercial bank marketing itself as an alternative to Bank of America or Wachovia Bank or SunTrust or AmSouth Bank, all of which have downtown office buildings named for them.

"As the big banks have gotten bigger by consolidation, there's been an opportunity for well-capitalized banks to serve a market that's largely been ignored,'' said Kathryn B. Pemble, executive vice president and chief operating officer. Bank of St. Petersburg will try to fill the void with business loans of up to $5 million.

The bank's expansion has come as the result of new ownership and a fresh infusion of capital, Caballero said. Robert Rothman, a former insurance executive and a minority shareholder in the Washington Redskins professional football team, bought the bank in 2001 when it was still owned by a family. Anthony F. "Tony'' Gonzalez, a lawyer who had been a director of other banks, also became a principal.

Caballero, a former commercial banking executive in Tampa with Bank of America, joined the staff last July, he said, and helped raise $15 million from private investors to replace the bank's technology systems and fund its expansion. Pemble joined the small institution in March, also from the Bank of America.

Pemble said another branch opening is planned for Tampa, near Raymond James Stadium, for the fourth quarter, with another to follow in downtown St. Petersburg next year.

However, the regional strategy seems flawed to Miami- based banking consultant Kenneth Thomas. With St. Petersburg in the bank's name, the institution could have played to that advantage by first opening six to 10 more branches in Pinellas before venturing into Tampa, Thomas said, thereby increasing the number of places it will need to advertise.

As of June 30 of last year, the Bank of St. Petersburg had less than 0.40 percent of the deposit market share in Pinellas County, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Caballero said the bank's name, with its tie to St. Petersburg, is a conversation starter in Tampa. "We love to tell our story.''

Jo-Ann Johnston can be reached at (813) 259-7804.
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