First Citrus Bank Expands Into St. Pete

First Citrus Bank is eyeing St. Petersburg for its next office.

It would be the first new office in a decade for First Citrus, based in Tampa and with five offices in Hillsborough County.

“We’ve wanted to be in Pinellas for many years. It’s a deposit-rich market and has about 30 percent fewer banks, so there’s definitely a need,” said Jack Barrett, president and CEO. “We’re going to put an LPO [loan production office] in downtown St. Pete in the third or fourth quarter. We’ll have that open later this year. Then we expect to transition into a more permanent location in 2020.”

The bank has hired Leslie Bridges, a veteran Pinellas County banker, as a senior vice president of business banking and to expand the bank’s brand in Pinellas. The bank has not previously had a banker focused on Pinellas, Barrett said.

The move comes as consolidation in the banking industry has shrunk the number of local institutions in the market. That can be a concern for small and mid-sized businesses that largely depend on community banks for their credit needs.

There are two banks based in St. Petersburg — First Home Bank and Freedom Bank. Two other Tampa-based banks, The Bank of Tampa and Pilot Bank, have expanded into Pinellas County and St. Petersburg in recent years. But the market is dominated by national and regional banks.

First Citrus Bank last opened an office in 2009. Its assets have nearly doubled since then.

Going forward, Barrett still anticipates double-digit growth on the balance sheet, although that percentage growth will slow some as the bank gets larger.

“We’ll be bumping up on half a billion dollars in assets in 18 to 24 months,” he said.

He doesn’t foresee a downturn that could pinch banks the way the recession did in 2008.

“There are some pockets of weakness but they are not a threat to West Central Florida banking,” Barrett said. “We’re such a real estate driven economy and you don’t have the emotional market mania in terms of asset appreciation for real property values. That’s the harbinger or prelude to a hiccup or a downturn. It’s been fairly steady. But at the same time, in the next six years the capital appreciation for real estate in Florida won’t mirror the last six years either.”

The Tampa Bay area’s balanced economy, with a mix of industries, makes growth sustainable over the long term, Barrett said.

He hasn’t yet pinpointed a location in St. Pete for the new office, but within the next few weeks expects to “start kicking some tires” along Central Avenue, Beach Drive and 4th Street.

While he said brick and mortar offices are still needed to serve customers, he doesn’t expect to need the few thousand square feet that existing branches occupy because of the growing use of mobile and online banking.

First Citrus Bancorporation, the bank’s parent company, is one of just two local community banks with publicly traded stock, trading on the over-the-counter Pink market with the ticker FCIT. The stock most recently traded at $25.82 a share.

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