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Archive for Sunday, April 4, 1999

LAWRENCE BANKING BOOM CONTINUES

April 4, 1999

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Even as the popularity of online banking mounts, more and more banks are building branches in Lawrence.

As Lawrence grows, so grows the banking business.

Just take a look at West Sixth Street. In a two-mile stretch along the increasingly busy thoroughfare, four new bank buildings are being planned. When they're built, they'll bring to eight the number of bank offices in the area.

It's just more evidence of this fact: Lawrence's banking boom is continuing. As the city continues to grow, banks are following the increases in business and population.

"It's like any other business," said Chuck Warner, president of Mercantile Bank-Lawrence. "It's a function of population growth. That means more opportunity, whether it's real estate or banking or retail sales or whatever."

Especially to banks headquartered in slower-growing parts of the state, Lawrence just keeps looking more attractive.

And they keep coming. According to one listing, there were 16 banking companies doing business in more than 35 planned or existing Lawrence locations earlier this year.

New bank buildings

Here's what's going on along Sixth Street:

  • On a 1.5-acre site at Sixth Street and Monterey Way, First State Bank & Trust is building its main Lawrence office. Construction on the 5,000-square-foot building was to begin this spring.

Tonganoxie-based First State has been operating from a small downtown office since June 1997, and will maintain that location as well.

  • A few blocks farther west, Commercial Federal Bank is planning its first full-service Lawrence branch at Sixth and Eldridge streets. The Omaha-based savings and loan has been planning a 2,800-square-foot office at the corner, which is part of the Monterey Business Plaza.

Commercial Federal formerly operated a storefront office in western Lawrence.

  • Peoples Bank plans to open its main Lawrence office at Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive by Thanksgiving. Few details are available.

Ottawa-based Peoples, which started its Lawrence operations from a small office at the Free State Business Center, 1201 Wakarusa, also is building a convenience-store branch in southeast Lawrence, at 23rd and Harper streets. That office is to open by May 1.

  • Also at Sixth and Wakarusa Drive, Emprise Bank is starting to lay plans for its third Lawrence branch. It could be as long as two years before Emprise builds there, but the same thing that's attracting banks to Lawrence is attracting banks to that area: growth.

"Banks are moving into the market thinking there are some opportunities," Warner said. "But at some point, they could be just like restaurants or home builders or anything else. They can oversaturate the market, and at some point you could see a retreat."

He declined to predict when -- or if -- that would happen in Lawrence.

"You know it when you see it," Warner said, "but it's hard to predict it."

Don't forget the Internet

All of the growth is happening at the same time Internet and other electronic forms of banking are reducing many customers' reliance on traditional bank offices.

Though telephone banking, which allows customers to check balances and even conduct transactions from a touch-tone phone, has been around for years, other electronic forms are taking firmer hold in Lawrence.

Already, some banks have cut back on plans for full-service branches in favor of ATMs that can take the place of a teller, allowing customers to make deposits, withdrawals and pay bills.

And Internet banking is building steam. Bolstered by the explosion in the use of personal computers and the burgeoning popularity of the Internet, more consumers are leaving bank lines for online banking.

According to national estimates, the total number of households banking online, which includes use of the Internet, had increased to about 7.5 million today from about 500,000 in 1995. By next year, some banking experts project that 10 percent of U.S. households will bank online.

Lawrence banks are pushing the trend, too.

Convenience is key

In the past several months, Mercantile, Central National Bank and Douglas County Bank have rolled out systems that allow customers to bank online. Lawrence branches of big national banks also offer some forms of online or computer banking.

Despite the boom, Warner doesn't think Internet banking will do away with traditional branches.

"You've got somewhat of a limit, just because not everyone wants to play around with a computer, so you've got that limitation," he said. "We'll see more of that, but you're still going to need branches. Service needs to be convenient, and if people don't have a computer, it's not convenient."

-- Richard Brack's phone message number is 832-7194. His e-mail address is rbrack@ljworld.com.

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