Institutions banking on Lawrence

Credit union, banks confirm expansions

Lawrence’s banking boom is back in full swing.

A leading lender in the Kansas City metro area, a Lawrence credit union and a Topeka-based bank have their sights set on Lawrence, officials for each of the three companies said Monday.

North American Savings Bank opened its first Lawrence location a little more than a week ago. Free State Credit Union plans to open its second location later this summer. Topeka-based Capital City Bank hopes to open two more Lawrence branches by the end of the year.

North American Savings Bank

Grandview, Mo.-based North American Savings Bank opened June 11 at 1201 Wakarusa Drive. Former Lawrence real estate executive J.R. Demby leads the office.

Demby said the strong growth of the community, particularly in its single-family housing market, led the company to expand into Lawrence.

“My gut feeling is that they have been looking at Lawrence for quite awhile,” Demby said. “Lawrence has been a good market for so many years.”

The bank will only operate a loan division in Lawrence, meaning it will not accept deposits.

Bruce Thielen, senior vice president of residential lending, said the company decided not to open a full-service bank in Lawrence because the company believed the market already was well served in that area.

J.R. Demby, loan originator and manager for North American Savings Bank, looks over loan documents at the company's new Lawrence location at 1201 Wakarusa Drive. North American Savings Bank is one of three financial institutions that either have expanded or soon plan to expand in Lawrence.

Thielen, though, said he thought the company could be successful in mortgage and commercial lending in the Lawrence market because of its size. The bank is the fourth-largest mortgage lender in the Kansas City metro area, Thielen said.

“We definitely feel like we can be a player in Lawrence,” said Thielen, who predicts the company will be one of the top five mortgage lenders in Lawrence within the next several years. “The market over here in Kansas City is very competitive and we’ve managed to do very well. We think there is always room in a market for somebody who can provide service.”

The company is publicly owned and traded on the Nasdaq stock market, but Kansas City businessman David Hancock and his family own slightly more than half of the company’s stock. The bank has assets of about $1 billion.

The bank operates 13 branches, mainly in the Kansas City metro area, but also has expanded into the Springfield, Mo., market. The Lawrence branch will have six employees.

Free State Credit Union

Officials with Lawrence’s Free State Credit Union said they soon would be expanding beyond their longtime home in the Community Mercantile Co-op. The credit union has reached a deal to buy the Emprise Bank location at 23rd Street and Haskell Avenue.

Mark Kasson, president and CEO of the Credit Union Group, which oversees the management of Free State Credit Union, said the new location should be open by August.

Kasson said the company had been looking for a second location since it opened its membership four years ago to Douglas County residents. Previously, the credit union’s membership had been limited to members of the Mercantile and selected Lawrence businesses.

“When we did that our growth became pretty significant and we realized we needed another location to serve all our members,” Kasson said.

During the past four years, the credit union has grown from about 600 members to about 2,000.

In addition to housing the credit union, the building also will serve as the corporate offices for the Credit Union Group, which is a management company that oversees the operations of four Kansas City-area credit unions. The business currently is located in Lenexa. Kasson said he decided to move the headquarters of the business to Lawrence because he lives here.

Cynthia Yulich, senior vice president with Emprise Bank, said the company’s last day of operations at 1001 E. 23rd St. would be July 3. She said customers of the bank automatically would have their accounts transferred to the bank’s branch at 2435 Iowa St.

Emprise decided to close the east-side location after announcing plans to build a new Lawrence headquarters building at 1120 Wakarusa Drive.

Capital City Bank

Matt Sabatini, vice chairman of Capital City Bancshares, confirmed Monday that the company plans to build two Lawrence branches within the next year. The company has one Lawrence location inside the Hy-Vee Food and Drug Store at 4000 W. Sixth St.

Sabatini said the bank had targeted the downtown area and the area near 15th Street and Wakarusa Drive as possible locations. He said the company was in negotiations to locate in the proposed retail, office and condominium project at the northeast corner of Eighth and New Hampshire streets. A deal with the project’s developer, Bo Harris, hasn’t been finalized.

Sabatini, whose family is the primary owner of the company, said the plans are part of an aggressive expansion strategy the bank has undertaken. The $326 million bank also is looking for locations in the Kansas City market, Sabatini said.

“We need to grow and we have recognized Lawrence as one of the markets we really want to be in,” Sabatini said. “You either grow or you die in this business.”