Spokane Journal of Business

FirstBank hopes to open branch in Liberty Lake

Bank operates six locations overall, may open additional outlets in Spokane area later

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FirstBank Northwest, a rapidly growing bank with headquarters in Lewiston, Idaho, and an office in Coeur dAlene, has applied to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. for approval to establish a branch bank in Liberty Lake.

If the FDIC approves the application, which First-Bank officials believe will occur in the next few weeks, the bank would begin building a 2,700-square-foot branch building on a one-acre site east of the Liberty Lake Town Center this fall, says Clyde E. Conklin, FirstBanks president and CEO. The building, which is expected to cost about $750,000 to construct, would front on the south side of Appleway Avenue. It would open next June or July and would employ six people, Conklin says.

The site where FirstBank would be located is part of a larger, eight-acre parcel owned by Greenstone Corp., a Spokane company that plans to develop the property fully. Greenstones property is bordered by Appleway to the north, Mission Avenue to the south, Signal Road to the east, and Liberty Lake Town Center to the west. Spokane Transit Authority operates a park-and-ride station on a 2.5-acre site on the southwest corner of the property.

Jim Frank, part owner of Greenstone, says the company has several ideas for the remaining roughly four and a half acres of land in the parcel, but no specific plans have been worked out. He envisions a mixed-use retail and office park. Other ideas include using part of the property as a passenger station for a possible light-rail system.

Meanwhile, Conklin says that FirstBank, whose parent, FirstBank Corp., became publicly traded in July 1997, was attracted to Liberty Lake because of the areas rapid growth. He says the bank, which has operated its branch in Coeur dAlene for about five years, hopes to expand its presence in both the Spokane and Coeur dAlene markets over the next few years, particularly in smaller communities around Spokane.

In March, Pacific Crest Securities, a Portland-based investment bank, gave the FirstBank Northwests parent company a strong buy rating. In its review of the bank in March, Pacific Crest said FirstBank is one of the most undervalued bank or thrift stocks in the Pacific Northwest.

For the fiscal year ended March 31, 1998, FirstBank reported net income of $1.7 million, or 93 cents a share, compared with a net income of $649,000 for the previous fiscal year. Per share figures werent available for the previous fiscal year because the bank hadnt gone public yet. For its first quarter, in fiscal 1999, ended June 30, FirstBank reported net income of $451,000, or 25 cents a share, compared with $225,000 in the year-earlier quarter.

Conklin attributes much of the banks growth to its decision to focus on higher yielding commercial lending, rather than residential real estate lending.

As of March 31, 1998, FirstBank had total loans of $145.7 million, compared with $113 million a year earlier. In addition, as of March 31, 1998, the bank had assets of $183.6 million, up from $137.7 million the previous year, and deposits of about $114.5 million, an increase from $107.6 million a year earlier.

FirstBank converted from a federally chartered stock savings bank to a Washington state chartered savings bank in February. In the process, it moved its legal headquarters to its Clarkston, Wash., branch, although its administrative headquarters remain at the Lewiston branch.

The Liberty Lake branch would be FirstBanks seventh branch overall. In addition to its Clarkston, Lewiston, and Coeur dAlene branches, the bank also operates branches in the Lewiston Orchards, and in Grangeville and Moscow, Idaho.

Two other banks, Seafirst Bank and United Security Bancorp., have opened branches in recent months near the Liberty Lake Town Center.

  • Chad Cain

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