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Business Observer Friday, Sep. 12, 2014 4 years ago

Tampa Beachhead

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In its quest to become a multibillion-dollar bank, Naples-based First Florida Integrity Bank opened its first branch on Kennedy Boulevard in Tampa.
by: Jean Gruss Contributing Writer

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more high profile street than Kennedy Boulevard in Tampa.

It's the main road that connects Tampa's downtown with the Westshore business district, and it's also where First Florida Integrity Bank opened its first Tampa Bay area branch recently.

Formerly called First National Bank of the Gulf Coast, Naples-based First Florida Integrity is on its way to joining four other banks headquartered in the region from Tampa to Naples with more than $1 billion in assets. As of June 30, First Florida Integrity had $876 million in assets and ranked as the fifth-largest bank on the Gulf Coast, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

“Our goal is to be a $1 billion to $3 billion organization,” says Gary Tice, chairman and CEO of First Florida Integrity.

Tice is a veteran banker who grew First National Bankshares of Florida to $5.3 billion in assets and sold it to Fifth Third Bank in early 2005 for a record 6.5 times tangible book value. At the time it was sold, First National had $3.9 billion in deposits from 77 branches that stretched from Orlando to Tampa and Naples.

Heading up the operations in Tampa is Brian Keenan, the regional president for west and central Florida. “I worked with them the first go around, in Orlando,” he says.

Keenan started the new Tampa operation three years ago, making loans without a branch by using mobile and remote-banking technology. “We had a clean balance sheet with lots of capital so we were making loans as quickly as we could for those with good quality,” he says.

Now that business is well established in Tampa, Keenan says the time was right to open a branch. “We wanted to get a physical presence here,” he says. “Our long-term strategic plan is to grow the footprint up the Gulf Coast and over to Orlando.”

In fact, First Florida Integrity has loan officers working in Orlando and Sarasota now and branches will open there too once business grows there like it has in Tampa. “It would be nice to get something going in Pinellas County,” Keenan adds. “We'd like to be on both sides of the bay.”

Keenan says First Florida Integrity has made commercial loans to a wide variety of customers, ranging from attorneys to gas stations, contractors, hoteliers, apartment owners and distribution companies. “Our model is we have an open mind about anybody with a good track record and cash flow,” he says.

However, Keenan acknowledges that an improving economy has boosted competition among banks. “In 2011, there still wasn't robust lending activity,” he says. “Now, every bank is back in the market.”
First Florida Integrity also plans to grow through acquisitions, though Tice says bankers expect more today than they may be worth. “We will continually look for acquisition opportunities,” Tice says. “I'm always interested in talking to other bankers about joining together.”

Follow Jean Gruss on Twitter @JeanGruss

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