1st Union closing landmark branch

It hopes to buy classic downtown structure

June 30, 1999|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

First Union National Bank will close its landmark branch at Charles and Baltimore streets downtown this summer, but is attempting to buy the historic property as it expands its Baltimore work force by nearly 200 jobs.

Bank officials said they would consolidate the 1 E. Baltimore St. financial center with a branch a block away at 7 St. Paul St., which also houses the Charlotte, N.C.-based bank's Maryland headquarters. The Baltimore Street branch's last day will be Aug. 10.

"We considered which of the two facilities would best meet our needs," said J. William Knott, First Union National Bank regional president for Maryland. "It made sense to get everyone at the same location. The customer disruption is minimal because they are within a block of each other."

Consolidation of the downtown branches is part of a push by First Union to eliminate unneeded locations after its purchase of Signet Banking Corp. almost two years ago. The company has been operating the two nearby facilities since the acquisition.

Though First Union will vacate the classic 1907 building when the branch closes, the bank is negotiating to buy it as well as an adjacent six-story building at 7-9 E. Baltimore St., Knott said.

"While it's true we are not going to use it as a financial center since we have a financial center down the block, it does make good sense for us to acquire the property," he said. The building is owned by Bethesda-Bob Limited Partnership of Toledo, Ohio.

Knott would not elaborate on plans for those buildings, but said First Union is "hopefully going to spend a couple million dollars on these properties."

Knott said the company has reached a tentative agreement to purchase the property at 7-9 E. Baltimore St. from the Archdiocese of Baltimore. He said the company hoped the deal would be finalized next month.

First Union had offices in the 32,200-square-foot building until the move to the former Signet Tower in November 1998 after its acquisition of Signet. The company leases eight of 19 floors at 7 St. Paul St., of which it is part-owner.

All six employees of the closing financial center have been offered jobs at the St. Paul Street branch, which is being renovated. Friday hours at the branch are to be extended until 4 p.m. beginning Aug. 13.

The bank also will close its Long Reach financial center in Columbia Aug. 25 to consolidate it with the Centre Park branch, which is within a five-minute drive. All employees were offered positions at Centre Park.

After the downtown and Howard County closings, First Union will have 59 branches and employ about 900 full-time and part-time employees in Baltimore and the surrounding counties.

But Knott said the bank will have added 190 jobs in the Baltimore area by the end of the year.

One hundred jobs have been added in the company's expanding capital markets division for administrative assistants and traders, including 21 former traders who defected from what was BT Alex. Brown.

Another 90 jobs -- 52 of which have been filled -- are being added in the company's business banking center.

In March, 11 of the bank's Maryland staff were fired after First Union announced that it would lay off 5,850 employees, or 7 percent of its work force, nationwide.

Pub Date: 6/30/99

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