Bank eases town's loss

$2.25 million given after losing building in N.C. acquisition

`A generous gift'

September 23, 1999|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Two top officials of a North Carolina bank flew to Westminster yesterday to console the city with $2.25 million for the loss of its "crown jewel" -- the planned redevelopment of the old Farmers Supply site downtown by Carroll County Bank & Trust Co.

The $6 million project, which featured new headquarters for the local bank, fell through when Carroll County Bank & Trust was acquired in a $260 million transaction this year by BB&T Corp. of Winston-Salem.

The contribution yesterday by BB&T includes $2 million toward a planned parking garage and $125,000 to readvertise the property, plus a $125,000 check to Town Center Corp., a nonprofit entity created by the city to work on the development. BB&T also returned the deed to the 1-acre site a block off Main Street at Liberty and Green streets, valued at $500,000.

John A. Allison, BB&T chairman and chief executive officer, arrived with its president Kelly S. King yesterday morning from Winston-Salem to present two ceremonial checks in the packed Westminster Common Council chamber.

"We are very excited about becoming part of the Westminster and Carroll County community," Allison said, and "the bank is committed to making communities better."

Westminster Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan gave Allison a pewter plate of the city, complete with a plastic display stand.

"It doesn't seem like a fair exchange, in view of what Mr. Allison gave me," he said.

Yowan, who called the bank project "the crown jewel of downtown redevelopment," recalled his astonishment in January when he learned the local bank would be acquired.

"The Carroll County Bank project would have been our first-choice project, but it was not to be," he said.

"Because of your gracious pledge to the city," however, the property has been readvertised "to lure another suitor to the site," he added. Three proposals look promising and will be reviewed in-depth.

Councilman Gregory Pecoraro, assistant secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation, said of the contribution, "I asked around the state offices -- and nobody can remember such a generous gift, an outright gift."

"Plus the land," added Council President Damian L. Halstad.

"This is unusual in the finance community, from what we can determine," said R. Douglas Mathias, executive director of the nonprofit Greater Westminster Development Corp.

When the acquisition talks began in December, Allison said BB&T learned of the plans for Farmers Supply from Thomas K. Ferguson, president and chief executive officer of Mason-Dixon Bancshares Inc., Carroll County Bank & Trust's parent company. Ferguson will become executive vice president for Branch Banking & Trust Co., a subsidiary of BB&T.

In introductory remarks at the ceremony, Ferguson said, "Sometimes things don't work out the way you think they will in the economic development game."

But "hardly a nanosecond passed" before BB&T pledged to help the city carry out its vision, Ferguson said. He recounted the "unprecedented public-private partnership, with Carroll County Bank & Trust and the city joining in a joint-development agreement -- a leap of faith into uncharted waters,"

Westminster officials showed "uncharacteristic political courage, to have gotten big time into the economic development game," Ferguson said.

The BB&T merger is expected to be completed in March. Mason-Dixon, which employs about 500 people, will cease to exist as its office operations are consolidated, but bank officials said jobs are expected to open in the branches and in lending positions. The number of jobs affected hasn't been determined

Mason-Dixon, which operated primarily in Carroll County, will have its branches added to BB&T's, which has banks in Maryland, Virginia, Washington and the Carolinas.

Once that happens, signs with the new name will go up overnight, bank officials said, although customers can use their checks.

Pub Date: 9/23/99

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