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Published: Tuesday, 1/13/2004

New player to enter Toledo banking arena


Metro Toledo soon will have its first branch of one of the state s larger banks, FirstMerit Corp. of Akron.

Northwest Ohio has been targeted as the next growth area by the bank, a top executive said, and its first metro Toledo branch is to open in June in the former Woolworth building downtown. Its initial aim is to grab commercial customers and deposits and loans from downtown Toledo workers.

Leading the effort is Donald Kincade, who was chief executive of Fifth Third Bank (Northwestern Ohio) until it took over Sylvania s Capital Bank and Capital Bank s top executives were named to run Fifth Third s local operations. Mr. Kincade later left banking and joined the Marshall & Melhorn law firm as a lawyer focusing on commercial and corporate law.

But he said yesterday he was lured back into banking as regional chief executive officer and president for FirstMerit s new Toledo operation because of the challenge of developing a new territory and the promise of local decision-making.

“I found I had a passion for banking, especially ... with a clean sheet of paper,” he said, speaking from temporary offices on the ninth floor of the Ohio Building in downtown Toledo. Mr. Kincade, 53, is trying to recruit bankers from other area lenders.

The former Woolworth Building in downtown Toledo is to be the new home to the FirstMerit office that is to open in June. The former Woolworth Building in downtown Toledo is to be the new home to the FirstMerit office that is to open in June.

FirstMerit, with $10.7 billion in assets, ranks No. 8 in Ohio and No. 81 on a list of the largest banks in the nation, according to reports compiled for the banking industry.

It has nearly 160 branches in five territories: Akron, Canton, Cleveland, Elyria, and Columbus. In northwest Ohio, it has branches in Tiffin and Wayne.

Because the Toledo area is not a booming growth area, the new bank probably will have to try to take market share from competitors, which it hopes to do with better service. It plans to add branches, but how many and when are undetermined.

Toledo banking consultant Doug Austin said he has nothing but praise for Mr. Kincade s talents and FirstMerit s ability to “do a very comprehensive commercial loan business,” but said gaining market share here will be difficult.

“It s like Don Quixote looking for a windmill. ... They re taking on billion-dollar bank holding companies with a pea shooter,” said Mr. Austin, president of Austin Financial Services Inc. in Toledo.

A spokesman for Sky Bank, northwest Ohio s largest local banking company, said the bank does not comment when competitors enter the market.

The president and chief executive officer of the local Fifth Third Bank, one of the area s most dominant, said he doesn t expect to be hurt by FirstMerit.

“We certainly welcome competition ... but it s going to be very difficult for him to compete against banks who have been here for a long time,” Bruce Lee said.

Developer Dave Ball, who has worked on renovating the former Woolworth building for more than two years, said he jumped at the chance to have a bank branch occupy 6,000 square feet on the first floor.

“I ve been very selective on who goes in there ... because I wanted the best tenant long-term for downtown. The bank s perfect.”

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