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Barnett to open processing center

Barnett Banks Inc. said Friday it will open a processing center at Floriland Mall that will employ more than 500 people.

The decision was prompted by Barnett's planned purchase of First Florida Banks Inc. and partly offsets the substantial job losses that merger is expected to bring among First Florida employees.

Barnett's announcement reverses plans made earlier this year by the bank to close its Tampa processing facility in favor of Jacksonville and other locations.

Jonathan Palmer, Barnett's executive in charge of operations, said the extra workload from the merger with First Florida justified reinstating Tampa as a major account processing center.

Some jobs will be relocated to the Floriland center from Jacksonville. Other Tampa positions that Barnett had planned to cut will also shift to the center, and some of the jobs will go to First Florida employees. The center will open early next year.

"There will now be 500 jobs more in Tampa than would have been under the previous plan," said Barnett spokesman Robert Stickler.

Analysts have estimated that between 1,500 and 2,000 First Florida jobs _ mostly in the Tampa Bay area _ would be lost in the merger. The bulk of those cuts will not occur until 1993 after the expected December merger.

Most of the jobs at the Floriland Mall center will be hourly wage positions in check processing and statement preparation.

Stickler said First Florida employees would be eligible for a lot of the jobs at Floriland, but he did not specify a number. He said Barnett has a hiring freeze to preserve as many positions as possible for First Florida workers.

Barnett chose to locate its center in Floriland Mall because of a favorable lease and immediate availability of space, said Stickler.

The mall, just off Interstate 275 at the corner of Florida Avenue and Busch Boulevard, has been in the hands of the federal Resolution Trust Corp. It was sold earlier this year for $3.4-million.

Since then, parts of the mall have been used as a flea market and farmer's market.

Another major tenant in Floriland Mall is expected to be the state of Florida, which plans to open a one-stop collection of job services-related offices.