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Bank moving to St. Petersburg

Add one more bank's name to the skyline of downtown St. Petersburg.

Republic Bank, the Tampa Bay area's biggest local banking company, said Friday it will relocate its headquarters and 100 jobs this summer from Clearwater to downtown St. Petersburg.

The bank, whose majority shareholder is St. Petersburg municipal bond dealer William Hough, has signed a 10-year lease for 18,000 square feet in the Plaza Tower at 111 Second Ave. NE.

The name "Republic Bank" also will appear at the highest point on the 15-story office complex, said John Sapanski, Republic's chairman and chief executive officer.

Republic's executive offices will occupy the building's third floor. The bank also will open a branch, its 20th, on the building's mezzanine story.

Sapanski said the move will make the bank's headquarters more central to its branches, from Tarpon Springs south to Venice.

The Plaza building was the original site of the ill-fated Park Bank. It failed on Valentine's Day in 1986.

Republic is now headquartered in an office building on U.S 19 just north of Countryside Mall. Sapanski said the bank will retain most of its space there for the company's growing commercial real estate and residential mortgage departments.

Hough and Sapanski purchased a struggling Republic Bank from home builder Charles Rutenberg in 1993. The bank then acquired most of the larger Crossland Savings Bank in Florida, raising Republic's assets at year-end to $530-million.

Now Republic holds a unique position. It is the only banking company based in the bay area that is publicly traded.

For years, banks had avoided the city's lethargic downtown. But Republic's decision to relocate is only the latest sign of a recent migration of financial institutions toward the city's waterfront.

Northern Trust Bank opened its first branch in the bay area in downtown St. Petersburg in 1993. Raymond James, which established its trust company and a branch of the brokerage firm in the city's Barnett Tower, is now seeking more space. Bankers Insurance Co. moved its headquarters and hundreds of employees to the 17-story Bankers Financial Tower.

In addition, Templeton, a downtown mutual fund company, is expanding by purchasing the Fotomat building. And Merrill Lynch is negotiating for space downtown.