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Barnett to offer its stock directly to public

Taking a cue from Florida Progress Corp., Barnett Banks Inc. soon will be bypassing the stockbroker to sell shares directly to the public.

"Our original customer stock purchase plan worked so well that we wanted to find a way to broaden that," said Valerie Gray, manager of shareholder services for the Jacksonville-based bank holding company.

In the past Barnett restricted direct purchases of stock to existing shareholders and to bank customers signed up for automatic withdrawals from accounts.

Now anyone will be able to buy stock directly from Barnett with a minimum initial purchase of $250. Additional purchases may be for as little as $25, with a maximum of $10,000 invested monthly. Individual retirement accounts also will be offered.

St. Petersburg-based Florida Progress Corp. set up a similar direct-purchase program two years ago known as Progress Plus.

The company's old plan, restricted to existing shareholders, attracted $500,000 to $600,000 a month in additional stock purchases. The new plan, with 29,149 participants, brings in $2-million to $3-million.

In the past two years Florida Progress has raised $116.3-million in additional capital through Progress Plus, including $53-million in reinvested dividends.

"Florida Progress was an influence," Gray said. "We took a look at their plan, as well as those at Atmos Energy and Exxon, and drew off pieces from all of them."

The Barnett plan is expected to take effect at the end of this week or sometime next week. The company is setting up a phone line for information _ (800) 239-0298. But it wasn't yet in operation Monday, so investors might have to wait a few days to call.

There will be no fees on stock purchases through the plan, but there will be a charge of about 10 cents a share on sales. IRAs will have a $35 annual fee.

Barnett purchases and sales will be made only twice a month. The stock closed Monday at $42.25 a share in trading on the New York Stock Exchange. It pays a quarterly dividend of 35 cents.