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Longtime businessman plans community bank

David Dunbar, a longtime player in Tampa Bay area banking, is launching a new bank.

Dunbar, best known as former chief executive of Republic Bank, is calling his creation Peoples Bank. It will be the area's third bank in the past 25 years to take a variation of that populist handle.

The other two _ both called Peoples State Bank _ sold out to other banks within about a decade of their birth. This one, Dunbar insists, plans to stay around a lot longer.

It will serve northern Pinellas County along U.S. 19, from about Countryside Mall to the Pasco County border, but will focus on a three-mile area surrounding its Palm Harbor office.

Dunbar says his core market contains about $1-billion in bank deposits. But nearly all the offices there are either branches of community banks based elsewhere in the area or outposts of faraway giants like First Union and NationsBank, he says.

Dunbar, therefore, believes he can convince his new neighbors to make the switch to his bank.

Underpinning his plan is a notion repeated so often in banking that it has become a mantra: Community banks provide better service than big boys like First Union and NationsBank.

The thinking goes like this: As the country's biggest banks grow ever larger, they identify customers by their account numbers and net worth, not by their names and stories. Yet plenty of folks still want to be friends, not merely figures, to their banker.

Dunbar and the other founders will officially submit their application for a bank charter next week and, based on a preliminary meeting with regulators, expect it to be approved by November.

They also need to secure about $1.7-million in start-up funds. They've already raised $2.6-million from investors.

If all goes as planned, the bank will open for business, with a staff of 12, early next year.

The founders have already purchased a parcel of land on U.S. 19 just north of Tampa Road in Palm Harbor. And an architect has drawn the blueprints for a 12,000-square-foot building.

But, ultimately, a piece of prime real estate alone won't determine this bank's ability to succeed. No, chances are, its fortunes will spring from the business contacts that Dunbar has made in more than a decade in local banking.

Until recently, he oversaw lending at Peoples State Bank in New Port Richey. But that Peoples, the second, sold out to SunTrust Banks Inc., parent of SunBank, earlier this year.

Indeed, the new Peoples may slightly undercut the efforts of SunBank to drum up business in Pasco. Some of Dunbar's former customers may follow him to his new address.

Several of the board members from the old Peoples State Bank already have. They're leaving one of SunBank's advisory boards to join Dunbar's board. An important source of referrals for banks is the business contacts of their top executives and board members.

Before joining the old Peoples State Bank, Dunbar worked for Republic Bank in St. Petersburg. Twice.

The first time, from 1982 to 1988, he served as president of the bank, which was then based in Clearwater. The second time, from 1991 until the current owners bought the bank in 1993, he was president and chief executive officer.

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