Centennial Bank invests $2 million in Fort Smith branch bank addition

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 165 views 

Ground was broken on a fourth Centennial Bank location at 5801 Rogers Ave. on Tuesday (Sept. 9), bringing an investment of more than $1 million to the local economy.

The 5,500-square-feet location is a relocation for a now-closed branch of the bank that had been located behind Chick-fil-A and Outback Steakhouse on Rogers Avenue, according to Centennial's Area President Greg Rotter.

"It wasn't an ideal location. It was hidden and a lot of people had a hard time finding it. So this location gives us a much better opportunity for visibility and accessibility for our customers," Rotter said, adding that the previous location had more space than the bank could make use of.

The bank's new location will be part of a development built on a former hotel at the site. Fort Smith-based The Westphal Group bought the 3.36 acres where the former Hometown Inn and Suites once stood in October 2013  for just under $1.5 million.

Rotter said the new branch will offer traditional retail banking services, such as new accounts, mortgage lending and commercial lending. Any new services, he said, could come at a later time.

"There are things that I'd love to do in the future. Right now we just want to get this one open, make it a success and look to see what we can do in the future to continue to help us grow in the market."

With the new Rogers Avenue location, Centennial's portfolio of bank branches in Fort Smith and Van Buren will grow to four, along with a drive-thru location on Boston Avenue, Rotter said.

Fort Smith Mayor Sandy Sanders said at the groundbreaking Tuesday that banks like Centennial making an investment in new branches and loan offerings are part of what is driving job growth in what had been a depressed Fort Smith job market only a few years ago at the height of the recession.

"A financial institution like Centennial Bank does not make this kind of investment, this kind of a commitment to the community unless they do have confidence in how we're growing, how we're moving forward," he said, pointing to the more than 2,000 jobs announced in the Fort Smith region in the last two years.

Centennial Bank's North Arkansas Regional President Davy Carter said part of the investment in the building of a new branch — which he told The City Wire was an investment of more than $2 million — was due to the great success story of the branches already operating in the Fort Smith region and the growth of new and existing businesses in the Fort Smith market, adding jobs, retail dollars and a population in need of banking services.

"Those kind of announcements you have with jobs and all the great economic activity that's going on in Fort Smith, you ought to be very proud of that. Indeed, that's part of the reason why we continue our investment here in Fort Smith," Carter said.

He added that Centennial's parent company, Home Bancshares of Conway, is a $7 billion bank that is making decisions locally and investing in cities across the state, like Fort Smith.

"They are making decisions right here in Fort Smith, Arkansas," he said. "You have loan decisions right here in Fort Smith, Arkansas. You can have an $80 million loan credit and it won't get out of the state of Arkansas. We make the decisions, they're local decisions. We believe in that. They're local people. We give them the ball and we let them run with it."

Home Bancshares/Centennial entered the Fort Smith market with the more than $280 million acquisition of Jonesboro-based Liberty Bank. The deal, announced in June 2013, closed in the fourth quarter of 2013.

Rotter said even with increased regulation of the banking industry through federal legislation like the Dodd-Frank Act, Centennial has been able to adapt and grow in recent years.

"We're still going at a good clip. Obviously banking has changed a lot in the last few years and it change sometimes it feels on a daily basis, but we've adjusted well and everybody learns and adjusts on the fly. But as far as our service and our ability to do loans, it hasn't hampered that. We handle it the best we can."

He added that the new branch would employ between 10 and 12 staff, with many of those having come from other branches including the closed branch behind Chick-fil-A. Rotter added that two to four new staffers could be added to the new branch.

Construction is scheduled to be completed in March 2015, with a grand opening planned for April 2015.

Centennial Bank's reported income of $57.522 million for the first half of 2014, an increase from $36.443 million during the same period of 2013. It reported total assets of $6.749 billion.

The share price of Home Bancshares closed Tuesday at $30.25, down 45 cents. During the past 52 weeks the share price has ranged from a $38.98 high to a $27.10 low.

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