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Fairmont bank seeks city toehold

Kenny Kemp
MVB Bank of Fairmont hopes to tear down this former drive-through bank facility on Washington Street East and build a three-story office building as its first Charleston location.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- MVB Bank, a small but fast-growing neighborhood bank from Fairmont, is hoping to compete with the big boys in Charleston.

If the company can get a zoning change approved next month, it plans to open a branch office in a new three-story office building at the corner of Washington and Margaret streets, across from a Town Center parking garage.

"It's still in the infancy stages," MVB CEO Larry Mazza said of the Charleston branch plan, which the company has not yet formally announced.

"What we're trying to do is acquire the property at 400 Washington St., the former BB&T property. It's been vacant for a year, maybe 18 months."

The irregularly shaped lot, nearly an acre in size, is home to a one-story walk-in and drive-through bank facility originally built by Magnet Bank, probably in the 1980s.

"It was a 3,700-square-foot building," Mazza said. "It was a great location for them -- easy in, easy out, near the Interstate. That kind of piqued our interest."

But traffic patterns changed and the branch became a victim of banking industry mergers -- Atlantic Financial, then One Valley Bank and BB&T, whose West Virginia headquarters is just a few blocks away. "They didn't need it anymore," Mazza said.

Dewitt Blundon, an agent with CBRE, said the property has been listed for more than a year at $1.2 million. We've had some other interest, but nothing serious," he said.

MCB hopes to tear the existing burgundy and white building down and start over. But first, they want the site rezoned from C-4 (neighborhood commercial) to C-8 (village commercial district).

"We need to upgrade the zoning," Mazza said. "We want to have C-8 to have an up-to-date facility that represents us and Charleston well. We'd like to build a new facility there, what we'd call a marquee facility for us. It's not going to be Laidley Tower; don't get me wrong."

Initial plans call for a three-story office building of about 21,000 square feet, with drive-through lanes and parking lot. MVB wouldn't need the whole building, though.

"We will lease some space, anywhere from 8,000 to 12,000 square feet. It would be A-grade-type office. It could be a business-type tenant -- insurance to law to accounting. We do not have it leased yet."

Mazza wouldn't say how much the building might cost, except to say "in the millions." By rough estimate, a building that size could cost more than $4 million, plus land acquisition.

MVB has scheduled a community meeting next month to discuss its project. "On Nov. 5 we're inviting our hope-to-be neighbors to Shiloh Baptist Church, 5 to 7 p.m., to show them our plans," Mazza said. "We don't want to come in and barnstorm this. We want to do the right thing."

If the Washington Street site doesn't work out, MVB has other options, he said.

"We still want to come to Charleston. We're looked at Kanawha City. We think that's an excellent location." In fact, MVB could open a second branch in Kanawha City, he said.

"We don't want to be a one-hit wonder. That won't happen tomorrow."

Founded just 15 years ago as Monongahela Valley Bank, MVB now bills itself as "Your Most Valuable Bank," as folks driving to football games in Morgantown may have seen. The company has four branches between Bridgeport and Morgantown, two in the Eastern Panhandle, and plans to open four more in those areas in the next year.

"In the last 13 quarters [just over three years] we've had 99 percent growth," Mazza said. "For our shareholders, for the last 10 years we've returned 9 percent, when other banks were losing money."

According to the latest figures, MVB is the 11th largest bank company in West Virginia by market share, he said. "If you look at it today, we're in the top 10. We're definitely the fastest growing."

Even so, with deposits approaching $500 million or 1.5 percent of the West Virginia market, MVB has a ways to go to challenge no. 1 BB&T's $5.4 billion (18 percent) or no. 2 United Bank's $3.6 billion (12 percent). That's why it's moving into Charleston, Mazza said.

"We believe as a West Virginia bank, we want and have to be in Charleston. It's a $4 billion market. So it's rich for deposits, which is good for growth. It's rich for talent. It's the richest in banking talent in the state. And Charleston is the seat of government.

"You need to be in Charleston if you want to be a player. Banks have to grow or they don't return for their shareholders.

"It's excellent competition. I worked for One Valley/BB&T. It is fierce competition. It's like the restaurant business -- "Gee whiz, we don't need another pizza stand, another pizza restaurant.' But we have a differentiation. Maybe we look like Mighty Mouse."

Reach Jim Balow at balow@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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