NoVa bank eyes Patterson Ave. for Richmond entry

The Park Sterling Bank branch at 5601 Patterson Ave. closed in March. (Michael Schwartz)

The Park Sterling Bank branch at 5601 Patterson Ave. closed in March. (Michael Schwartz)

A West End property left empty by a North Carolina-based bank has been snatched up by another out-of-towner looking to make its first splash in the market.

First Bank, a $727 million institution headquartered in Strasburg, Virginia, has plans to open its first Richmond location at 5601 Patterson Ave.

CEO Scott Harvard said the bank has signed a lease for the building, which was a Park Sterling Bank branch until its closure in early March.

It would be the bank’s 15th branch statewide, joining spots in Winchester, Strasburg, Front Royal, Harrisonburg, Staunton and Waynesboro. It began expanding east two years ago with the acquisition of several Bank of America branches that put it in markets like Farmville.

Scott Harvard

Scott Harvard

Harvard, a veteran Virginia banker who was previously the longtime head of the former Shore Bank on the Eastern Shore, said First Bank was attracted to the neighborhood surrounding the Patterson Avenue location.

“The Westhampton area is really its own community. It’s similar to a lot of the markets we serve,” Harvard said. “We’re not a metro market bank.”

And few people know that Patterson Avenue building as well as Harvard, who grew up in Richmond.

“One of my first jobs was as a branch manager in that branch,” when it was an outpost of Virginia Federal Saving and Loan, he said.

Harvard said the Patterson branch will open in coming months, pending approval from state and federal regulators and minor renovations. It will go after primarily small business and consumer customers.

First Bank’s pending arrival in Richmond continues several years of out-of-town banks streaming into the market in search of new revenue. Much of that influx was initially through opening one-off branches, but was then joined over the last two years by mergers and acquisitions as a vehicle for entry into Richmond.

All that movement, particularly recent consolidation, leaves the door open for banks like First Bank, Harvard said.

“There’s been so much bank disruption in Richmond. The dust will eventually settle, but it feels unsettled at the moment and that may create an opportunity.”

First Bank, owned by publicly traded holding company First National Corp., is celebrating its 110th year in business this month.

Asked whether the wave of mergers and acquisitions has led to deal conversations at his bank, Harvard said: “It seems like every bank in the country are all talking to each other about the benefit of scale and challenges of regulatory burden.

“We are the size today and have the position with our financial performance where we can control our own destiny.”

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