State

FDIC selling Merced County Bank building for $4.8M

MERCED -- One of this city's most distinguished buildings has gone on the market, listed for less than what it cost to build.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. has County Bank's former Main Street headquarters listed for $4.18 million. Buying the land and constructing the three-story building in 1997 cost about $5 million, according to Sun-Star reports at the time.

It's hard to predict who will be interested in buying or leasing the building at Main and M streets, though listing agent Steve Chamberlain, with Colliers International in Sacramento, said it would be ideal for another bank or credit union.

"It's a great building," Chamberlain said. "I think there'll be quite a bit of interest."

The building may be sold in 60 to 120 days, as investors are looking for attractive deals and the FDIC is quick to unload property, he said.

Chamberlain was assigned a couple of weeks ago to sell the building. It will be marketed once the FDIC makes sure all the furniture and computers are gone.

The listing is one of the final moves in winding down County Bank's operations and erasing its valley footprint. The bank's parent company, Capital Corp of the West, is in the midst of bankruptcy with a liquidation of its assets pending.

County Bank, a 32-year-old Merced institution, was the only business traded on the NASDAQ exchange and headquartered in the county. Crushed by bad development loans for property that was rapidly declining in value, the bank failed in February and was taken over by the FDIC.

Westamerica Bancorporation assumed County Bank's deposits and loans but none of its buildings. It had an option to buy the branches and headquarters.

Investment in downtown

The iconic, 28,000-square-foot building was one of the largest downtown investments in decades, and with its glass windows, giant clock and tiled balcony overlooking downtown it remains one of the most stunning buildings in the city. It was built with a parking garage, the first in Merced at the time.

The land was vacant when the project was proposed in 1995. It was once home to the Merced Hotel, which burned in 1981.

Thomas Hawker, who served as the bank's chief executive officer from 1991 to 2008, said the company looked at other locations, though it wanted to remain in Merced, its hometown.

The city approached the bank about building downtown, which could help to spur more investment.

"There was a desire to make a statement at that corner," Hawker recalled.

The Redevelopment Agency has received tax revenue from the building because it's in the redevelopment zone.

The building could make a good regional office for another bank, as the first floor is outfitted with a safe, the second floor can handle a data center and there's a drive-through ATM.

The former bank headquarters may not be the best choice for a speculator interested in leasing it out in sections.

"There is not a screaming demand for office space," Chamberlain noted.

Merced Economic Development Director Frank Quintero said the building could draw some outside investors, though they may be cautious if they look at the area's economic data.

The parking garage alone would cost more than $5 million to build, Quintero said.

It's possible, he said, for the building to be converted into small slots for businesses downstairs and high-end apartments upstairs, similar to the Merced Lofts project.

He told a group of 10 site consultants Friday that the building would be for sale soon. "It will be an attractive investment," he predicted.

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