County eyes offices

WARREN – Trumbull County commissioners have been talking with First Place Bank officials about buying the bank’s property in downtown Warren, including the company’s corporate offices on East Market Street, for county employees now housed in the declining Wean Building.

”We’d like to purchase the property for the right price,” Commissioner Frank Fuda said.

Commissioners on Wednesday gave themselves permission to start ”general discussions” with bank officials related to the building at 185 E. Market St. and other parcels in the vicinity of the bank. However, there are indications the talks are already ongoing.

”We have been in discussions several months with First Place regarding all of their real estate holdings in downtown Warren … We hope to arrive at a mutually agreeable understanding regarding the properties in the near future,” Commissioner Paul Heltzel said.

The purchase would let commissioners get the employees out of the old Wean Building on North Park Avenue, something they’ve wanted to do for some time because of its poor condition and cost to operate, and keep those workers in the downtown.

The old Wean contains the Planning Commission, Building Department and Microfilm, Printing and Records department, which is part of Diana Marchese’s office and other offices.

”It’s a building that is just old,” Fuda said. ”It was useable these last few years, but it wasn’t the best building for these people.”

Commissioners sought bids for space to relocate the offices earlier this year, but rejected them all because most, in some way, including the Gibson Building, which cost more than commissioners wanted to pay.

Subsequently, the City of Warren has agreed to buy the Gibson Building on East Market Street.

Bank spokeswoman Debra Bish confirmed that the bank has been in discussions with Trumbull commissioners, but declined to release further information about the bank’s plans for the offices or its employees based out of the local corporate office.

“At this point we are working with commissioners, but it’s not a done deal,” Bish said.

First Place Bank last week permanently closed two Mahoning County offices including Austintown’s Westgate Office and the Canfield location.

Bish said those closures were business decisions that came following regular evaluations of financial, economic and demographic information intended to ensure the bank is operating efficiently. She pointed out that within the past five years, First Place built two new branches within 1 1/2 miles of the sites “based on population shifts, traffic patterns, points of destination and overall just better locations.”

Bish said no employees at the branches were displaced, but rather were absorbed into bank operations at other locations. She could not immediately say how many employees work in the East Market Street office.

Sam Roth, who serves on the bank’s local board of directors, said he had no information on closings. A records check at the bank’s federal regulatory agency, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, contained no filings indicating future closings or other plans at this time. Banks are required to give the regulator 90 days notice before making changes like branch closures, new branches, relocations, mergers, conversions, change in corporate title or changes in control.

After the bank changed hands about a year ago the new parent company, Michigan-based Talmer Bancorp., indicated operations would not change significantly, including the bank’s name, branches and employment numbers. At the time the First Place Bank company operated 41 retail locations, two business financial service centers and 20 loan production offices.

Talmer had purchased the thrift as a subsidiary after the bank’s parent company, First Place Financial Corp., declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

According to a summary of deposits at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, or FDIC, First Place Bank’s deposits in Ohio and its local market share have dropped each year since 2010. In June 2010, the bank reported $1.44 billion in deposits and a local market share of 15.7 percent. By June of this year, the most recent information available, deposits had dropped to $1.01 billion and market share to 11.18 percent.