First Chicago NBD Corp. says it plans to build a new operations center in downtown Chicago.

The $60 million, 380,000-square-foot building would consolidate 1,200 First Chicago employees from four downtown buildings in a central location for the company's Illinois banking operations. The center, which would sit on a seven-acre lot in the South Loop, would handle check processing, deposit account services, statement processing, mail, lockbox, and money transfer services.

The project is to be developed by Chicago-based Walsh, Higgins & Co. and is scheduled for completion in 2000. Ground breaking is set for this year.

Although it is unclear whether First Chicago would get any direct financial assistance from the city, the company is building in an area targeted for redevelopment. Such projects sometimes get incentive money for land purchase or infrastructure, said Susan Ross, a spokeswoman for the city planning and development department.

"Those discussions have yet to take place," said First Chicago spokesman Thomas Kelly. "We're working with the developer and the city to see what might be available."

Aside from site selection, few details have been settled on. Bid solicitations for an architect went out this week. "We do not have all the i's dotted and t's crossed yet," Mr. Kelly said.

The project was motivated by the need to create a more efficient workplace for the $114 billion-asset company's operations people, who are mostly clerical and low-wage workers. The company also wanted space for growth. "At this point we're just moving people," Mr. Kelly said, "but we're allowing for the potential for growth and more efficient growth."

The company would also transfer its back-room operations to a more convenient site near the central U.S. Post Office, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, and the Chicago Clearing House.

Of the four sites where the workers are located, three are leased sites and one is owned by the banking company. First Chicago said it would retain the building it owns, also in the downtown area, and use it to move workers from other leased offices.

First Chicago is the fifth-largest private employer in the Chicago area with 16,000 workers. It operates as the First National Bank of Chicago and American National Bank and Trust Company of Chicago.

Mr. Kelly said First Chicago considered sites outside downtown, including in the suburbs, but chose the South Loop parcel because it was central and close to public transportation. "One of the important issues is transportation, and Chicago has an excellent transportation system," he said. "The ability of our employees to get to work is an important issue."

Mr. Kelly also cited First Chicago's sensitivity as a corporate citizen as a factor in its decision to stay in the city.

John Camper, a spokesman for Mayor Richard M. Daley, said city officials were happy to keep the jobs downtown and get a new building. Mr. Camper said he was unaware that First Chicago had considered other sites.

The developer, which owns 25 acres in the area where First Chicago plans to build, said it hopes the project will spur development.

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