One of Baltimore's last remaining hometown banks would end a nine-year acquisition drought if its announced plan to buy a suburban Washington thrift goes through.

Officials at Provident Bankshares said the timing-and the target-was finally right. The $2.8 billion-asset company has agreed to pay about $100 million for First Citizens Financial Corp., a $690 million-asset Gaithersburg, Md., thrift, in an all-stock deal.

"We needed to strike a deal that would make sense," said Carl W. Stearn, Provident chairman and chief executive officer, in explaining the long wait. "We couldn't come up with anything that was appropriate."

The bank's luck changed thanks to First Citizens' chairman's love of boating. First Citizens chairman Herbert Jorgensen made a casual inquiry about a boat loan to Provident president Peter M. Martin, and merger talks eventually ensued, Mr. Stearn said.

"It really got serious about a month and a half ago," he added.

Analysts cheered the news and said Provident-long mentioned as an acquisition target-could now attract suitors who want entree into or a greater share of the Baltimore-Washington market.

The combined companies, which would form the second-largest independent Maryland-based commercial bank, would have 62 branches.

"I've got to give them credit for a deal that seems to make good sense," said Alex Hart, vice president at Ferris, Baker Watts Inc., Baltimore. "The First Citizens acquisition will definitely enhance their franchise and may wind up making them more palatable to someone."

Under the agreement, each share of First Citizens will be converted into 0.73 share of Provident common stock. Based on Provident's March 10 closing price of $42.88 per share, the transaction is valued at $31.30 per share.

If Provident's stock price falls below $35.625, First Citizens, parent of Citizens Savings Bank, can walk away from the deal.

Provident's last acquisition came in 1988 when it bought Federal Savings Bank, a local mutual thrift with $63 million of assets.

Mr. Stearn said that afterward his bank suffered through hard times that brought its stock price down as far as $3.75.

"We didn't have much ammunition," he said. u

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