BankAmerica Corp. of Charlotte, N.C., said Tuesday that it would buy a 50% stake in Marsico Capital Management, a Denver-based mutual fund company.

BankAmerica is exercising an option put in place by the former NationsBank Corp. over one year ago when Marsico was established, said Barbara M. Japha, president of the fund firm.

Terms of the transaction, which is expected to close in the first quarter, were not disclosed. But observers estimated that BankAmerica is paying $60 million to $100 million for its stake in Marsico, which has $2.8 billion of assets under management.

BankAmerica described the deal as a financial transaction rather than a way to increase its presence in investment management.

"It's a great investment, it's been a great entrepreneurial success," said a bank spokeswoman. NationsBank and BankAmerica, which merged Sept. 30, have yet to combine their proprietary funds to create a $60 billion family, she said.

Marsico, a mutual fund company that specializes in large-cap growth stocks, was established in September 1997 by Thomas Marsico, a former star portfolio manager at Janus Capital, also in Denver. Mr. Marsico created two funds mirroring successful Janus portfolios he had managed.

He then created clones of those funds for NationsBank-the Nations/Marsico Focus Fund and the Nations/Marsico Growth and Income Fund.

By all accounts, Mr. Marsico has been successful. "He's done a fabulous job of raising assets in such a short period of time," said Geoffrey H. Bobroff, a mutual fund consultant based in East Greenwich, R.I.

Ms. Japha said that Marsico would benefit from the "enormous distribution channel" that is the new BankAmerica. Mr. Marsico's intention in striking the original deal with NationsBank was to enhance distribution, she said. The fact that BankAmerica and NationsBank have since merged makes it a better proposition, she said.

Mr. Marsico was unavailable for comment.

Ms. Japha said she is confident that Marsico would be able to retain its entrepreneurial spirit in its partnership with $594 billion-asset BankAmerica, the largest bank holding company in the United States.

"They don't own us; they have a 50% interest," she said. Mr. Marsico will continue to run the firm in the way he has done since its inception, she said.

However, observers noted that Mr. Marsico will have to work at retaining that independent spirit under BankAmerica's huge bur-eaucracy.

"Long-term, inevitably you get a clash between the cultures," said Burton J. Greenwald, a Philadelphia-based mutual fund consultant.

"My sense is there will be some strings attached," said Mr. Bobroff. However, he said that the bank might have some difficulty reigning in Mr. Marsico, whom he described as "a person of his own dimension."

But Mr. Bobroff added, "Bottom line for him, so long as assets are growing, the bank will leave him alone."

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