In a deal that would create the largest financial institution based in Florida, BankAtlantic Bancorp. announced Monday that it had agreed to buy Community Savings Bankshares Inc. of North Palm Beach for $170 million in cash.
The combined company would have $5.7 billion of assets and more than 80 branches, most of which would be concentrated in the southern half of the state's east coast. Alan B. Levan, the chairman and chief executive officer of BankAtlantic in Fort Lauderdale, hinted in an interview Monday that the deal could be the first of several for the $4.7 billion-asset company.
"The marketplace appears to be devoid of a large Florida bank, and we are more than happy to fill that role," Mr. Levan said.
Florida has lacked a banking company with more than $5 billion of assets since $44 billion-asset Barnett Banks Inc. was bought by the former NationsBank Corp. three years ago. BankUnited Financial Corp. in Coral Gables is currently the state's largest, with $4.8 billion of assets.
James B. Pittard, the president and chief executive of $948 million-asset Community, said the company had been seeking a buyer the last few months and was in talks with other banks before settling on BankAtlantic.
In the deal, which is expected to close in the first quarter, Community shareholders would receive $19 per share, or about 1.42 times book value.
Mr. Pittard said the merger makes sense because most of BankAtlantic's 61 branches are in Broward County - though the company also has a small presence on Florida's west coast - while all of Community's branches are in Palm Beach and three other counties north of Broward.
"It looks like a good opportunity for shareholders and customers and employees, especially with very few overlapping branches," Mr. Pittard said.
There are now four areas in Palm Beach County where branches overlap, but Mr. Levan said it has not yet been decided which branches would be closed.
Many of Community's other branches are near the four active-adult communities and two housing developments that Levitt and Sons, a real estate development subsidiary of BankAtlantic, is building. Community Savings also has two branches near a development in Vero Beach that the same firm has been building for a year and a half.
"I have seen a lot of people moving into these communities, and now we are going to have a strategic advantage in them," Mr. Levan said.
Benjamin Bishop, an analyst with Allen C. Ewing Co. in Jacksonville, said he was not surprised that Community had put itself on the block. Its shareholders, he said, "were getting edgy," because the company - like several other Florida banks with assets in the $1 billion range - had not grown much in recent years.
"I think it was time for them to cash in," he said.
In extraordinarily heavy trading, Community's stock closed Monday at $18.62, up more than 28%. BankAtlantic's stock fell slightly to $9.02.