BMO Harris Bank in Chicago has agreed to sell 31 Wisconsin branches to a California real estate investment trust.

The $106 billion-asset unit of Bank of Montreal said it had agreed to long-term leases with Realty Income Corp. in San Diego for the branches it sold. While the company did not disclose the number of branches, BizTimes Milwaukee reported a number based on state records.

Patrick O'Herlihy, a BMO Harris spokesman, said in an interview Monday that deal is part of the bank's branch sale-leaseback initiative. "Basically, we took advantage of the attractive real estate market to sell properties and then lease them back immediately," he said. "What we're doing here is all about how we manage our real estate assets. It has nothing to do with our actual branch operations."

BMO Harris has 608 branches nationwide, including 212 in Wisconsin, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. website.

Another Illinois bank, First Midwest in Itasca, in September entered a sale-leaseback agreement with Oak Street Real Estate Capital in Chicago. The deal involved the $10.8 billion-asset bank selling 55 branches in Illinois and Indiana to the private equity real estate firm for about $150 million.

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