Donald A. Gilles, chief executive of the proposed Bank of Visalia, would like to open the bank's doors on April 1, the day Wells Fargo and First Interstate complete their merger.

Mr. Gilles said everything appears to be in order for his Central California bank to take advantage of fallout from the giant merger, which will close a First Interstate branch in nearby Hanford.

"I've always kind of looked at First Interstate differently than Wells Fargo or Bank of America," he said. "First Interstate had a more personal approach, and I feel a lot of First Interstate customers are going to have a difficult time making the move to Wells."

Mr. Gilles, the former president and CEO of Visalia's Mineral King National Bank, purchased by Vallicorp Holdings Inc. recently, said he's in the process of submitting final paperwork to the California State Banking Department.

The Bank of Visalia, to be located in a community of 75,000, plans to concentrate on the business and professional communities and also on agriculture. The bank, one block off Visalia's main street, would operate in an old Security Pacific branch.

Mr. Gilles said he was impressed by the success of the new bank's capital-raising effort, which netted $7 million by the time it was cut off March 20.

"Given the banks I'm familiar with, that's twice as large as what would normally be expected in this area," he said. "We thought we had a following in this community, but what's really impressed me is the interest we've gotten from people outside Visalia. These are people who don't know the board or the employees, but they believe in the concept of community banking."

Mr. Gilles has spent the last 14 years in Visalia banking. He was chief financial officer of Mineral King when it started in 1982, before rising to CEO a few years ago. He said he envisions the Bank of Visalia branching out both in the town and the surrounding region.

Mr. Gilles will have some local competition. Visalia Community Bank, with nearly $130 million in assets, has been around since 1977, and Kaweah National Bank, with just under $24 million in assets, converted from a thrift to a bank in February 1995.

Mr. Gilles seemed unconcerned by the other local institutions.

"I like to think that it's the other guys who are going to have the competition," he said. "There's been a lot of good word-of-mouth publicity going around about our bank, and we feel that we're offering personal attention consumers still want and still need."

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