Commerce Bancshares Corp. of Worcester, Mass., is set to formally enter the Boston area.

The Worcester, Mass., company has agreed to buy Mercantile Capital Corp. for $26.5 million in cash, the two announced Wednesday.

The $1.4 billion-asset asset Commerce would pay $9.05 for each of Mercantile's roughly 2.9 million outstanding shares. The combined company would have $1.6 billion of assets and 16 branches in central and eastern Massachusetts, including three in the Boston metro area, Commerce said Wednesday. Commerce has been making loans in Boston but has no branches there.

The deal is the first ever for Commerce, which was founded in 1955. It is expected to close in the third quarter. The $193 million-asset Mercantile's banking unit, Mercantile Bank & Trust Co., would be merged into Commerce's bank, Commerce Bank & Trust Co.

"Commerce Bank and Mercantile Bank are both committed to providing superior service and serving the needs of the communities in which we do business," Commerce Chief Executive Brian W. Thompson said in a news release. "This transaction will provide customers of both institutions with greater access to a wide selection of products and services, increased lending opportunities, new capabilities and innovative solutions that meet their evolving needs."

Mercantile specializes in commercial real estate loans, its website says.

Sandler O'Neill & Partners L.P. was financial advisor to Commerce, and Sterne, Agee & Leach Inc. advised Mercantile.

Massachusetts has been a hotbed of M&A activity in recent months. Earlier in March two small thrifts, Framingham Co-operative Bank and Natick Federal Savings Bank, announced their plans to merge in the hopes of gaining scale to better compete against their larger competitors.

Worcester credit union, Webster First FCU, in December said it was entering the Boston area with a deal to buy Winthrop FCU. Other recent deals include GFA Federal Credit Union of Gardener, Mass., agreeing to acquire Monadnock Community Bank in Peterborough, N.H., Berkshire Hills Bancorp Inc. of Pittsfield, Mass., promising to buy Connecticut Bank and Trust Co. and Haverhill Bank reaching a deal for Economy Co-operative Bank in Merrimac, Mass.

Brookline Bancorp Inc. in Brookline, Mass., bought Bancorp Rhode Island Inc. in Providence, R.I., in December for $234 million.

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