CHICAGO - Just one week after unveiling their first out-of-state acquisition, Firstbank of Illinois Co. officials said they were hungry for more banks in the St. Louis area.

With $1.5 billion in assets, Firstbank is already the largest banking company in downstate Illinois. Its purchase of $170 million-asset Colonial Bancshares will give it a toehold in the growing Missouri suburbs west of St. Louis.

"We think Colonial Bancshares is just the beginning," Firstbank CEO Mark Ferguson told analysts.

Firstbank said it will pay $12 million for Des Peres, Mo.- based Colonial. The deal, requiring federal approval, is slated for completion in the fourth quarter.

Building Assets

Since 1991, Firstbank has grown 30% by acquiring $415 million in bank assets in southern Illinois.

There and in the two other regions where it operates - central Illinois and the metropolitan area of East St. Louis, Ill. - Firstbank is considering other bank acquisition targets. Their assets total $500 million in each area, or $1.5 billion in all.

"We think there are still some real opportunities for us to grow in the greater St. Louis area," Mr. Ferguson said.

He said the bank is also scouting in the Champaign-Urbana area of southern Illinois. It has no presence there. "We have courted banks there for many years, and something could happen in the near future."

"I really like this company," said Daniel E. Coughlin, community bank analyst at Howe Barnes Investments Inc., Chicago, an investment advisory firm.

"They stick to what they do best, in markets they know."

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