A Baltimore trucker turned banker took his 20-month-old bank public last week, in an offering that drew unexpectedly heavy investor interest.

The stock of First Mariner Bancorp made its debut at $12 on the Nasdaq market Friday and shot up to $13.75 before closing at $13.13 on volume of 184,900. Before press time Monday afternoon the stock was trading at $12.88.

The $110 million-asset bank raised $16.8 million in the offering of 1.4 million shares.

Chairman Edwin F. Hale Sr. said the capital raised in the stock sale will enable the bank to increase its legal lending limit and buy other banks.

"We're talking to several banks now," Mr. Hale said. "Once we have the IPO behind us, we have an actual currency to trade. People will be more receptive to what we have to say."

The 50-year-old banker has been unsuccessful in acquiring two other Baltimore-area banks. The shareholders of Maryland Permanent Bank, Owings Mills, rebuffed Mr. Hale's overtures; while management at Bank of Annapolis backed out of a plan to merge with Mr. Hale's bank.

Among possible targets, sources say, Mr. Hale has his eye on Patapsco Bank, a $75 million-asset, one-branch bank based in Dundalk - Mr. Hale's hometown.

He will open his first Dundalk branch of First Mariner in January. "I used to ride my bike to the shopping center where it's located," he said.

Mr. Hale has been determined to bring First Mariner public since he founded it in May 1995 from a takeover of the former MarylandsBank, a start-up created by a merger of two thrifts. First Mariner, which started out with $35 million of assets and four branches, now tops $100 million of assets and has 12 branches. Two more branches are opening in the first quarter.

First Mariner has been limited to making loans of $1 million or less, and it has had to work with other banks or lenders in making loans larger than that, Mr. Hale said. The bank's pre-offering capital is about 10% of its assets.

After the stock offering, Mr. Hale expects First Mariner to make loans up to $3 million.

Analysts said they aren't surprised by the strong interest in First Mariner's stock offering.

Mr. Hale, who never received a college degree, is considered a Baltimore success story. Born in the working-class suburb of Dundalk, Mr. Hale rose to prominence by creating a nationally known intermodal transport company on Baltimore City's waterfront.

He entered the banking industry in the early 1990s after taking over the former Bank of Baltimore in a bitter proxy fight. After selling Bank of Baltimore to the former First Fidelity two years ago, Mr. Hale decided it was time to return to banking.

His goal was to create a community bank that catered to many of the city's working-class neighborhoods - a sort of return to his roots.

First Mariner's branches are now scattered throughout the metropolitan area in both white-collar and blue-collar areas. His headquarters is at the water's edge, in the same building as Hale Intermodal, and the bank's sign towers over the city's port.

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