Mellon Bank Corp. said Monday it plans to buy United Bankshares, an $830 million-asset Miami bank that caters to high-net-worth people and small businesses.

The Pittsburgh banking company declined to disclose how much it is paying for United, which is privately held. But sources put the price tag at between $350 million and $400 million in cash and stock, or 3.5 times United's book value, a sum analysts called reasonable.

The transaction, which is slated to close in the first quarter, would bolster Mellon's presence in wealthy areas of south Florida. United has 11 offices in Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties.

Although Mellon has been in the hunt for major acquisitions-most recently, bidding for CoreStates Financial Corp., which ultimately took an offer from First Union Corp.-its focus has been the pursuit of niche targets.

The deal for United "is consistent with the strategy they have articulated all along," said analyst James Schutz of ABN Amro Chicago Corp.

In May, for instance, Mellon completed the latest in a string of asset- management acquisitions when it bought Florida-based Ganz Capital Management Inc., which oversees $400 million of assets. More recently, it announced plans to buy 1st Business Bank, a $1.1 billion-asset Los Angeles bank, saying the bank would complement its business leasing and other commercial businesses in California.

Martin G. McGuinn, a vice chairman of Mellon, said the company believes it can cross-sell Mellon's asset management, mortgage and investment products to United's existing customers-and attract new customers as well.

"This is a very attractive market, and this particular franchise has been successful for almost 20 years," Mr. McGuinn said.

Founded by two Miami lawyers in 1978, United serves small and midsize businesses, lawyers, accountants, real estate developers and other professionals. The deal would represent the first bank acquisition in Florida for Mellon, which has $43 billion of assets.

Mr. McGuinn said Mellon isn't interested in competing with the large consumer banking companies that have established a strong presence in Florida. "We look upon this as a growth opportunity," he said, but "we are certainly not pursuing a strategy of having one of the biggest branch networks."

United is the parent of United National Bank. When the deal closes, the company would change its name to Mellon United National Bank, Mr. McGuinn said. Mellon said it planned to retain all of United's 310 employees because it has no overlapping operations.

United is highly profitable, with a first-quarter return on assets of 2.37% that is double the median for banks in Florida, said analyst Frank Barkocy of Josephthal, Lyon & Ross Inc.

The company's founders-Gerald Katcher, the chairman president, and chief executive officer and Howard R. Scharlin, the general counsel-together own more than 70% of United's stock. There are 34 other shareholders.

Mr. Katcher, who is 71, said he decided to sell several months ago. United's investment bank, Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc., brought Mellon and United together and the deal was negotiated privately. He would remain president and CEO, and Mr. Scharlin would remain general counsel.

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