North Fork Bancorp said it is launching a bid to acquire Dime Bancorp for approximately $1.89 billion in stock. The proposed deal comes only a short time before shareholders are to vote on a proposed merger between Dime and Hudson United Bancorp.

North Fork, based in Melville, N.Y., is offering $17 per share for New York City-based Dime, a 41% premium over Hudson United's offer. North Fork said its offer is valid only if Dime shareholders reject the offer from Mahwah, N.J.-based Hudson United.

The North Fork bid features an unusual arrangement with FleetBoston Financial. The Boston-based bank has agreed to invest $250 million in a North Fork-Dime combination. In exchange, Fleet will receive $250 million of North Fork's convertible preferred stock and ten-year rights to purchase 7.5 million shares of North Fork common stock at $17.88 per share.

As part of the agreement, Fleet said it will not initiate a merger with North Fork, Dime, or Hudson United Bancorp for a period of time. In exchange, Fleet will have the right to purchase $2 billion of Dime deposits in a total of 17 branches in Manhattan and on Long Island.

Check American Banker Online later today for an expanded version of this story.

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