Hopeful of gaining market share in some of the faster-growing neighborhoods of South Florida, Wachovia Corp. on Tuesday announced plans to open nine branches and renovate 31 existing ones in the Miami area.

The Winston-Salem, N.C., banking company said it hopes to open six to eight of the new offices and complete all the renovations during 2000. The price of the project has not been determined, but it typically costs Wachovia about $1 million to build a branch and $250,000 to $500,000 to renovate an office.

Rebekah M. Lowe, Wachovia's regional executive for South Florida, said the project's cost is still unclear in part because real estate has not been secured for all the new offices.

"We are identifying high-growth expansion opportunities for us, then assessing what is needed to enter those markets," she said. "It is sometimes very challenging to find the appropriate real estate in some of them."

Christopher M. Mutascio, an analyst at Legg Mason Wood Walker Inc. in Baltimore, said Wachovia has hinted in recent months that it is seeking to grow in Florida. He said the decision to build instead of buy could be wise.

"They get branches in the exact locations where they want them, in higher-wealth neighborhoods," he said. "It also allows them to maintain the culture that they have developed, as opposed to picking up a bank and having to retrain its employees."

But Ms. Lowe said the expansion announcement should not be taken as a sign that Wachovia is not interested in buying any more banks in Florida.

"This is not a choice of one way to expand over another," she said. "We continue to be interested in all methods of growth in the right markets."

Details of the planned renovations vary from branch to branch. Ms. Lowe said most need relatively minor updating, such as a new automated teller machine or more space for private meetings with clients.

Wachovia, which has $65.8 billion of assets, entered Florida in 1997 by buying $736 million-asset 1st United Bancorp in Boca Raton. It added Ameribank Bancshares, a $280 million-asset company based in Hollywood, in April 1998 but has been quiet in the state since then.

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