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Mennonite site to house bank; Evans to open branch in Amherst landmark

David J. Nasca is looking to fill in the gaps in Evans Bank's branch network to make it a player in almost every corner of Erie County's banking market.

The Hamburg-based banking company, confirming a report in The Buffalo News two weeks ago, said on Thursday that it will open its 14th branch in the 1834 Mennonite Meeting House at 5178 Main St. at North Forest Road in Amherst.

The new branch, which still must be approved by state regulators and clear some municipal and historic site approval hurdles, would give Evans Bank a presence in the heart of the Buffalo Niagara region's biggest suburb as the bank continues its steady push to expand its branch network, primarily across Erie and Chautauqua counties.

"It fills a noticeable gap in our footprint," Nasca, the bank's president and CEO, said at the company's annual shareholders meeting.

The new branch, along with the former Waterford Savings Bank site in Clarence that it acquired in July 2009, puts Evans in the midst of Amherst's hub of small-business activity, which Nasca hopes will bring the bank more lending opportunities. The bank was particularly drawn by the area's concentration of companies with sales of between $5 million and $50 million, as well as professional and health care offices with 10 or more employees, he said.

"There's a lot of business there," he said.

The $1.25 million project, which will be developed by Iskalo Development Corp., is set to receive nearly $110,000 in tax breaks from the Amherst Industrial Development Agency.

Nasca doesn't expect Evans' expansion to stop with its latest branch. The banking company is continuing with its long-standing push to open a new branch every 12 to 18 months. Cheektowaga and the portion of the Southtowns between Hamburg and Buffalo are prime candidates for future expansion. Evans' insurance business has a significant presence in Lockport but no bank branch.

"We probably need three to five, fully, to fill out our Western New York footprint," Nasca said. "We're looking to create diversity in our footprint. We do better when our branches overlap a little."

The expansion has helped Evans steadily build its business, with an asset base that has grown by an average of 9 percent a year since 2006 and a core loan portfolio that has been rising at a 19 percent annual pace. The bank on Tuesday reported a 30 percent jump in its first-quarter profits.

Still, Evans is a small player in the overall Erie County banking market, with less than 2 percent of all deposits. It is dwarfed by HSBC Bank and M&T Bank, which together control 67 percent of the county's deposit base.

"This is a slow- and no-growth market with significant competition," Nasca said, meaning that every customer Evans wins is one that it takes from another bank. "We have to be more customized and offer more of a personal touch than our larger competition."

Nasca said Evans also remains interested in "opportunistic" acquisitions. "We're seeking operating scale," he said, with a goal of topping $1 billion in assets within the next three to five years.


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