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Merger Spells End of Local Ownership for Ventura Bank

Acquisition: American Commercial will be sold to Mid-State Bank of Arroyo Grande in $63.7-million deal.


VENTURA — American Commercial Bank, Ventura County's largest locally owned bank, will be sold to a banking corporation based in Arroyo Grande, bank officials announced.

Valued at about $63.7 million, the takeover by Mid-State Bank reflects a years-long trend toward consolidation in the banking industry. It will afford American Commercial customers access to Internet banking and trust services they do not now have, and will preserve jobs at the bank's six branches, according to American Commercial President Jerry Lukiewski.

However, the combined institution will not enjoy the allure of local ownership--a draw American Commercial has exercised since its founding by a group of Ventura businesspeople 28 years ago.

When the local Bank of A. Levy was bought by giant First Interstate Bancorp in 1994, American Commercial expressed its condolences in newspaper advertisements.

"A big chain bank has swallowed another one of Ventura County's local institutions," the ads said. "For those who value personal relationships and community banking, this is a sad trend and we're sorry to see them go. But personal banking is still alive and well at ACB. . . . "

Bank officials said Tuesday the personal touch will be maintained after the merger, which is to be completed in the fourth quarter of this year.

"Mid-State is a lot like us," Lukiewski said, pointing out that its executives in Ventura County will have the authority to approve loans themselves rather than seeking permission from corporate headquarters 120 miles to the north.

Robert J. Lagomarsino, board chairman of Americorp, American Commercial's parent company, also lauded the deal.

"We are pleased to join forces with a bank that also provides superior customer service," he said in a news release. "Our missions are very similar."

A bank director since 1993, Lagomarsino represented the Ventura-Santa Barbara area in Congress from 1973 to 1992. His father, Emilio J. Lagomarsino, was one of the bank's founders and its original chairman.

Robert Lagomarsino will sit on the board of Mid-State Bancshares, the parent company of Mid-State Bank.

The merger has been in the works for more than a year, said James W. Lokey, Mid-State Bancshares' president and chief executive. The sale is subject to the approval of bank regulators.

Over the past few years, the 40-year-old company has acquired banks in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara. It currently has one Ventura County branch, in Oxnard, but ultimately envisions as many as eight on the western side of the Conejo Grade and as many as six in the communities closer to Los Angeles, Lokey said.

The merger will increase Mid-State's assets from about $1.4 billion to about $1.7 billion. Its shares closed at $14.62 Tuesday, down 8 cents, in Nasdaq trading.

American Commercial sought out Mid-State rather than risk acquisition by "unwanted suitors," Lukiewski said.

"We looked at them with our employees in mind," he said. "It probably was the one institution that would retain most of our staff."

At its operations in Ventura, Oxnard and Camarillo, American Commercial has about 135 employees.

Under the agreement between the companies, Americorp shareholders will receive $28.75 for each share of stock owned. Before the merger was announced Monday, those shares traded over the counter at $17.50 and closed at $17.87. The stock closed Tuesday at $26.25, up $8.38.

"It was an offer we couldn't refuse," Lukiewski said.

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