Lexington-based First Community Bank opened a new vista in a highly visible new location on Lady Street this week and took its place among the ranks of regional and national banks that have located offices lately in downtown Columbia.
Founded in 1995, the institution opened retail banking operations street level in the historic 1213 Lady St. building just off Main Street, which it spent $2 million renovating, on Monday. The bank is housing its financial planning arm, First Community Financial Consultants, on the second floor.
The 50-year-old, four-story building is sandwiched nicely between an open and lush green pedestrian park that connects Main Street and Lady Street, and a small but adequate, newly paved surface parking lot to serve its customers – a rarity downtown.
In recent months, half a dozen banks have made a move to the Main Street area, positioning regional or state headquarters in the growing area.
A traditionally suburban bank, First Community has been looking to make a move into downtown Columbia for a while, but it has only been within the past couple years that business conditions presented the bank’s leadership all the proper signals to take the necessary steps to move, president and CEO Michael C. Crapps said.
“What we began to see in downtown Columbia was this momentum building. Really, we started looking at it (a move downtown) a few years ago and the timing just wasn’t right – for us and maybe the market,” Crapps said sitting in the board room of the new downtown office.
A native of Lexington and a Clemson University graduate, Crapps grew up just a few short miles from First Community Bank’s headquarters offices in Lexington, where he is a founding member of the bank, its only president and CEO and a board member from day one.
“As we continued to study downtown ... we (realized we) like a lot of the things we see going on in downtown Columbia and that matches up nicely to our focus with local businesses and professionals,” Crapps said.
Among the projects that caught the bank’s eye: The Hub, an 850-bed housing complex set to open in August in the Palmetto Center on Main Street two blocks away and the new Agape Senior complex located one block further away.
“The new restaurants and night life and street life that we see on Main Street is exciting,” Crapps said. “When we were thinking about a place for our strategy to be most successful, we wanted to be in the center of all that.”
The new downtown residents and the service providers they will attract should combine with First Community’s existing base of customers in the downtown area to make for good commerce, said Drew Painter, senior vice president and regional market president, who will manage the Lady Street branch.
“We expect to be a part of this really dynamic transition that’s occurring in the city’s core,” he said.
The bank has three primary business lines including commercial banking, residential mortgage banking and financial planning and investment advisory services. It has grown to $800 million in total assets and 14 banking offices in the Midlands, including the two original offices in Lexington and Forest Acres that opened in 1995, starting out with zero assets. By 2007, assets had grown to $565 million with 11 Midlands offices and a couple of bank acquisitions.
“We saw the world changing in 2007,” Crapps said, meaning no new acquisitions from 2007 to 2012, no new branches, and little asset growth. “We adjusted out strategy accordingly. In 2012, we saw the world beginning to change again and that’s when we began to look at some opportunities, and downtown was an opportunity.”
The bank, with 170 employees, now has offices in the Midlands in Camden and Newberry and plans to break ground this fall on a new office in the Town of Blythewood. First Community Bank acquired Savannah River Banking Company earlier this year in Aiken and Augusta and has offices in those two locations, too.
“We’re not going to be the best bank for an international company that moves into Columbia – that’s not who we are,” Crapps said. “We’re very focused on doing great work with local businesses and professionals.
“Because we’re designed that way and built that way, it drives the decisions we make – and this office location is one of those decisions that reflect that strategy,” Crapps said.