DENVER-Banks in the metro area are planning major expansions of branch offices in 2001.

Leading the way is Wells Fargo & Co., which plans its first major expansion since its merger with Minneapolis-based Norwest Corp. in November 1998. The teaming has created a banking powerhouse in Colorado.

Wells Fargo plans to open nine banks in the metro area, now that it has completed merging systems and services with Norwest and has time to scout for locations.Development already has started for new sites in the Interlocken Business Park in Broomfield. It also plans new sites in Aurora, Thornton and Highlands Ranch. In the mountains, a new office is in the works for Breckenridge.

Competitor KeyBank plans to open a branch in Colorado Springs next year. And Vectra Bank is looking to open branches in hot growth areas. such as the redevelopment of the former Stapleton International Airport, along the US 36 corridor between Denver and Boulder and Interstate 25 between Lincoln Avenue and Castle Rock. Bank officials estimate each new branch will cost between $1 million and $2 million, depending upon size and location

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