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HOUSTON-Both commercial and personal financing are growing in the Houston market. Financial institutions see the progress of the local economy as a sign that they can grow their services here as well.

Hibernia Bank recently moved to Houston proper and will open a new branch office in Houston’s Royal Oaks area. Les Tollett is branch manager for the Royal Oaks location at 11697 Westheimer Rd. in the Westchase district.

The New Orleans-headquartered Hibernia has more than $21 billion in assets and more than 300 locations in 33 Texas counties and 34 Louisiana parishes. There are already two branches in suburban Houston.

On the commercial side, KeyBank has opened in Houston after servicing the area from its Dallas office. The new location also will serve Austin and San Antonio. It’s all part of the institution’s strategy to “follow the sun” in terms of opening more branches in the Southeast and Southwest US.

Rick Harsch is a senior vice president and Houston district manager for KeyBank Real Estate Capital. He tells GlobeSt.com that preparations for the opening began in February when they first started assembling a staff that will eventually total 20 by the end of 2005. They are starting with a staff of five.

Harsch has over 25 years of experience in the Houston market at various institutions locally. “It’s a very competitive market,” he explains.

Harsch says it was time to expand to Houston after the success of the Dallas office that generated more than $1 billion in loan commitments in Texas, including $652 in commercial real estate and $514.2 million in corporate and institutional banking commitments. “The breath and depth of the services offered make a difference to the real estate community,” he says. “There are very few lenders nationally that have this array of services.” The Cleveland-based KeyBank is the third largest bank-based lender in the US and the fifth largest commercial real estate lender in the country with $11.8 billion in financings.

The Houston office will provide capital to developers, brokers, owners and investors of non-owner occupied real estate in three client segments: income property, institutional and homebuilders. The plan follows the bank’s relationship-based business model. “Some banks will open an office with just one person and report back to the national office. That’s not our philosophy,” Harsch says. “We have a team of people who both live and work within the community.”

Right now, the office is in temporary space at Greenway Plaza. Harsch is negotiating for about 7,000 sf of permanent space that will probably be in the Greenway Galleria area.

Harsch has seen Houston’s up and downs throughout the years, especially during the 1980s. He predicts the city’s growth and transition from an oil and gas town to a densely populated, diversified urban environment makes the market a magnet for developers.

“We’re being very well received. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to see everyone. They know that we’re committed to the commercial real estate market,” Harsch explains.

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