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(Carl Cronan is editor of Real Estate Florida.)

WINTER PARK, FL-Emergent National Bank, a proposed commercial bank in this Orlando suburb, plans to focus its efforts on making loans to small businesses that want to buy or build their own facilities, its top executive says. The new bank, which is being capitalized at $37 million, received preliminary approval late last week by the federal Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

The in-organization bank has signed a lease for 16,000 sf at 501 New York Ave. in Winter Park, where it will combine the bank’s operations with those of Mercantile Commercial Capital LLC. The latter company specializes in US Small Business Administration 504 loans.

Geof Longstaff, chairman of Emergent National and co-founder of Mercantile Capital, tells GlobeSt.com that the bank’s leaders have previously been involved in commercial real estate, particularly the office and warehouse sectors. “We think about real estate, we like real estate and we understand real estate,” he says.

While many commercial developers and investors are having difficulty securing financing because of the ongoing credit crisis, Longstaff says he believes now is a good time to launch a new bank. Emergent National plans to open during the first half of 2009, starting with nearly 40 employees, he says.

“Everybody is going to take a harder look at these transactions,” Longstaff says. “We’re going to make sure the borrower has plenty of equity. A spec office building probably wouldn’t be approved right now.”

Emergent National’s goal is to open six branches in the Orlando metropolitan area over the next five years, according to Longstaff. He says the bank will likely consider surplus bank offices in affluent areas.

Banks are being especially careful about all types of lending given the growing number of bank failures that have occurred this year. Two of the 17 national banks to close in 2008 are based in Bradenton: First Priority Bank, which is now part of SunTrust Bank, and Freedom Bank, which is in the process of joining Fifth Third Bank.

Fewer new banks are being organized in Florida than in years past, according to the state Division of Financial Institutions. Only six “de novo” applications have been filed so far this year, half as many as in 2007, while at least 20 were submitted in 2005 and 2006.

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