City moves to keep First Financial

March 10, 2011 Written by Alexander Coolidge 11:15 AM, Mar. 10, 2011

DOWNTOWN - The City of Cincinnati has promised First Financial Bancorp $3.6 million worth of incentives to stay downtown and create another 55 jobs by 2014.The holding company is currently headquartered at Atrium One on Fourth Street with about 95 workers. It moved there in January 2010 from Norwood with plans to find a larger location in the future.The bank currently occupies about 45,000 square feet on the 19th and 20th floors of Atrium One. The bank is in final negotiations to secure a long-term lease at a location it won't disclose.
The bank also plans to open new branches this year, including downtown, said chief executive Claude Davis. The deal with the city is expected to create 150 new jobs, but is retroactive to when the bank moved here.

"Downtown is an ideal location as we continue to grow," Davis said. "Cincinnati is the center of the region and this is an exciting opportunity for business development."
The incentive spans 12 years, and reduces payments on the earnings tax by 75 percent, for a total of $2.8 million. The savings should not exceed $235,462 a year. The bank will also recieve a $774,450 grant for making capital improvements.

The bank, in turn expects, to invest at least $4 million into its new facilities.

First Financial has nearly doubled in size as it acquired ailing competitors amid the financial crisis. It took over West Chester-based Peoples Community Bank after regulators shut it down in July 2009, and it took over Davis' old employer, Columbus, Indiana-based Irwin Financial two months later. The Peoples deal added about a dozen local branches, while the Irwin deal significantly increased the company's Indiana footprint.
The bank has 108 branches in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana as well as about $6.3 billion in assets.

Mayor Mark Mallory welcomed the news that comes after the city received discouraging new Census numbers that show the population is shrinking, and after Gov. John Kascich has signaled he might block funding for a signature streetcar development set to begin construction this spring.

Malllory said no one should focus on "a single headline to characterize this city" alluding to those challenges.

"You have made a great decision," Mallory told Davis at a press conference this morning. "We're going to continue to be aggressive in attracting business to downtown Cincinnati."

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