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Bank Of Granite To Merge With CommunityOne Bank

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Two struggling community banks in North Carolina hope to find strength by merging. Bank of Granite and FNB United, which is the parent company of CommunityOne Bank, propose to join forces with the help of a $310 million dollar boost from private investors. The change signals the end of a 100-year legacy for Bank of Granite. Both Bank of Granite and CommunityOne have been in bad shape because of sagging real-estate values and crumbling home loan portfolios. Both have been ordered by regulators to improve their finances or be forced into a takeover. UNC Charlotte banking professor Tony Plath says a big move was inevitable. "Something's going to happen here. But the real question is, will that something be a private market solution or a government assisted solution?" says Plath. Bank of Granite and CommunityOne have made a pitch for a private solution. Two well-known private equity firms - The Carlyle Group and Oak Hill Capital Partners - will invest $155 million dollars in CommunityOne's parent FNB United. FNB United will then have to raise a matching $155 million from other investors, and if that happens it will acquire Bank of Granite through a stock transaction valued at about $13 million, based on Tuesday's closing share price. That doesn't sound like much, but Plath says it's better than the alternative. "The FNB United shareholders would be getting about 15 cents a share and the Bank of Granite shareholders will be getting about 52 cents a share - which is clearly better than bringing the government in, because in that case they'll get nothing," says Plath. A merger would also preserve the North Carolina roots of two of the state's largest and most well-respected community banks. "Their names and reputations have been rock solid," says North Carolina Bankers Association president Thad Woodard. "They have been outstanding community financial institutions that have suffered along with the rest of the country and all of us from this recession. It's just absolutely a grand solution to a challenging situation." Barry Hayes calls it "a really sad occasion." Hayes is mayor of Granite Falls where Bank of Granite is headquartered and has been the pride of the community since 1906. If the merger goes through, the new bank will be called CommunityOne and its headquarters will be in Asheboro. "I grew up here in this town and Bank of Granite has been part of my life and part of the town's life," says Mayor Hayes. "They've been a great corporate citizen, a great asset to the community. It's just like losing a relative or a good friend." The banks have not announced whether there will be layoffs in Granite Falls, or whether any existing branches will be closed after the merger. Former First Union executive Brian Simpson will be the new CEO of CommunityOne Bank. An ex-Wachovia banker will be president, and a number of banking veterans from Charlotte will serve on the board.