Broward bank takes naming rights on West Palm Beach office building — but will sign read Stonegate or Centennial?

500 Clearlake. Photo courtesy Colliers International.

The office building at 500 S. Australian Ave. is about to be adorned with a sign visible from Interstate 95. One small matter is still to be decided: Will the letters be Stonegate Bank green or Centennial Bank blue?

Stonegate Bank of Pompano Beach signed a 5,588-square-foot lease at 500 S. Australian that includes a ground-floor branch and top-floor office space.

Meanwhile, Stonegate in March announced a $750 million merger with Centennial Bank parent Home BancShares of Conway, Arkansas. The merger is expected to close later this year.

If the deal goes through as planned, Stonegate will change names to Centennial. As for the lease on Australian, it’s part of Stonegate’s expansion in Palm Beach County, said Chief Executive David Seleski.

“We think that’s a great location,” Seleski said.

While Wells Fargo’s name is on the building next door, 500 S. Australian has never sold signage, said Tom Burst, a Colliers International broker who represented the landlord in the lease.

“That’s a sign you can see from I-95, so it becomes a major presence in the market,” Burst said.


Seacoast Bank continues shopping spree, snapping up Tampa bank

Seacoast Bank’s ad at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter. (Jeff Ostrowski/The Palm Beach Post)

Less than a year ago, an investor in venerable Seacoast Banking Corp. of Florida was pushing for a sale of the Stuart-based company. Instead, Seacoast Banking Corp. has launched a buying spree of its own.

In the latest deal, Seacoast (Nasdaq: SBCF) said Thursday it will pay $32.1 million for NorthStar Banking Corp. of Tampa. NorthStar has deposits of $168 million and loans totaling $137 million.

Seacoast last month completed its acquisition of GulfShore Bank in Tampa. And this month, Seacoast said it would buy Palm Beach Community Bank of West Palm Beach.

Seacoast has $4.8 billion in assets, and the two latest deals would push it past $5 billion. The family-run bank is part of a rare breed: It has operated with the same FDIC certificate number since the Great Depression.

Seacoast Banking to buy Palm Beach Community Bank

Palm Beach Community Bank founder Cal Cearley. Photo by Bruce Bennett/The Palm Beach Post

Stuart-based Seacoast Banking Corp. of Florida will pay $71 million for Palm Beach Community Bank of West Palm Beach, the companies said late Thursday.


Takeover talk swirls around Seacoast Bank and its “anemic” results

Palm Beach Community Bank head takes hands-on approach

Launched in 2008, Palm Beach Community Bank has deposits of $281 million and loans of $290 million. The deal would boost Seacoast’s assets to $5 billion.

“Our customers will benefit from our combination with Seacoast, a successful community bank with strong local roots,” Palm Beach Community Bank Chief Executive Cal Cearley said in a statement. “Seacoast’s well-established brand, commitment to the communities it serves, and wide range of mobile and digitally enabled products makes them an ideal partner.”

Cearley is a veteran banker who has proven adept at starting and selling banks. In 1999, he launched Palm Beach County Bank, then sold it to Commerce Bank in 2005.

Seacoast, for its part, has been expanding throughout the state. In a foray into Palm Beach County, it bought Grand Bank & Trust of West Palm Beach.


Bank disconnect: Floridians’ favorite for customer service is far from the biggest

Bank accounts are said to be “sticky.” Closing a checking account and opening another is a hassle, so it’s task consumers avoid.

The stickiness theory offers the best explanation for the disconnect between how Floridians rate their banks for customer service and where they put their money.

According to a J.D. Power ranking released Thursday, Fifth Third Bank of Cincinnati is the top bank in Florida. Its customer service grade of 849 was tops among 10 large banks doing business in the state. Yet Fifth Third’s market share is just 1.9 percent, according to Federal Deposit Insurance data as of mid-2016.

Second on the J.D. Power list is TD Bank of Toronto, with a score of 844. Its Florida market share is 2.2 percent.

What about Florida’s biggest bank? Bank of America leads the way with a 19.1 percent market share, yet it ranked last on the J.D. Power rankings, tied with SunTrust and its 8.9 percent market share.


Bank lending rises to all-time high

For Palm Beach County banks, big bucks but fewer branches

Hidden cameras in the women’s bathroom, DMX raps, billion-dollar enforcement actions and other high drama from Ocwen

Ocwen’s Atlanta mansion: Sweet deal for Bill Erbey

To the uninitiated, the phrase “subprime mortgage servicer” sounds deadly dull. To followers of West Palm Beach-based Ocwen Financial Corp., the sobriquet evokes high drama of the sort that unfolded Thursday, when Ocwen shares cratered amid an onslaught of federal and state lawsuits.

Ocwen (that’s “new co” backwards, if you didn’t know) has elicited consumer complaints in eye-popping numbers.

“Since April 2015, Ocwen has received more than 580,000 complaints and written notices of error from more than 300,000 different borrowers,” the federal Consumer Financial Protection Burea said in its suit.

But Thursday’s headlines were just the latest in the company’s two-decade history. Other lowlights:

Hidden camera shooting up women’s skirts. In 1999, police arrested an Ocwen employee and found on his video camera footage from a hidden camera placed under a desk in the company’s West Palm Beach mailroom. Two of the women who appeared in the video sued, saying they were harassed at work even after the cameraman was fired. In 2005 they won $1 million settlements after a jury trial in Palm Beach County Circuit Court. They said that in addition to the under-the-desk camera, they also saw a man’s hand moving ceiling tiles in a women’s bathroom. Their complaints to management went unheeded, the women said.

“Y’all gon make me lose my house.” In 2008, about 30 protesters crowded into the lobby of Ocwen’s offices, where they chanted to the tune of the DMX song: “Y’all gon make me lose my house, up in here, up in here.” The protest was sparked in part by Ocwen’s rep for losing homeowners’ payments and making them wait on hold for hours. Another spark: A Government Accountability Office report said Ocwen, as the property manager for thousands of foreclosed homes owned by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, neglected maintenance and charged taxpayers for repairs that weren’t made.

A sweet deal for the billionaire chairman. In a generous perk for its chairman, Ocwen in 2012 bought William Erbey’s Atlanta mansion for $2 million more than he paid at the peak of the housing market. Ocwen paid $6.48 million for Erbey’s house in so he could move to the tax haven of St. Croix. “It is really ironic that a company that is a subprime mortgage processor would give a sweet deal to its executive chairman that its own customers couldn’t get,” Vineeta Anand, chief research analyst at the AFL-CIO’s Office of Investment, said at the time. Ocwen put the mansion on the market for less than it paid. Ocwen finally unloaded the house in 2016 for $3.6 million — a 44 percent haircut.

The $2 billion fine that cost only $67 million. In late 2013, federal and state regulators hit Ocwen with a $2.1 billion settlement for cheating homeowners. But investors shrugged off the news. Ocwen told the Securities and Exchange Commission its actual cost to settle the regulatory action would be about $67 million.

Bristol condo in West Palm Beach lands $200 million construction loan

The Bristol condominium

Now that sales at The Bristol condo in West Palm Beach have topped $300 million, the project’s developer has closed on a $206 million construction loan.

Flagler Investors LLC took the hefty mortgage from BREDS III Loan Holdings Inc., according to public records.

The Bristol is the priciest condo in Palm Beach County history, and it’s proving that wealthy buyers are willing to pay astronomical prices for units on the poor side of the Intracoastal Waterway.

Units range from $1,500 to more than $2,500 per square foot. The typical unit The Bristol is 4,500 square feet and costs $10 million.

The property is just south of downtown at 1112 S. Flagler Drive.



Out of business? Clematis Street pub, nightclub apparently close

Southern Railway Taphouse at 314 Clematis St. on Feb. 18, 2017. Photo by Jeff Ostrowski/The Palm Beach Post
Southern Railway Taphouse at 314 Clematis St. on Feb. 18, 2017. Photo by Jeff Ostrowski/The Palm Beach Post

Two spots at 314 Clematis St. seem to have closed, underscoring the constant churn of tenants along downtown West Palm Beach’s commercial strip.

On Saturday, the many flat screens at Southern Railway Tap House appeared to have been removed, and the phone went unanswered over the weekend. A poster at the entrance advertised the previous week’s UFC fight. (I visited Feb. 11, and found an impressive array of microbrews on tap, a sparse crowd and a super-sticky men’s room floor that cried out for a vigorous mopping.)

The adjacent Off the Hookah also seems closed. The nightclub’s website still touts tickets to a New Year’s Eve party.

Contact numbers for the owner of Southern Railway Tap House and Off the Hookah connect to Passion Nightclub in Hollywood, and its operation seems to be in doubt, too. The club’s website reads, “The End of An Era 12/31/04-02/04/17.”

As for the Clematis Street locations, Downtown Development Authority head Raphael Clemente said they’re “in limbo.” He was uncertain whether they remain open.

Ocwen spinoff says federal agency considering an enforcement action

Ocwen's West Palm Beach office. Photo by Gary Coronado/The Palm Beach Post.
Ocwen’s West Palm Beach office. Photo by Gary Coronado/The Palm Beach Post.

In yet another regulatory entanglement for Ocwen and its spinoffs, Altisource Portfolio Solutions said Thursday that the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is investigating Altisource’s dealings with West Palm Beach-based Ocwen.

In its annual report, Luxembourg-based Altisource said it learned in November of the inquiry by the CFPB.

“The CFPB is considering a potential enforcement action against Altisource relating to an alleged violation of federal law that primarily concerns certain technology services provided to Ocwen,” Altisource said in its regulatory filing.

Altisource (Nasdaq: ASPS) said it responded to the federal agency in December with a letter outlining why “an enforcement action is not warranted.” The company doesn’t describe which technology services are in question.

Among other things, Altisource runs and manages properties. Ocwen (NYSE: OCN), which collects payments for subprime mortgages, has been hit with a variety of fines in recent years and Chairman Bill Erbey, a former Palm Beach resident, was pushed out.


For Palm Beach County banks, big bucks but fewer branches

SunTrust’s branch on Belvedere Road is scheduled to close in May 2017.

SunTrust this month notified customers that its branch at 422 Belvedere Road in West Palm Beach will close in May, a move that reflects the dwindling importance of brick-and-mortar banking in an increasingly cashless society.

Here’s the trend for Palm Beach County, according to an analysis of data from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.: For the year ended June 30, 2016, bank deposits reached a record $49 billion, eclipsing the record of $45 billion set the previous year. Yet the number of bank branches in the county fell to 475, the lowest level since 2004.

The trend of more deposits and fewer branches has held statewide, too. Florida had 5,286 branches with deposits totaling $541 billion last year. A decade earlier, 5,310 branches held just $363 billion in customers’ money.

Bank branches won’t disappear any time soon, analysts say, but the rise of PayPal, Apple Pay, direct deposits and smartphone banking have conspired to make visits to the teller window a quaint relic.

Consolidation has been another culprit: BankAtlantic was swallowed by BB&T, for instance, and Grand Bank and Trust became part of Seacoast National Bank. Former rivals often close overlapping branches.

What’s more, the launch of startup banks has ground to a halt since the Great Recession.