Attorney reaches agreement to buy 1st Commerce Bank of North Las Vegas

Plaintiffs attorney Jason Awad on Friday announced a definitive agreement to acquire 1st Commerce Bank of North Las Vegas from Capitol Bancorp for undisclosed terms.

Awad agreed to buy 100 percent control of the bank and expects to close the deal by early 2011, pending regulatory approval.

He was chairman of $489 million-asset Business Bank of Nevada, which was recapitalized and sold to City National Corp. of Los Angeles for 3.5 times the book value shown on accounting books in February 2007.

Awad said that he is confident he can succeed with 1st Commerce by offering personalized service to individuals and small businesses.

Since the sale of Business Bank, however, Southern Nevada has fallen into its deepest recession in decades and several local banks have failed.

Awad intends to boost 1st Commerce’s capital but declined to discuss the details of his plans before receiving regulatory approval to buy the state-chartered bank.

“I think it’s the right timing,” Awad said. “I think we have reached bottom. We (in Southern Nevada) are resilient. We are going to come back strong.”

Awad said he intends to focus on service and establish the kind of culture that made Business Bank successful. The bank will be among the dwindling number of locally owned community banks, he said.

Several locally based banks have failed during the last three years. As a result of the closings, however, Awad said he sees an opportunity to provide personalized service not found at giant regional and national banks.

1st Commerce Bank has been struggling in recent quarters like many of its peers that have lost money as borrowers defaulted on loans, real estate values collapsed and businesses closed.

Western Liberty Bancorp, previously known as Global Consumer Acquisition Corp., earlier proposed to buy 1st Commerce. However, Western Liberty last year dropped plans to take over 1st Commerce and agreed to buy Service1st Bank instead. Service1st shareholders in September approved the buyout, which will mark the first bank acquisition in Southern Nevada in a few years, except for institutions that were seized and sold by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. as receiver.

Capitol Bancorp of Lansing, Mich., and Phoenix is 1st Commerce’s parent company. The holding company established numerous small banks around the country, but the company has been slowly selling the banks in recent years. The company consolidated three other Southern Nevada banks into one, Bank of Las Vegas, but 1st Commerce remained separate.

1st Commerce Bank reported $46 million in assets and $30 million in total loans as of June 30. It lost $1.2 million through the first six months of 2010.

Contact reporter John G. Edwards at or 702-383-0420.

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