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Bank still alive as library site

This week the banking giant Wells Fargo & Company completed its acquisition of Pacific Northwest Bancorp, a company that started in 1950s Oak Harbor.

Questions still remain about how many employees will lose their jobs locally and what Wells Fargo will do with the large Bayshore building in downtown Oak Harbor.

Patrick Fahey, former chairman and CEO of Pacific Northwest Bancorp and now chairman of Regional Banking for Wells Fargo in Washington, said customers probably won’t see any changes in the bank until next April, when systems are converted and the Pacific Northwest name will be switched to Wells Fargo.

“It’s going to look the same between now and then,” he said.

Fahey said he and Wells Fargo met with Oak Harbor officials to discuss what effect the merger would have on the city. One of the highlights of the discussion was the future of the Bayshore building, which is the former JC Penney building. As Fahey points out, Wells Fargo already has a building across a parking lot from the Bayshore building and it’s unlikely the merged company will need both.

Members of the Oak Harbor library siting committee said they contacted Wells Fargo about possibly purchasing the building as the site of the new library, but bank officials weren’t interested at the time.

Yet both Fahey and Mayor Patty Cohen said that option is still on the table. They said Wells Fargo officials are very interested in working with the city on the future of the building. According to Fahey, the company hasn’t even decided which building to keep.

“All options remain open,” he said. “It remains to be seen if that’s an option that makes sense.”

The main obstacle to turning the building into a library, Fahey said, is the uncertainty of the funding process. Sno-Isle Library would have to hold an election to ask North Whidbey voters to form a library capital facilities district and then to approve an increase in property taxes to pay for the new library.

“I’m not sure we could sit and wait a couple of years for uncertain bonding,” he said.

Fahey said there’s also a possibility that another company would purchase it, which would keep the property on the tax rolls.

When it comes to the people working in the building, Fahey said there will be some job loss, “but Wells Fargo is making every effort to minimize that.” That means Wells Fargo is trying to find other jobs within the company for those whose positions are cut.

Fahey said the company officials haven’t decided exactly how many positions will be eliminated, but all customer service-related jobs will be retained. When the merger was first announced, about 170 people worked for the bank in Oak Harbor.

As for Pacific Northwest costumers, Fahey predicts that folks will be pleased to be pulled into the Wells Fargo fold. He said customers will have more access to products and services, such as 6,000 ATMs without surcharges nationwide, and better online banking.

“This gives us a much bigger presence in Washington, and we hope to meet even more of our new customers’ financial services needs,” said James Prunty, regional president for Wells Fargo Community Banking in the Northwest. “Our goal is to deliver such outstanding service, convenience and advice that our customers will come to us for all of their financial needs.”

Wells Fargo is worth $385 billion, which is more than 100 times larger than Pacific Northwest Bank. By purchasing the Seattle-based commercial bank, Wells Fargo increased its presence by 760 employees, 57 banking locations and $2.9 billion in assets — approximately $2.6 billion in Washington and $321 million in Oregon.

The company that would become Pacific Northwest was founded in 1957 as Island Savings in Oak Harbor, but the name was changed to InterWest Bank over 20 years ago. InterWest incorporated in 1994 and began expanding by leaps and bounds, aggressively purchasing other banks in the region.

In 1998, the company purchased Pacific Northwest Bank and brought the bank’s founder, Patrick Fahey, into the company fold. Fahey was appointed president, CEO and chairman of InterWest’s board of directors in 2000. Under his leadership, the company’s charter was changed to a commercial bank and then adopted a new name, Pacific Northwest Bank.

You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

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