News

Bank takeover nearly complete

Two buildings that once housed an independent banking company which began in 1950s Oak Harbor will be closed at the end of April.

The move will affect about 90 current Oak Harbor employees of Pacific Northwest Bancorp, which was acquired by banking giant Wells Fargo last October. The final consolidation of Wells Fargo and Pacific Northwest operations center in the city will take place April 23.

For Pacific Northwest customers, bank officials say the transition to Wells Fargo will be nearly seamless. They will be left with Wells Fargo “banking stores” on Pioneer Way and Midway Boulevard in Oak Harbor, as well as Coupeville, Freeland and Clinton.

“It will have very, very little impact on customers,” said Doug Belton, a Wells Fargo branch manager in Oak Harbor.

Yet it will be a big change for downtown Oak Harbor and another sign of a time of large banking corporations gobbling up smaller banks all over the map. The Oak Harbor bank was originally founded in 1957 as Island Savings. As the bank grew, its name was changed to InterWest about 20 years ago and then it became Pacific Northwest in 2000.

Gabe Boehmer, spokesman for Wells Fargo, said the company has been trying to find jobs for approximately 120 people at Pacific Northwest in Oak Harbor since the acquisition went through. Nine people who work in customer-service type positions for Pacific Northwest will be transferred down the street to a Wells Fargo branch.

“Our top priority is to find as many positions as possible within the company for the people who will be affected,” he said.

Staying with the company will likely mean leaving Whidbey Island, though some employees have found positions at a Wells Fargo commercial real estate group out of Mount Vernon.

That still leaves the 90 folks without clear job prospects. Boehmer said the company has taken “a comprehensive approach to helping the team members,” including job fairs, career resources and severance benefits.

On the brighter side, the two buildings left empty in downtown Oak Harbor could be a benefit to the city. City Administrator Thom Myers said city officials previously toured the two buildings with the idea that they could end up in public ownership.

“The buildings present a lot of opportunity for the city,” he said, adding that the larger building could become a community center, a multi-cultural center or a performing arts center.

“They are just marvelous buildings,” he said.

Boehmer said company officials are still discussing what to do with the buildings, but he said they are open to ideas. The larger of the two structures, the so-called Bayshore building, is located at 275 SE Pioneer Way and has amazing water views. The three-story building is 33,779 square feet, according to Boehmer.

The other building, at 380 SE Pioneer Way, is two levels with 8,779 square feet. That’s a combined total of 42,558 square feet of empty building space.

Of course, Myers said the largest obstacle toward the city ownership of one or both of the buildings is the cost of purchase and remodeling. “But it’s still worth looking at,” he said.

Since the acquisition of Pacific Northwest last fall, Wells Fargo has increased its total employment in the state by 20 percent, from about 3,000 to 3,600 employees. Wells Fargo & Company, which has banking stores in 23 states, is a diversified financial services company with $388 billion in assets, providing banking, insurance, mortgage and consumer finance.

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

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