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Climate First Bank settles on its first home in St. Petersburg

Margie Manning

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Climate First Bank will lease space at 5301 Central Ave.

Climate First Bank, a planned start-up financial institution based in St. Petersburg, has chosen a location for its first office.

The bank is leasing space at 5301 Central Ave., in a 2,800-square-foot office owned by Burkart Holdings Inc.

It’s a milestone and just a beginning for Climate First, said Ken LaRoe, a veteran banker who is founder and CEO. He eventually anticipates the bank owning its own standalone building.

Ken LaRoe

“I looked at every property in St. Petersburg and it was either grossly too expensive or totally inadequate,” LaRoe said. “I was looking for a favorable lease but also a building that would be a nice building and would help convey what the bank is all about.”

A year from now, he expects to find a more favorable office market.

“My thought is there’s going to be Covid pricing. Prices are going to go down, especially as a result of what may be the retail apocalypse or the office apocalypse. I firmly believe prices will be lower in a year,” LaRoe said.

LaRoe wants to build an environmentally sustainable structure or retrofit an existing building, in keeping with Climate First Bank’s focus as a values-based community bank that emphasizes a commitment to sustainability. At his previous institution, First Green Bank, he did both, following LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards, a widely used green building rating system.

“We built a LEED platinum building and we retrofitted a building to LEED gold. We did the first LEED platinum interior in the world. We know how to do it and we know it’s easier to build,” LaRoe said.

LaRoe announced plans for Climate First Bank in October. It will be a full-service bank with traditional banking products, enhanced by technology and with a special emphasis on non-governmental organizations and businesses committed to sustainability.

Since then, LaRoe has reached out by direct mail and email to some 27,000 local residents and the feedback has been very positive, with people telling him they want to both bank with Climate First and invest in the bank.

The bank is expected to open in May 2021, pending regulatory approvals. Between now and then, LaRoe is working on raising initial capital. He’s raised nearly $14 million so far and needs to get to $17 million.

He’s also onboarding bank staff. Efforts are underway to build out the bank’s technology infrastructure.

“We’re also are going to open another office, a backroom office that’s probably going to be in Orlando,” LaRoe said. “The Covid teachings have taught us a lot. I think we’ll be completely different than any other bank out there, in that our people will be scattered all over the state and either work from home or very small office space where they are.”

The bank currently has staff in Stuart, Orlando and Lake County as well as the Tampa-St. Petersburg area.

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