LEWISTON – Steve Closson is an imaginative man.

So when the president of Androscoggin Bank pictures the new sign over the Colisee touting his bank’s name, he smiles.

“It will be cool,” he said. “Really cool.”

Not simply because the naming rights for the city-owned arena means terrific exposure for the 136-year-old bank. But also because the bank’s financial commitment to the project reflects its broader commitment to the community.

“We have always had a desire to see the community grow and prosper,” said Closson. “We put our money where our mouth is.”

Details of the naming contract are still being negotiated with Front Row Marketing, a division of Global Spectrum, which manages the Colisee. The city was looking for a sponsor to pony up $75,000 for 10 years for the naming rights. In return, the sponsoring agent gets about $400,000 in exposure, according to a Front Row Marketing analysis.

The cash is important to the arena’s operating budget, which runs between $2 million and $2½ million per year. City manager Jim Bennett, who sits on the board that oversees the Colisee, said he expects the arena will break even this year, thanks in part to the naming rights money. And, as part of the naming-rights arrangement, Androscoggin Bank will handle the Colisee’s banking needs and waive its customary fees, saving the facility between $10,000 and $15,000 per year.

“The relationship helps financially, but there’s more,” said Bennett. He said the bank’s investment elevates the reputation of the facility.

“It gives (the Colisee) a certain presence,” he said.

Closson knows what he means. He navigated the potholes in the old Central Maine Civic Center’s dirt parking lot, as did thousands of others who came to see hockey games, rock bands and boxing matches over the years. Lacking investment, the civic center was known as a bit of a dump until the city took it over in 2004 and invested in a new facade, paved the lot, hired a professional management company and made other improvements.

“We thought we could add value and help develop that resource,” said Closson of the decision on naming rights. “That’s our backyard. Who better?”

The sponsorship is the latest in a series of events giving the hometown bank a higher profile. Last year, it announced it would occupy the second floor of Mill No. 6 at Bates Mill, an $800,000 investment that consolidates much of Androscoggin Bank’s support services. In February, it purchased Head & Associates, a Portland portfolio management firm to strengthen its trust and investment services.

The bank is also planning new branches, expanding its network of 12 and adding to its employee base of 160.

The growth is helping the bank keep pace with competitors that have made significant investments in the city, such as TD Banknorth’s continued expansion of back-office operations, Key Bank’s sponsorship of the Pontiac building business center and Northeast Bank’s anchoring the Southern Gateway project.

“It’s a very competitive environment for financial institutions,” said Closson, noting that the area supports a number of credit unions, as well as banks. “It was important to us that (the naming rights) go to a local institution, rather than somebody from away.”

Androscoggin Bank is nothing if not local. It was founded in 1870 when Ulysses S. Grant was president, and Alonzo Garcelon was making his bid for Lewiston mayor. Today, its assets tally $500 million, making it No. 14 among Maine-based banks (Bangor Savings Bank leads at $1.8 billion, followed by local banks Norway Savings Bank, No. 5, at $682 million and Northeast Bank, No. 9, at $572 million.) The bank is a regular among the top 10 lenders for the Small Business Administration and prides itself on remaining responsive to clients’ needs.

Closson said the bank intends to hit the $1 billion mark at some point, but not for the bragging rights.

“We see our growth as a strong, independent, community bank,” he said. “We want to continue to be proactive and help lead what’s going on in the community.”

A greater asset base will allow the bank to do more, including financing bigger projects that require loans upward of $5 million.

“The point is to increase your capacity to serve the community,” Closson said.

That service isn’t limited to customers, however. Closson is very proud of the bank’s MainStreet Foundation, which it formed in 1997 and through which $500,000 has been donated to community organizations. Last year, the foundation’s board decided to narrow the focus and is targeting programs that benefit at-risk youth. The bank also donates about $120,000 annually through sponsorships and contributions.

To achieve its intended growth, the bank will need to increase its deposits, said Closson – no easy task in a state with so many banking options.

“Maine has a finite population and a very competitive financial services industry,” he said. “We are all going after the same pie.”

And there are mounting regulatory mandates. One trade association studied the cost of compliance and estimated the average community bank spends $400,000 a year meeting customer protection and privacy laws.

Customer service is where Closson hopes his bank sets itself apart from others and will fuel its growth.

“How we deliver services, our people and their attitudes, that willingness to go that extra mile,” he said. “It’s a reflection of how you value your own employees. If they feel real good about themselves and their jobs, it shows through. We offer the most professional, most responsible service possible.”

And may get some points for loyalty.

“Clearly we’ve been part of the community for a long, long time,” said Closson. “We’ve experienced the good, the bad and the ugly, but have always remained true to the community.”

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