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Central Bank CEO Larry Albert and Chairman Kurt Weise, seated from left, visit the bank's new building in Hudson last week. Standing are, from left, Market President Scott Faust, commercial lender Al Omernik, Branch Manager Jean Smith and commercial lender Joel Larsen. Photo by Randy Hanson

Central Bank moves into new building at Carmichael and Vine

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Hudson Star Observer
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River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

Central Bank has increased its visibility in Hudson with the construction of a full-service office at the corner of Carmichael Road and Vine Street.

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"It really is nice. It presents very well to the road. You can't miss it going by," Bank Chairman Kurt Weise said during his first visit to the branch office last week.

The 5,300-square-foot building has a limestone and glass exterior with a striking raised roof over the spacious main lobby.

The lobby's glass front and large clerestory windows provide natural lighting and panoramic views to the west and south.

Elliot Architects of Hudson designed the building. Architect Todd Zwiefelhofer said the goal was to make it open and inviting to the public.

The natural materials and warm, earth-tone colors, along with clean, simple lines, are intended to make people feel comfortable.

The bank also was designed to encourage accessibility. With an open floor plan and interior glass offices, the bankers aren't hidden away in the back.

Zwiefelhofer said he wanted it to be a great environment for the bank staff to work in, too.

There are three drive-up teller lanes and a drive-up ATM at the rear of the building. It has nine private offices, a conference room, safe-deposit boxes and a half-basement.

Braden Construction of Houlton was the general contractor.

"We're a full-service institution," said Scott Faust, Central Bank's market president.

The new building symbolizes the success that Central Bank has experienced since coming to Hudson in August 2009.

The Stillwater-based bank acquired an office here when it purchased the distressed Mainstreet Bank headquartered in Forest Lake, Minn.

Mainstreet had a branch office in the Prairie View Center at Carmichael and Vine, which Central Bank occupied until the move into the new building on Jan. 7.

"It seemed pretty natural for us to move across the parking lot and get into a more conventional bank building," said Bank CEO Larry Albert.

In 2011, Central Bank acquired the former RiverBank branch in North Hudson and five other offices when that Osceola-based bank failed.

From its start in 1988, Central Bank has taken advantage of the missteps of other financial institutions.

It began when owner John Morrison purchased the distressed Oak Park State Bank in Oak Parks Heights, Minn. The bank now has 21 locations, including 14 in Minnesota, five in Wisconsin and two in Florida.

Albert said Central Bank has made seven acquisitions in the past four years and has grown to more than $1 billion in assets.

But it hasn't outgrown its community-bank status, he said.

The overall strategy is to remain an independent community bank providing a higher level of personalized service than is generally available from larger banks, according to the bank's website, www.centralbnk.com.

An indication of that, Albert said, is that customers can call their local branch and have someone pick up the phone on the other end.

And local branch officers are empowered to make decisions themselves.

"We're not running around trying to get an OK," Faust said.

At the same time, the bank has the advantage of people resources, multiple offices and other lines of business that smaller banks can't offer.

Central Bank also prides itself on its long-term employees with close ties to their communities.

The commercial lenders at Central's Hudson location -- Al Omernik and Joel Larsen -- each have more than 25 years of banking experience in the community. Branch Manager Jean Smith is a longtime Hudson banker, too.

Other members of the staff include appraisal officer Tony Lesicka, credit officer Jenna Myer, loan assistant Beth Weiskopf, personal banker Michele Thompson, tellers Bobbi Line, Terina Bierbrauer and Ellis Lau, and part-time teller Samantha Beyer.

Faust said business activity is beginning to pick up after the prolonged recession.

"We're seeing companies that have had better years the last couple of years, and are at a point where they need to do something -- whether its upgrading their facility or equipment, or adding onto their facility," he said.

"We hope that because of our stability and reputation, people will want to bank here," Faust added. "I think we're seeing some of that. We're having some real good activity on the commercial side here in Hudson and the east side of the metro."

Central Bank recently started a department specializing in Small Business Administration financing that Albert expects to increase the bank's commercial lending, already its leading business on the credit side.

With the low interest rates, the bank has been busy refinancing mortgages, Albert said. But home purchases also are increasing in number.

He said the inventory of homes on the market in the more affordable $200,000 to $400,000 range, especially, has been reduced.

"It is still a long way from where it was before, but it was way beyond itself before," Albert noted of the mortgage business.

Bank Chairman Weise said the new Hudson office symbolizes the commitment Central Bank has made to the community.

"We're happy to be here because Hudson has a great future," he said. "It's a vibrant community."

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Randy Hanson
Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.
(715) 426-1066
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