CrossFirst to begin work on Wichita bank office

About two years ago, Ron Baldwin and CrossFirst officials began an effort to establish a Wichita foothold.

On Monday, the $640 million, Leawood-based bank marked the culmination of that effort by breaking ground on a 15,000-square-foot, two-story building near the southwest corner of 13th and Webb in northeast Wichita. A groundbreaking ceremony attended by nearly 180 people was held at Country Club Park, an office park adjacent to the new bank and where CrossFirst has been temporarily operating since January 2012.

Baldwin, co-founder and chairman of the bank and a former Wichita banking executive, said in an interview before the groundbreaking that it was an almost too-slow process for him.

“I had to have a fair amount of patience, which I normally don’t have,” he said.

Baldwin, 60, had always intended on making Wichita one of the bank’s key markets. But, he said, he wanted the right location for the bank. He said CrossFirst officials searched for land in west Wichita and downtown before finding the northeast site, the land of which is owned by Country Club Park developers Bob Geist, Tom Devlin and Craig Barton, who are also investors in the bank.

“It matches who we are and how we want to serve people,” Baldwin said of the site. “The demographics were the best out east for our (Wichita) headquarters.”

Baldwin has spent 30 of his 41 years in banking in Wichita, both as an executive vice president of the former Bank IV (now Bank of America) and later as president and chief operating officer of Intrust Bank.

It was in Wichita that Baldwin met his wife, Cindy, a Wichita native, and earned his degree from Wichita State University. When he retired from Intrust in 2005, he intended to focus on helping his son and daughter-in-law, Matt and Emily, run a new business they founded, Standard Style Boutique.

And he did. Never mind that it was only a matter of weeks after he moved to the Kansas City area that a group looking to form a start-up bank called Baldwin to consult on their plans. That consulting job would eventually lead to the formation of another group that would create CrossFirst.

By the time Baldwin’s noncompete agreement with Intrust was up, he had done all he could do with his kids’ business, and he was ready to do something he’d never done: help create a bank from scratch.

“It’s very hard work,” Baldwin said. “(But) it’s just fun to be able to create something from nothing. It is so rewarding.”

Next month, Baldwin said the bank expects to close on its previously announced acquisition of Tulsa National Bank, which will put CrossFirst in its fourth market – it also operates in Oklahoma City – and push the bank’s assets to $800 million.

From the start, Wichita would figure into the bank’s long-term plans. Baldwin said that, in three decades in Wichita, he established a lot of personal and business relationships that helped start the process for CrossFirst to build a following locally.

“Over half of our first (capital raise) came from Wichita investors,” he said, adding that 100 of the privately held bank’s 600 investors are from Wichita. “It’s a hometown story.”

When Baldwin first approached those investors, part of his pitch was that the bank would set up a Wichita office.

“So finally, we’re delivering on that promise,” he said.

Steve Peterson, CrossFirst’s Wichita president who oversees a staff of seven, said he expects the new office to open in the first quarter of 2014.

Crossland Construction is the general contractor. GLMV is the architect.