Despite muted demand for office space by banks and financial services companies, many Los Angeles lenders and financiers are gravitating toward the downtown office market.


Last month, Comerica Bank leased 27,000 square feet of space at the 52-story office tower at Figueroa Street and Wilshire Boulevard.


Comerica has more than doubled its brick-and-mortar footprint in Los Angeles over the last four years. The new lease allows Comerica to consolidate and expand operations for five key departments in a single location.


"It's a one-stop shop for our customers in downtown Los Angeles," said Betty Rengifo Tucker, executive vice president for retail banking operations at Comerica Bank.


Market watchers see Comerica's lease as an example of a growing trend toward bank relocations in the central business district.


"I am currently aware of a number of large financial institutions located on the west side and in the South Bay market that are seriously considering relocating downtown," said John Eichler, executive director with Cushman & Wakefield.


"In the past few years there has been a strong migration of young, upwardly mobile workers into the downtown area," Eichler said. "They like to live near their work, and that is causing a lot of banks and financial services companies to take a better look at the downtown office market."


Manhattan's Growth Capital


In an effort to raise growth capital, Manhattan Bancorp will sell up to $15 million in shares of common stock to an Irvine-based investment fund.


Carpenter Fund Manager LLC has agreed to purchase the shares in two separate offerings, which are expected to close in the second and third quarters.


"The additional capital will enable us to accelerate our core business plan," said Jeffrey Watson, chief executive of Manhattan Bancorp, the holding company of Los Angeles lender Bank of Manhattan.


The bank will use the funds to increase its legal lending limit, intensify its expansion plans, position the company for potential acquisition opportunities and diversify its product line, Watson said in a statement.


As part of the agreement, Manhattan also will increase the size of its board and nominate a director on behalf of Carpenter as long as the fund continues to own at least 10 percent of the outstanding shares.


A de novo full-service bank that opened in August 2007, Bank of Manhattan's primary focus is on family-owned and closely-held middle market businesses, real estate investors and professional service firms. For the first quarter of this year, the bank reported total assets of $48.5 million and a net loss of $1.1 million.


Equity investment


Private equity firm Terrapin Partners LLC and other private investors participated in a $3.45 million round of funding for startup Equipois Inc.


The Santa Monica-based company manufactures special ergonomic "arms" that enable workers to lift heavy objects effortlessly. It was Equipois' second capital infusion after raising $1.5 million in the fall of 2007 from a group of high net worth individuals.


"Despite the fact that the company is young, it has a product that is quite advanced and already has orders with some Fortune 500 companies," said Jason Weiss, a principal of Terrapin Partners LLC in Pacific Palisades, which acquired a minority interest in Equipois.


The company was launched in 2006 by entrepreneur Eric Golden. Equipois has 20 employees and operates a manufacturing and design facility in Hollywood.


"When workers can work without fatigue, they can work faster, longer and with more precision, while being safe, which can benefit any manufacturer," Golden said.

Staff reporter Mitch Deacon can be reached at mdeacon@labusinessjournal.com or at (323) 549-5225, ex 225.

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