U.S. Bank confirmed Tuesday it has signed leases on 15 banking locations currently occupied by Zions Bank, located in Smith's Food & Drug stores from Brigham City to Cedar City.

The expansion will position U.S. Bank firmly in third place in Utah, behind Zions and Wells Fargo Bank, said Damon Miller, president of U.S. Bank in Utah. Once the transition is complete, U.S. Bank will have 42 branches in Utah, along with 105 automated teller machines. Up to 150 new jobs may be created at the new locations, Miller said.

"These will be full-service branches and will offer all of the services our customers have come to expect at our branches," Miller said.

The 15 banking locations were among those included in a branch network consolidation plan announced by Zions Bank in late 2003.

"This is not a transaction between U.S. Bank and Zions," said Zions Bank spokesman Rob Brough. "This is simply a situation where we terminated our lease with Smith's, and U.S. Bank is picking up the lease on those locations. This is not an acquisition of Zions branches by U.S. Bank. All of the customers that bank at these locations, all of the deposits, will stay with Zions."

The U.S. Bank branches are expected to open this spring.

"Some will open in 45 days," Miller said. "It's an accelerated time line. This is something we've been looking for years for — this kind of opportunity. This is it."

Utah is at the hub of one of U.S. Bank's high-growth areas, Miller said, thanks to its household income growth, solid infrastructure, educated work force and quality of life.

For Zions Bank customers affected by the branch closure, Brough said another Zions branch is nearby.

"In every case, there's a branch within a mile or two (of the closed locations)," Brough said. "In many cases there's a branch within a block or two, and some cases, there's a branch just a few steps away in the parking lot."

Where consolidations have occurred, Brough said Zions will add Saturday hours at nearby branches to make sure customers who have typically used the Smith's branches will have access to similar services.

The five Zions locations that currently offer only computer and ATM services closed Feb. 2, Brough said. The remaining 10 locations will close March 24.

Miller said U.S. Bank is prohibited by its lease terms from soliciting Zions Bank employees to staff the new bank branches. However, he said, U.S. Bank will accept applications from them if they choose to apply.

"We've been interviewing for positions and have a lot of interested applicants," Miller said. "This is all very exciting for us."

E-mail: jnii@desnews.com