Muncie-based First Merchants Corp. (Nasdaq: FRME) has announced a major presence in a high-profile location in downtown Fort Wayne. The parent of First Merchants Bank will occupy the entire second floor of the $44 million Skyline Tower. In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Chief Executive Officer Mike Rechin said the newest First Merchants regional headquarters places it in the "nerve center" of the state's second-largest city.

Thursday's announcement, Rechin says, gets the bank "to the goal line" on a vision that has been in motion for a while. "Fort Wayne, you know, we've been watching it from south in the state -- whether it's Muncie or Indianapolis -- for years, and watched the momentum gain there, looking for our smartest ability to enter the market," he says. "We were close to Independent Alliance Bank and, specifically, the two brands they used were Grabill Bank and Markle Bank and they did a terrific job serving the Fort Wayne community, but they did it along the periphery, if you will." Rechin adds the presence at the 12-story Skyline Tower will help the bank deal directly with customers in an area where it has 16 locations.

Mid-2017, First Merchants completed the acquisition of Independent Alliance Banks Inc., and it announced former IAB Chief Operating Officer William Thatcher will be president of the Fort Wayne region and former IAB Chief Executive Officer Michael Marhenke would come over to First Merchants to handle the market's day-to-day operations.

Skyline Tower, which is being developed by Great Lakes Capital, Bradley Co. and Weigand Construction, will include 124 apartments and the first floor will be occupied by a Ruth's Chris Steakhouse location. Construction is set to be complete later this year. and is expected to be completed later this year.

First Merchants is reporting a record high fourth quarter net income of $24.4 million, compared to $22.3 million in the same period a year earlier. Annual profit also reached a record level at $96.1 million, compared to $81.1 million in 2016. Rechin says "our results were fueled by the growth of our clients and the skill and commitment of our teammates." He added that core business improvements achieved in the fourth quarter and 2017 allow 2018 to begin "with optimism."