JPMorgan Chase intends to pick sites for dozens of new branches in the Bay Area this year as part of what the bank said Monday is an aggressive expansion of its retail network in the region.

"The Bay Area is a very high priority," said Eileen Leveckis, a spokeswoman for JPMorgan Chase, a financial giant whose operating units include Chase Bank. "California is one of Chase's high-priority markets for growth."

In 2010, Chase increased its branches in the Bay Area by 14, on a net basis.

That included three in San Mateo County, three in Santa Clara County, two in Alameda County, two in Contra Costa County and two in San Francisco, one in Sonoma County and one in Marin, Leveckis said.

"We are being very aggressive in adding branches over the next three to five years," she said.

All told, Chase has 173 branches in the Bay Area. Santa Clara County by far has the largest single concentration of Chase branches on a county basis, with 44. Alameda County has 35 branches, Contra Costa has 26, and San Francisco has 24.

To bolster the hunt for new sites, Chase has hired brokers from Grubb & Ellis, a commercial realty firm.

At present, Grubb & Ellis has been brought on board to find sites in Alameda and Monterey counties. However, it's possible the geographic responsibilities could expand.

"We will be on a hard push to obtain sites that can potentially be new Chase branches," said John Sechser, a Grubb senior vice president.

The scouting efforts for Chase will intensify this week.

"We have our first tour on Thursday," said Deborah Perry, a senior vice president with Grubb & Ellis. "We will be showing 40 sites to Chase."

The bank's growth could be particularly noticeable in the East Bay in the coming years.

"Chase would like to have 20 new branches in Alameda County alone," Perry said. "This is a major expansion for them."

During 2010, Chase concluded 32 deals for new branches throughout Northern California, Perry said.

The bank also is being flexible in the types of properties it wants for the expansion.

"We will look at existing buildings such as former bank sites or closed restaurants," Perry said. "We could retrofit them or tear them down."

Chase also is interested in vacant lots or unused sections, also known as pads, of existing retail centers, the brokers said.

The bank prefers to buy future branch sites, Perry said. However, the bank also will consider land leases so it could construct a building on the property. Chase also will consider straightforward leases of existing buildings.

The expansion, though, will be conducted with consumers in mind, the bank said.

"We are actively looking for sites that make the most sense for our customers," Leveckis said.

Contact George Avalos at 925-977-8477.