Minto turned to St. Joe's WaterColor community for inspiration at Harbour Isle.
Courtesy Minto Communities Minto turned to St. Joe's WaterColor community for inspiration at Harbour Isle.

For Minto Communities, finding the stalled Florida waterfront project at a recession price was a developer’s dream deal, sort of like finding a Picasso at a thrift shop or unearthing a Hank Aaron rookie card at an estate sale.

Not only did the Harbour Isle parcel offer a spectacular view of Anna Maria Sound off Bradenton, Fla., and access to the Gulf of Mexico, but it also came with approvals to build 686 homes and a 109-slip marina—hard-won entitlements that the original developer, St. Joe Company, had worked on for 10 years.

Making the deal even sweeter, St. Joe had already built a portion of the phase one infrastructure, digging a 40-acre lake and filling the site, as well as getting the marina permitted, a major feat in Florida. But then the recession hit Florida full force and St. Joe decided to get out of home building, letting a number of its projects go—including Harbour Isle.

It turns out that St. Joe’s retreat became Minto Communities’ opportunity: It snapped up the property from the project’s note holder in 2009, says Mike Belmont, president of Minto’s Florida operations.

“It’s a wonderful piece of property and we were able to buy it when the market was down,” he adds. “St. Joe had spent a lot of money on it. It was the only new construction in Northwest Bradenton in years.”

The Canadian-based Minto paid $8 million for the first 279 lots and another $2 million for the marina, according to deed filings. It will pay for the rest of the project as it opens new phases. “A lot of builders and developers were looking for distressed property” with problems to overcome, Belmont explains. “We were looking for quality property that had sellers who have a reason to get rid of it.”

Eager to build on the land’s upscale potential, Minto executives visited St. Joe’s award-winning WaterColor community in the Florida Panhandle to harvest architectural ideas. “We wanted it to look and feel different from [other developments in] our area,” Belmont says. “We liked the attention to detail at WaterColor.”

As a result, the units at Harbour Isle offer views of the Gulf, with observatory retreats on higher floors. All of the units will be LEED certified. “We made it very resort, very coastal. We were careful not to cut any corners,” Belmont notes. “We invested the money to make it a very special community, even though we were opening during challenging times.”

Minto started selling coach homes in Harbour Isle in April 2011, when the beginning of a recovery was still a ways off for Florida and there were no amenities—including the marina—in place.

Despite the headwinds, Harbour Isle sold well in the nine months it was open in 2011. In the first 10 months of 2012, with a community pool and recreation center open by summer, it had sold 60 homes, for a pace of 70 to 90 homes per year.

“This year is very, very strong,” Belmont says, noting that 2013 might even be better as the marina and a main clubhouse overlooking the water get under way. The plan is to put in 48 to 50 of the permitted 109 slips during phase one. “We think the timing is right and it will certainly help solidify it as a waterfront community,” Belmont adds. In addition to the enhancements taking place in 2013, there also are talks of building a more typical 12-story condominium building on the north side of the island in the future.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Bradenton, FL.