Minto Group, an Ottawa-based builder that has been building homes in South Florida for 30 years, has expanded into West Florida near Tampa, buying up lots from developers as well as vacant land.

Minto Group recently bought the last remaining lots in the 50-year-old Sun City Center Tampa, the country’s first giant age-restricted community from WCI Communities. The deal included 200 finished lots with the potential for as many as 800 more. The sale price was $9.9 million, according to a source.

Minto was attracted to Sun City Center because of its “rich history,” and the fact that it has remained a strong seller through the years because of its many amenities and vibrant residents, said Mike Belmont, Minto’s executive vice president for West Central Florida.

Minto plans to start models in 45 days and have them open by the end of 2010 in time for the traditional Florida selling season. Minto opened an office in Tampa in 2008 with the directive to find new land.

“It has historically been one of the stronger housing markets in the state, the west coast all the way through to Orlando,” said Belmont. He added that the company has been focusing primarily on finished lots, buying lots in the established master planned communities of Fishhawk Ranch and Lakewood Ranch in Manatee and Sarasota counties, just south of Tampa in the I-75 corridor.

The company also is building in Grand Hampton, where it opened a model center last September.

Minto made one raw land purchase in West Central Florida last September. It spent $8 million on Perico Island in Bradenton. The land fronts the Intracoastal Waterway and has approval for 684 multifamily housing units as well as a 119-slip marina. In Florida, it is difficult to find land with marina approvals.

“We bought at a price that allows us to hold it a little bit until the market improved,” Belmont said, adding sales are expected to start in early 2011.

And Minto isn’t done land shopping. Belmont said he is looking in Orlando for new land opportunities.

Minto planned to expand beyond its more land-constrained Southeast Florida market since the peak of the market in 2006, but it held off as land prices climbed and opportunities waned, Belmont said.

That restraint, along with the company’s Canadian home market, which has suffered less during the recession, has helped the company outlast the downturn.

“It took a while to strike the deals that made sense to us,” said Belmont

Teresa Burney is a senior editor for BUILDER and BIG BUILDER magazines. 

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