By the numbers
About Sabal Bay and its new developer
■ 2,300: acres in East Naples project
■ 1,600 homes: what plans call for
■ More than half: dedicated to natural habitat
■ 2013: Development to begin
■ 1986: Project first won approval
■ 70,000: Number of homes Minto Communities has built
■ 20,000: Number of Minto homes in Florida
■ 1955: Minto, based in Canada, was founded
EAST NAPLES — The Canadians are coming to East Naples.
Minto Communities, a leading builder from Canada, announced plans Monday to purchase Sabal Bay, a 2,300-acre residential project a few miles from downtown Naples.
The undeveloped property is under contract and the sale is expected to close by the end of this year. The purchase price hasn't been revealed.
"We feel Naples has always been a very desirable area," said Mike Belmont, Minto's Florida president.
The land is owned by Collier Enterprises, which revived plans for Sabal Bay on the property in East Naples last year. The deal doesn't include the nearby Hamilton Harbor yacht club and marina or land on U.S. 41 zoned for commercial development.
Minto has built about 20,000 homes in Florida since 1978, but mainly on the southeast coast. Its communities there include Olympia in Wellington in Palm Beach County and Artesia in Sunrise near Fort Lauderdale.
"It just makes logical sense to be in an expansion mode right now — and a lot of other builders are expanding their footprints as well," said Bill Bullock, a vice president for Minto. "Sabal Bay is a major acquisition for Southwest Florida."
It is major because of its sheer size and what is planned for the housing project that sat idle for so many years.
Sabal Bay would be about the same size as Pelican Bay in North Naples, but not as intensely developed.
The new community will be built south of Thomasson Drive. It will stretch from U.S. 41 on the east to Dollar Bay on the west and back up to the revived Treviso Bay project, a sprawling 1,050-acre luxury golf course community that has been taken over by Miami-based Lennar Corp.
Sabal Bay will offer a different lifestyle than Treviso Bay, where there are more than 1,000 homes still to be built. The newer project will be a more ecology focused, resort-style community without a golf course, Bullock said.
At build out, Sabal Bay would have about 1,600 homes. About 1,300 acres of the project will be preserves, lakes and natural habitat. There will be miles of natural trails for hiking, biking, walking and kayaking.
The project recently was reworked and approved unanimously by Collier County commissioners. The only step left before development can begin is site plan approval.
Minto – named after the lacrosse national championship cup – expects to begin land development in early 2013, with the first model homes opening by the end of next year.
The project will include single-family and attached coach homes – and eventually condominiums.
"Certainly, the market doesn't support condo towers right now," Belmont said.
Prices will start in the high-$300,000s and go up to more than $800,000.
"Southwest Florida is a logical expansion out of Southeast Florida," Bullock said.
In fact, Minto – a family-owned company founded in 1955 that has built more than 70,000 homes – already is a builder in TwinEagles, a luxury gated golf community off Immokalee Road in North Naples. Its models there should open by Nov. 1.
The builder also is expanding in Bonita Springs, with plans to purchase a stretch of land off Old 41 Road for another 220 single-family and attached villa homes. The project is called Bonita Isles and the land deal is expected to close Aug. 1.
Minto has watched the pick-up in activity from other builders in Southwest Florida, which it sees as a good indicator of recovery and market stabilization, Belmont said. The company expects to build out Sabal Bay over the next decade.
"The timing is good from our perspective," Belmont said.
The builder continues to eye more growth opportunities in Southwest Florida and recently expanded to Orlando.
Pat Utter, a vice president for real estate for Collier Enterprises, said his company changed the look of Sabal Bay to reflect the changing demands of buyers. It once included a golf course, which has been replaced by large lakes and nature preserves.
A larger version of Sabal Bay first won approval in 1986, but a legal battle with environmentalists kept it from getting built since. A much smaller project was approved in 2005 to ease concerns about the harm it might do to the surrounding community and environmentally sensitive lands. Then came the housing crisis, which led to the current plans for a project without a golf course.
There's been a lot of interest from builders in the property, but Minto was seen as the best fit after the company surfaced as a potential buyer about six months ago, Utter said. Collier Enterprises liked the builder's quality construction and its focus on environmentally friendly construction.
"They were a new face to us," Utter said. "Since then we've toured five or six of their communities. We think they'll bring some fresh ideas to Collier County."
Russ Weyer, a senior associate with Hank Fishkind & Associates in Naples, said a new face in the market is a good sign.
"That is showing that the market is getting better," he said. "And that's an early indication because they are positioning themselves for that market to get better."
Big pieces of land for development, such as the one Minto is buying from Collier Enterprises, are vanishing, which will be good in the long run for the market, Weyer said.
"They see the opportunity is upon us and they are jumping in," he said.
Naples Mayor John Sorey said he supports the project, which is close to the city limits, as long as it's a quality project and brings economic development."We're still in desperate need of construction jobs in Collier County," he said.
Collier Enterprises will continue to operate the nearby Hamilton Harbor yacht club and marina; buyers in Sabal Bay won't get special treatment to use the marina or slips.
Collier Enterprises will also keep control of 12.5 acres on U.S. 41 East for future commercial development, which may include a hotel, several restaurants and retail shops.
"There's no set plans at this point," Utter said.
Connect with Laura Layden at www.naplesnews.com/staff/laura_layden