Marking its largest step to date in Florida, Carolina First Corp. said Thursday that it plans to buy Orlando-based Citrus Bank for $71 million.

The Greenville, S.C.-based company would pay $37.07 for each share of $228 million-asset Citrus Bank. The deal is valued at 3.78 times book and 26 times fourth-quarter earnings.

Carolina First, the largest bank company in South Carolina, with $2.7 billion of assets, has targeted Florida for expansion. In January, Carolina First announced it would buy $60 million-asset Citizens First National Bank in Crescent City, Fla.

"The central and northern Florida markets are an attractive banking environment," said Mack I. Whittle Jr., president and chief executive officer of Carolina First. "These acquisitions create an outstanding platform on which to build a franchise in one of the nation's most dynamic banking markets."

Mr. Whittle said that his company plans to combine the two banks under the Citrus name, and that it also has a lease to open an additional branch in Jacksonville. In all, Carolina First would operate 13 branches in Florida with about $300 million of assets.

The Citrus Bank deal is expected to be completed by the end of June.

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