Florida's BankAtlantic Bancorp has a deal to buy one of the nation's oldest homebuilders for $21 million in cash.

BankAtlantic Development Corp., a subsidiary of the Fort Lauderdale-based thrift, will buy Levitt Corp. of Florida, which is building houses in Port St. Lucie, Orlando, Boynton Beach, Palm Beach County, Naples, and Penbroke Pines.

Founded in 1929 as Levitt & Sons Inc., the seller has built more than 175,000 houses, including Levittowns on New York's Long Island and in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The company now operates only in Florida, and primarily develops retirement communities.

BankAtlantic, a $4.2 billion-asset company, is already in the homebuilding business. In 1998, its Development Corp. subsidiary bought St. Lucie West, a Florida project with 3,500 homes, as well as hospitals, schools, and the New York Mets' spring training stadium. There is still room to build an additional 6,500 homes on the site.

The thrift has been buying up a variety of nonbanking businesses over the past year. In 1998, it bought Ryan, Beck & Co., the New Jersey-based investment bank, and Leasing Technology Inc., which finances capital equipment throughout the Southeast. The deal for Levitt is expected to close early next year.

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