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Is the Biltmore in its Final Days?

Tampa Tribune, December 18, 2013

By Kate Bradshaw

BELLEAIR — If the Belleview Biltmore were still open, this would be its time to shine. Rows of elaborate gingerbread houses would line common areas. A massive Christmas tree with Victorian era-inspired ornaments would stand in the lobby, and Santa Claus would drop in for Sunday brunch in a round room with panoramic views of the town.

Instead, the ceiling is caving in on the round room. The lively seasonal decor for which the resort was known has been replaced by mold, dead wires and bug carcasses. Amid cries for saving the 116-year-old wooden structure, town leaders are ruefully on their way to allowing the property owners to demolish it and replace it with condos and single-family homes.

“We have to move along,” Belleair Mayor Gary Katica said recently.

Despite word that Belleview Biltmore Partners LLC is offering to buy and renovate the building, and has bid on the adjacent town-owned golf course, the town’s zoning board on Monday endorsed land-use changes that would allow the site to be redeveloped.

Those who support tearing it down say it is dilapidated beyond repair, that it has a negative impact on property values and that it is costing hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars each year. Those who favor restoration say saving the hotel would not only preserve a beloved historical structure that makes the small, affluent North Pinellas town unique, but it would also yield the highest return on the investment by generating jobs, tax revenue and tourism dollars.

The Belleview Biltmore Partners, headed by South Florida architect Richard Heisenbottle, tried to buy the hotel in 2012, and again this year, but both times plans fell through due to lack of financing. This time, Heisenbottle said, the proposal has the backing it needs to be successful.

“Last October, Belleview Biltmore Partners came close to closing a deal for acquisition of the hotel, however at the last moment our primary investor backed out of the deal,” he said Tuesday in an email. “Since that time, the deal has been completely restructured with new partners and new sources of financing.”

Proponents of restoring the hotel, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, said they remain optimistic a deal can be reached before the demolition permits go through.

“Belleview Biltmore Partners is working with the current owners to find a satisfactory agreement for both of them to purchase the hotel,” preservationist Diane Hein, a spokeswoman for the group, said in an email Monday. “They are optimistic that no matter what the town council does with the zoning issue, they will be able to work out a deal with the current owners to save the hotel. BBP will then be able to restore and renovate the hotel despite it being closed for a number of years.”
 

The problem, said planning and zoning board member Rogers Haydon, is that Belleview Biltmore Partners has yet to “demonstrate the financial capability (is) firmly on-hand” to follow through with a restoration project that could run into the hundreds of millions. They have, however, bid on the golf course that once was part of the resort.

The hotel, which closed in 2007, is owned by the Ades Brothers, developers based in South Florida, though it has changed hands several times in recent years. They are requesting a change in zoning that would allow them to redevelop the site, likely into condominiums and single-family homes, and say there are no restoration plans to speak of.

“There is no contract to sell the property, there is no letter of intent,” Ed Armstrong, an attorney for the Ades Brothers, said Monday. “History tells us there’s no reason to be optimistic.”

Heisenbottle disagreed, and said Belleview Biltmore Partners is working to “negotiate the terms of the sale with the hotel’s owner,” but did not go into any details.

The zoning change that would pave the way for a new development still has to clear the Belleair town commission and, because of the hotel’s historic status, the developer also will need a certificate of appropriateness before it can knock it down. The town commission is expected to vote on the planning and zoning board’s recommendation in January.
 

 

Be sure to read this press release before reading other articles on the hotel!!

This press release is by Proby and Associates, Inc., Miami, Florida who represents Belleview Biltmore Partners, the company who is trying to purchase the Belleview Biltmore Hotel.


BELLEVIEW BILTMORE PARTNERS SUBMITS OFFER
TO PURCHASE THE BELLEVIEW BILTMORE GOLF CLUB

Negotiations Continue for Purchase and Renovation of Historic Hotel Property

MIAMI, FL. - Dec. 13, 2013 -- Belleview Biltmore Partners, LLC (BBP) has
responded to the Town of Belleair's invitation to negotiate the purchase and
lease of the Belleview Biltmore Golf Club. Designed by world-famous golf
architect Donald Ross, the Belleview Biltmore Golf Club course has been an
international favorite since 1925.

In addition, Richard J. Heisenbottle, FAIA, BBP's managing partner, today
expressed optimism that he will reach a successful conclusion to
negotiations with the Belleview Biltmore Hotel & Resort owners for the
purchase of the hotel property and that given the opportunity, BBP will
reach successful negotiations with the Town of Belleair for the purchase of
the golf course as well.  "We do not subscribe to the theory that the
landmark Belleview Biltmore Hotel & Resort is beyond repair and can no
longer be restored," said Heisenbottle.  "That theory is sheer folly for
those who know little about historic preservation. My firm has restored
numerous historic structures that were in far worse physical condition than
the Belleview Biltmore."

BBP Partner Charles Kropke said,  "Let us not forget that the rich history
of the Belleview Biltmore Hotel and the Town of Belleair are forever
entwined.  The Town of Belleair exists, in part, because Henry Plant chose
to build this historic hotel on this bluff.  The hotel's impact on the
community over the years has been nothing short of remarkable. The hotel was
and can again be a great source of community pride, financial benefit and
real estate growth."    

BBP Partner Gary Rosenberg added, "The Belleview Biltmore brand and style
represent an amazing untapped marketing opportunity for the residents of the
Town of Belleair." Rosenberg's past golf and resort industry experience
includes senior executive responsibilities and oversight of some of
America's finest resorts and golf club facilities.  Those facilities
including Pinehurst Resort and Club, Firestone Country Club, The Homestead
Resort and Club, Barton Creek Resort and Club, Sawgrass Resort and Club and
the Boca Raton Hotel and Club.

"Without a doubt, we believe that our offer represents by far the best value
for the Town of Belleair, not only because the purchase price offered
returns the town's initial investment in full, but more importantly because
the success of the hotel, the golf course and the town are inextricably
linked," added Heisenbottle.  "A restored hotel with its own Donald Ross
golf course generates multiple positive benefits not only for the Town of
Belleair, but for all of Pinellas County. With it will come a new sense of
community pride along with national prestige and publicity."  

http://tbnweekly.com/pubs/belleair_bee/content_articles/121113_bee-03.txt


Biltmore interior damage worsens  
Ceilings falling down; water takes its toll on landmark Belleair hotel


[Image]

A damaged ceiling in the Biltmore is collapsing because of water damage with mold all around.

By BRIAN GOFF


A damaged ceiling in the Biltmore is collapsing because of water damage with mold all around.


BELLEAIR – The man whose company has done three detailed structural inspections of the Belleview Biltmore hotel says the condition of the property is getting worse.

Michael McCarthy, the president of McCarthy and Associates, Consulting Engineers of Clearwater, said his company did the inspections in 2011, 2012 and just recently in 2013. The first two inspections were done for the town of Belleair and the last one for the Ades Brothers, the current owners of the property.

“It has gotten progressively worse,” he said. “It is at the point now where a significant portion of the building will have to be torn down if anyone wants to try to save it.”

McCarthy led a tour of the property for several reporters on Tuesday, Dec. 10. He said the damage is primarily water damage caused by rain beating into the unprotected upper floors of the building.

“At first most of the damage was in the upper floors,” he said. “The next time the water had come through to the lower floors and now it is damaging the ground floor.”

The hotel, which was built in the late 1800s, has been closed since May 31, 2009. The owners at the time, Legge Mason, had planned to rebuild the property but lawsuits drained them of their resources and they sold the property to the Ades brothers of Miami.

Since then the brothers have been unable to sell the property to anyone who intends to rehab it. They now have plans to demolish the building and build a number of townhouses on the site. A zoning change is going through the system at town hall that will enable them to achieve their goal.

Mayor Gary Katica, who went on the tour with McCarthy, said he expects the zoning change will be approved.

“It will now go before the Planning and Zoning Board who will look it over and then they will forward it on to the commission for a final decision,” he said. “I think the commission will be quite flexible on it. We’d all like to see the place saved, but when you see it as we did today, with the commentary from the structural engineer, you realize it will be tough.”

During the tour reporters were allowed to go on the first four floors of the five-story main building. Katica was appalled with what he saw.

“I had never seen the destruction on the second, third and fourth floors,” he said. “It was my first time up there, the first time they opened it up and it was a horrible sight to see. The ceilings falling down, the mold and the water, it was not a pleasant experience.”

McCarthy said the internal damage to the hotel goes from top to bottom. It all began with the storms in 2004, which blew the roofing shingles off the building. The owners, not willing to spend the estimated $4 million for a new roof, covered the damage with blue tarps.

Bob Johnson, the caretaker of the property, said the tarps would rot in the hot Florida sun and they would have to be replaced.

“We replaced them three times,” he said. “Each time it cost $100,000 to do it.”

Katica said during those times residents of the RPD, surrounding the hotel, would bring scraps of the blue tarps to commission meetings as proof that something had to be done.

McCarthy said his firm was able to rehab a similar neglected hotel property in Newcastle, N.H.

“It was older and had been closed down and neglected for a long time,” he said. “But it wasn’t in the shape this is in. The water is the enemy here.”

All through the hotel plaster was falling off walls. Places where the water came in were tainted with black mold. Some places had so much water the wooden slats holding up the plaster on the walls and ceilings had collapsed, and in one room a makeshift trough, made of two by fours and covered in plastic, ran from a hole in the roof, through a bedroom and out through a window. The water came in, and the water was channeled out.

Some of the rooms were used as storage, one of them filled with television sets, another with mattresses. Throughout the musty smell was constant.

McCarthy said there were three levels of damage in the hotel and each had to be addressed differently.

“The severe damage is damage done by exposure to the water for a long period of time. Repairing that would mean demolishing it,” he said. “Moderate damage could be repaired with structural supports, and the light damage, stains and rust could be fixed.”

He estimated about 25 percent of the hotel has suffered severe damage and would have to be replaced. He said there is significant black mold in those areas.

McCarthy said he had no idea how much it might cost to fix the property, but Katica said he has seen estimates of $196 million.

Katica then repeated what he has said on other occasions; the town has to move on.

“We can’t carry the annual loss of $800,000 in lost taxes over this property,” he said. “Unless an angel appears with $150 million, then we have to move on.”

As for what Belleair residents might think or say if they had been on the tour, Katica didn’t hesitate to offer his opinion.

“They would be shocked, they would be absolutely shocked at the destruction there,” he said. “The natural destruction caused because there was no roof. It was a very sad sight.”

 

http://tbnweekly.com/pubs/belleair_bee/content_articles/120413_bee-03.txt

[Image]

BELLEAIR – Once the town of Belleair bought the Belleview Biltmore Golf Club on Indian Rocks Road 10 months ago, the actual fate of the property has been up in the air.

The town bought the facility for
$3.5 million for two reasons: To remove the development rights from the property so no future owners could build condos or anything else on it and as a way of getting something out of the owners who were assessed more than $250,000 in liens because of penalties levied due to the deteriorated state of the Belleview Biltmore Hotel, an associated property.

At the time of the purchase, commissioners made no secret of the fact that they didn’t want to be in the golf course business and continuing to own and operate the facility was the least desirable outcome.

With that in mind Town Manager Micah Maxwell issued what he called “invitations to negotiate” and invited interested parties to make presentations to the town regarding the future of the golf course. Those responding will likely offer to purchase the facility outright or offer to operate it under a long term lease with the city continuing to own it and receive some income from the operation.

Maxwell told the Commission meeting on Dec. 3 that the invitation responses will be opened on Dec. 5. Once he analyzes them, he will likely call a special meeting of the commission to discuss whatever recommendation he brings forth. Maxwell indicated it should not be too long before that meeting is called.

In a related matter Maxwell recommended to the commissioners that they consider changing some zoning regulations to make it possible for the Belleair Country Club, next store to the closed hotel, to buy a little over two acres of land of the hotel property. The club is said to want the property to be able to expand its parking lot.

Mayor Gary Katica made it clear that he was in favor of the move.

“The Belleair Country Club is one of the town’s largest taxpayers,” he said. “I think we should proceed with changing the zoning as soon as possible.”

Then, focusing his attention on the hotel next door, Katica told the meeting he was astounded with the way the hotel had deteriorated over the past few months.

“I went into the hotel last week and I was amazed at its deterioration,” he said. “In the three months since I was in there last I noticed the ceilings are coming down on the first floor. Water is dripping from the ceiling at a time when it hadn’t rained in days. This is water coming down from the upper floors.”

Katica was in the hotel showing reporters around after the story surfaced that the fate of the hotel was likely sealed with the owners moving ahead on development plans for the property.

Maxwell said he and other town officials have been meeting with residents of the RPD, explaining to them the proposed zoning changes which would make the development of townhouses on the hotel property possible. He said more meetings are planned next week.

http://www.tampabay.com/news/localgovernment/belleairs-belleview-biltmore-zoning-changes-net-tentative-support/2153816


Belleair's Belleview Biltmore zoning changes net tentative support

BELLEAIR — Developers' plans to bulldoze the Belleview Biltmore appeared to move forward Tuesday as town commissioners threw their tentative support behind proposed zoning changes that would allow the historic resort's owners to erect condos and townhomes in its place.

The Biltmore is currently zoned for only hotels or single-family homes. And the town's only existing multi-family zoning district is "RM-15," a designation that caps developments at 15 units per acre and heights at 32 feet — resulting in a uniform, concrete block look that officials agreed tends to look unattractive.

So, town staffers have proposed a new zoning designation, RM-10, which would allow only 10 unit per acre. But developers would be able to gain height bonuses if they incorporate certain elements such as a parking structure underneath buildings, or if they go beyond the minimum setback requirements.

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The town would have discretion over whether to offer the incentives individually or in combination, meaning the tallest building on site could be a maximum of 80 feet.

The goal, said town planning consultant David Healey, is to incentivize developers to build fewer units and include more green space while also designing buildings of varied sizes, which would be more visually interesting.

"Hopefully a prospective developer would be enticed to apply for the lesser density in exchange for the greater flexibility in building height," Healey said.

Tuesday's presentation came days after the Biltmore's owners confirmed that hopes of saving the hotel from demolition are dead after an architect who had pledged to renovate the historic landmark missed his Oct. 31 deadline to buy the property.

The hotel, known as the "White Queen of the Gulf," housed presidents, celebrities and generations of Pinellas County residents and guests. It closed in 2009. The owners say it's too far gone to be rehabilitated.

The rezoning proposal won the unanimous support of Belleair's planning and zoning board Monday. Town commissioners also appeared receptive. However, there was some disagreement about the maximum building heights and minimum unit sizes that should be allowed under the new designation.

For example, Commissioner Stephen Fowler, an architect, said he thought 80-foot buildings were too tall. And several commissioners said 1,000-square-foot units would be too small and asked whether they could require that units be at least 1,200 or 1,500 square feet.

Randy Ware of the planning and zoning board said his group had received information that the Biltmore already ranges from roughly 57 to 72 feet tall, so "an 80-foot structure is not that much higher than the existing hotel."

Town Manager Micah Maxwell said the city will continue tweaking the proposal, as well as research the heights and unit sizes of the Biltmore and surrounding high-rise condos in preparation for future talks. Officials also plan to meet with folks living in the surrounding district.

Four of about two dozen audience members spoke up during Tuesday's meeting.

LaVonne Johnson of Belleview Boulevard begged commissioners to continue searching for a way to preserve the hotel: "We've got condos all over the place here, but you'll never have another Biltmore."

However, the majority appeared to agree with Mayor Gary Katica, who says he'd still love to see a miracle donor step up, but that the town has lost $4 million in taxes and utilities in the last five years and it's time to "move on."

Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or ksummers@tampabay.com


http://tbnweekly.com/pubs/belleair_bee/content_articles/110613_bee-02.txt

Biltmore Hotel status still uncertain  

By BRIAN GOFF

Article published on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013      

Photo by BRIAN GOFF

Belleair officials say the future of the aged Belleview Biltmore Hotel holds the key to moving forward with plans for the city-owned Belleview Biltmore Golf property.  

BELLEAIR – Town Manager Micah Maxwell said Belleair is ready to publicize what he calls an “invitation to negotiate” the future of the Belleview Biltmore Golf Club.

Maxwell told the commission Nov. 5 that he expects to have expressions of interest to either buy or lease the club within 30 days.

Although the town has owned the club for several months its fate has been indirectly tied to the Belleview Biltmore hotel. Miami Architect Richard Heisenbottle has been trying to raise the money needed to buy the hotel and save it from the wrecking ball. He indicated to the town that he would need to be able to purchase the golf course to make the hotel deal practical. Because of that, the town has been slow in trying to sell the property or enter into a long-term lease with an operator.

All that changed Nov. 5 when Maxwell, Mayor Gary Katica and some commissioners received phone calls from Attorney Ed Armstrong, who represents the Ades brothers, owners of the hotel. Katica relayed what Armstrong told him.

“He said that the potential owners did not come up with the money to buy the hotel by the Oct. 30 deadline,” he said. “As a result, Armstrong told me that they were prepared to move on.”

Then Katica told of a phone call he received from Heisenbottle.

“He told me he was very close to getting the money. He wanted to make sure the golf course was still in play.”

All that back and forth has stymied Maxwell and his effort to move ahead with negotiations over the golf course.

“On one hand, the potential owner says he is close to getting the money. On the other hand the current hotel owners say they have no indication that he will have the money. So now we will begin to move forward,” he said.

Commissioners Stephen Fowler and Michael Wilkinson were concerned that if the golf course is sold, it could stop the Heisenbottle effort, but both seemed satisfied when Maxwell said it would take at least 30 days before anything would happen.

Questions then arose over why the town hasn’t taken action to remove development rights from the golf course property. The reason the town bought the golf course was to stop any future development on the land. Maxwell said there was no need to move quickly on the matter.

“There are costs, thousands of dollars, associated with legally removing development rights from that property,” he said. “As long as the town owns the property, there will be no development, so there is no need to spend the money right now. Once we enter into negotiations with a prospective buyer, we will tell them that the development rights will be removed and then we can go ahead and do it.”




http://www.tampabay.com/news/localgovernment/belleair-opens-door-to-other-development-on-belleview-biltmore-site/2135334

Belleair opens door to other development on Belleview Biltmore site

Keyonna Summers, Tampa Bay Times Staff Writer

An aerial view of the Belleview Biltmore hotel, once known as the “White Queen of the Gulf.” The hotel hosted presidents, celebrities and generations of Pinellas County residents and guests. It closed in 2009.

JIM DAMASKE | Times (2011)

An aerial view of the Belleview Biltmore hotel, once known as the “White Queen of the Gulf.” The hotel hosted presidents, celebrities and generations of Pinellas County residents and guests. It closed in 2009.

 

BELLEAIR — Conceding that options for restoring the historic Belleview Biltmore hotel look bleak, the Belleair Town Commission on Tuesday directed city staffers to explore zoning changes that would allow other types of development on the property.

The hotel's owners want to tear down the landmark, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, and erect 32 townhomes and 136 condominiums. But first, they wanted to know if commissioners would be receptive.

Under BB Hotel LLC's proposal, the project would feature two-story townhomes with rear parking garages and seven floors of condos over ground-floor parking, architect Jim Graham said.

Units would range from 1,000 to 2,600 square feet and have up to four bedrooms. A fountain, pool, playground and tennis courts would be built, plus either a clubhouse or recreation center with a room for Biltmore photographs and other memorabilia.

The proposed buildings would mimic the Biltmore's Queen Anne-style architecture and white and green colors, Graham said. Developers would save the site's old oaks.

One by one, commissioners questioned the plan. And they wondered if a new zoning category needed to accommodate the project would have negative implications elsewhere.

But they ultimately sided with Town Manager Micah Maxwell and City Attorney David Ottinger, who said the property's current land use and zoning designations and height restrictions as well as the town's comprehensive plan prohibit BB Hotel — or any other developers — from proposing anything other than hotels or single-family homes.

"As you folks can see," Mayor Gary Katica told the roughly 50 residents in attendance, "we feel the passions of both sides. But we cannot sit up here and do nothing. We have to prepare for the future."

The decision disappointed audience members, six of whom stood up to criticize the plan.

Hadn't other hotels been rehabbed into multimillion dollar successes, one woman asked. Couldn't the developers renovate the hotel's interior into homes, or retain part of the original structure for conversion into a small boutique hotel, others asked?

Resident Mary Lou White said officials' mere consideration of zoning changes sent "the message that the town isn't standing behind the renovation of the hotel" anymore.

"I believe firmly that a concept plan gives them a foot in the door that we can't remove later," added resident Bonnie-Sue Brandvik.

Commissioner Stephen Fowler, who cast the lone vote against allowing staffers to look at zoning changes, said BB Hotel purchased the Biltmore as-is in 2010 with the intention of renovating it and the town shouldn't have to spend legal fees drafting new codes for a different project.

"They are proposing to tear down a great old Victorian structure and replace it with something similar (in architecture and colors) to what's already there, and to me that's kind of a slap in the face. Here's a reminder of what we tore down every time you drive" by, he said.

But attorney Ed Armstrong said the owners are "of the genuine belief … that, simply put, the hotel is too far gone to be rehabilitated."

The hotel, known as the "White Queen of the Gulf," housed presidents, celebrities and generations of Pinellas County residents and guests. It closed in 2009.

 

http://www.tbnweekly.com/pubs/belleair_bee/content_articles/080713_bee-04.txt?archiveview&print

Belleair officials critical of Biltmore plans

By TOM GERMOND

Article published on Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013

BELLEAIR – The owners of the Belleview Biltmore presented a development concept for the property to the Belleair Commission Aug. 6 that excludes the preservation of the hotel.

The owners believe that “simply put, the hotel is too far gone,” said Ed Armstrong, an attorney representing the applicant.

Several city commissioners spoke out against a redevelopment concept of the Biltmore property by the owners, the Ades brothers, that would include condominiums and townhouses, but they were willing to explore other options with the owner for the site.

Commissioners sympathized with residents who spoke of the historical significance of the hotel and who were in favor of preserving at least some of the hotel building.

“The worst part about this is the Ades brothers came to town, and they have not been good neighbors,” Mayor Gary Katica said.

He said there were landscaping, fencing and other problems that have not been addressed with the hotel property. However, he and some commissioners also expressed concern about maintaining the status quo.

The landmark hotel has been closed since 2009, and the loss of $700,000 to $800,000 tax and other revenue is an issue for Katica.

“I think we have to do something. We can’t just sit here,” he said. “We have to prepare for the future in this town …”

The commission’s discussion did not pertain to any specific site plans. Armstrong said the redevelopment plans presented that night were a “very conceptual review.”

Though the concept does not call for preservation of the hotel, architect Jim Graham said the owners are trying to maintain the character of the building with “Queen Anne style” architecture in the development. They also planned to keep memorabilia from the hotel in a clubhouse.

Lou White was among the several town residents who were critical of the development concept.

“By taking these actions or considering these actions at this time, you are giving the message that the town is not standing behind the renovation of the hotel, which according to our ordinances at this time means we should be,” she said.

There are limited opportunities to redevelop the property in the current code, town Attorney David Ottinger said.

The commission needs to ask itself if the hotel is removed what is the best development for the site. Under current zoning it can only be a hotel or single-family homes, Ottinger said.

Development of multi-family units would require a zoning change to the site. Additionally, the owners are looking for heights for some structures that exceed the existing cap.

Commissioner Stephen Fowler said he was in favor of doing everything possible to restore the hotel.

He was critical of the owners planning to tear down the hotel and replace it with architecture that resembles the original structure.

“To me that’s kind of a slap in the face for the town, saying ‘here’s a reminder of what we tore down every time you drive into your home.’ I have a real problem with that,” Fowler said.

He said he doesn’t want the town to spend legal fees to draft ordinances and other means to accommodate the owners, suggesting that the owners spend the money to prepare plans that the town will take through the normal planning and zoning process.

“I won’t support any of the issues that are coming before us tonight,” he said.

Commissioner Michael Wilkinson said he wants to maintain the Biltmore as a hotel. However, he said that by doing more legwork, “we are not granting them anything at all. All we are saying is ‘we might have an appetite for this.’”

He said the property is “a major asset” and “we need to get as much out of it as we can. So I would open for looking for what else can be used on that land.”

Armstrong said the problem is there is no mechanism in the town’s code to develop a site plan any way near what owners had discussed. He said “we want a chance to go to the plate and swing the bat and see what happens.”

“I feel to an extent the property owner is being punished because we don’t have every specific in place tonight,” he said.

Armstrong was in favor of forming a development agreement with the town, calling it a contract that gives the town’s constituents assurances that they know what will be built on the property. The average cost per unit was estimated at $500,000.

Staff will do more legwork and meet with the planning and zoning board next month and then bring the issue back to the commission.
 

http://tbnweekly.com/pubs/belleair_bee/content_articles/052913_bee-02.txt

Plans unveiled for Biltmore site  
Proposed project preliminary, subject to revision, property owners say

 

May 29, 2013

By BRIAN GOFF   

 

[Image]   
The Belleview Biltmore Hotel in Belleair remains empty but could be demolished to make way for a housing development.

Conceding that options for restoring the historic Belleview Biltmore hotel look bleak, the Belleair Town Commission on Tuesday directed city staffers to explore zoning changes that would allow other types of development on the property.

The hotel's owners want to tear down the landmark, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, and erect 32 townhomes and 136 condominiums. But first, they wanted to know if commissioners would be receptive.

One by one, commissioners questioned the plan. And they wondered if a new zoning category needed to accommodate the project would have negative implications elsewhere.

But they ultimately sided with Town Manager Micah Maxwell and City Attorney David Ottinger, who said the property's current land use and zoning designations and height restrictions as well as the town's comprehensive plan prohibit BB Hotel - or any other developers - from proposing anything other than hotels or single-family homes.

"As you folks can see," Mayor Gary Katica told the roughly 50 residents in attendance, "we feel the passions of both sides. But we cannot sit up here and do nothing. We have to prepare for the future."  Full story below.

 

Photo by BRIAN GOFF

The Belleview Biltmore Hotel in Belleair remains empty but could be demolished to make way for a housing development.

BELLEAIR – A longstanding issue between the owners of the Belleview Biltmore Hotel and the Residential Planned Community Homeowners Association in Belleair has been settled and a glimpse into the future of the Biltmore property has been provided.

At a meeting with the Homeowners Association in early May representatives of the Ades brothers of Miami, the owners of the hotel, agreed to begin paying a monthly fee as their share of the cost of the upkeep of the roads and security inside the gated community which the hotel shares with the Belleair Golf Club and several high rise condominiums.

Jim White, the president of the Homeowners Association, said they were given a check for $40,000 to cover past costs, and they agreed to pay $3,000 a month until the situation changes, at which time that amount will be re-negotiated.

“The trouble with the whole situation up till now is that there was never anything in writing,” said White. “The various previous owners of the hotel paid some money toward the upkeep; these owners did not until now. Now we have a written agreement and that gives us some leverage for future negotiations. We’re happy, the $40,000 isn’t a big amount but the commitment to pay on a monthly basis is the real winner.”

White said the money is necessary because the town does not pay a cent toward the upkeep of the roads within the RPD. Condo owners, in addition to their normal condo fees, also pay an extra fee for the upkeep.

In addition to settling the financial differences the owners’ representatives also unveiled their plans for what will go on the site if and when the hotel is demolished. White said generally the homeowners were pleased with what they saw.

“What they proposed was the architecture for a combination of condos and townhouses and they will resemble what the hotel looks like now,” he said. “The size of the units is a concern to us; they were talking about 900 to 1,400 square feet for the condos and 1,400 square feet for the townhouses. We were hoping they would be something a little larger, a little higher end. They did not give us an indication of what the selling price might be. It was all new information to us. On the surface it looks well, it is very preliminary.”

Representing the owners at that meeting was Clearwater Attorney Ed Armstrong. He confirmed what White described.

“It is a very preliminary vision and it is certainly subject to revision,” he said.

As for the future of the hotel Armstrong said it appears headed for demolition.

“There seems to be no interested buyers interested in keeping it a hotel,” he said. “No site plan has been submitted to the city; we hope to do that later this summer with a formal application. We’re still engaged in dialogue with the community and the town’s professional staff.”

When asked if the owners would sell the property to a buyer intent on developing it into a residential property, Armstrong said no.

“My impression is they intend to develop it themselves,” he said.

Mayor Gary Katica, who was also at the meeting, said he has trouble believing the Ades brothers want to develop the property.

“They (the Ades brothers) are not developers; they are money people, in and out,” he said. “They paid $8 million for the three pieces of the property. They sold the Cabana club and the golf course and now they are in it for less than $4 million. To them it is more valuable without the hotel so they are going through the charade to get the permit to demolish.”

Katica called the land where the Biltmore is located 23 of the finest acres in Florida. He said it is valuable property.

“At half a million an acre that is $11 million. I personally think they do not want to develop it; they want to knock it down and sell it to developers. It would be a sad day to see the hotel being knocked down,” he said.

Whatever is going to happen to the property won’t occur soon. Town Manager Micah Maxwell said the owners’ application to demolish the hotel has expired so officially there is nothing on the books indicating an impending demolition.

“When they come in they are going to have to re-file,” said Maxwell. “The last time it was an incomplete packet which automatically expired after 20 days. There is no application to demolish at the moment.”

As for Armstrong’s comment that there have been discussions with the town staff, Maxwell said the talks have been very preliminary.

“He did call to let me know they were going to meet with the RPD residents and talk to them,” he said. He also gave me an overview of what the planned development is going to look like.”

Maxwell said the next step is to sit down face to face as part of a pre-application process.

“We have shared with them the process and how it is going to occur,” he said. “What is left now is to set some dates for more meetings and that is going to take some back and forth.”

On the sidelines as all this unfolds is Miami Architect Richard Heisenbottle. He and his partners had indicated they were intent on purchasing the property and saving the hotel. Until now they have not been able to reach an agreement with the owners. At one point they scaled back their plans because of financing concerns.

Contacted in South Florida he said he didn’t have much to say about what was happening.

“My partners and I are watching the developments with interest and will continue to watch as things unfold,” he said.

Heisenbottle would not comment further regarding if he were still a potential buyer of the property.

Katica is still not ready to throw in the towel and concede that the days of the historic hotel might be over.

“My first feel is that it would be better for the town if it was restored.”

 


http://www.tbnweekly.com/pubs/belleair_bee/content_articles/041713_bee-02.txt

April 17, 2013

BELLEAIR – A Largo fire department official is satisfied with safety of the Belleview Biltmore Hotel.

At a short meeting April 16, the commission heard from the Interim Largo Fire Chief, Shelby Willis. Largo provides fire service to Belleair and occasionally the department reports to the commission on matters of interest. The only thing on Willis’s list was the state of the Belleview Biltmore Hotel.


“The sprinklers and alarms are all working,” she said. “The building is not open to the public and as far as we know it will not be open. Only security personnel are on the site.”

When asked if the fire department is satisfied with the safety of the building she said yes it was.

Also on the agenda was to have been a report on the ongoing finances of the Belleview Biltmore Golf Club, which is owned by the town.

Finance Director J.P. Murphy told the commission that all the necessary information wasn’t available in time to allow the town’s finance committee to look it over. Mayor Gary Katica agreed with Murphy’s recommendation that the matter be put off until the next meeting to allow the finance committee time to have its say.

 

http://tbnweekly.com/pubs/belleair_bee/content_articles/011613_bee-02.txt

Belleair mulls over golf course options  
Belleair official blames poor management for ‘downward trend in profits’

By BRIAN GOFF

Article published on Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013        

BELLEAIR – There is little doubt the town of Belleair will be buying the Pelican golf course, or the Belleview Biltmore Golf Club, as it is known today. The bigger question is what to do with it?

That was what faced the town’s Finance Board on Jan. 15 and the board members decided they will have to talk about it much more before they make any kind of a recommendation to the Town Commission.

Assistant Town Manager J.P. Murphy had just conducted a feasibility study into the purchase of the course, and he got straight to the point.

“Let’s be clear, we like the idea of purchasing the golf course because we want to get the development rights,” he said. “Once we buy it we can then decide to retain the golf operations or we don’t have to.”

Murphy’s report revealed some financial numbers that, for the first time, shed some light on the operation of the facility, which is at 1501 Indian Rocks Road.

For the past three fiscal years the golf course has operated at a loss. In 2012 for example the gross profit of the course was $1.83 million while the total expenses were more than $2 million. That was a loss of just over $200,000, about $40,000 less than the year before.

Murphy blamed the way the course is run for the losses.

“Our studies show that poor management contributed to the downward trend in profits at the course,” he said. “There were some questionable entries made in the books.”

He also noted that the restaurant at the club was to blame for much of the loss.

“The food and beverage has been a loss leader there,” he said. “It is the anchor which brought that ship down. For example they have $20,000 of food on hand when I’m being told by golf people that all they want are a few burgers and a snack; that would be good enough.”

He said that while the marketing for the course has been spotty, there is a good membership base that should be an attraction for a management firm or a future lessee. He also noted that overall the course is in good shape and it does not require a lot of capital outlay.

Murphy presented the Finance Board with four options for the future of the course:

1: Once the town bought the course it could continue to operate it. The town would assume all the risk but get all the profits.

2: The town could retain control of the course but hire a management firm to run it. There would be the opportunity to make some money from that deal.

3: The town could enter into a long-term lease with a golf course operator and realize some financial gain from the lease itself.

4. A hybrid of the other three options, mix and match as it were.

Later Town Manager Micah Maxwell added another option. Buy the course, take development rights off the books and sell it right away.

Faced with those options board members began peppering Murphy and Maxwell with questions.

Mary Griffith wanted to know if under a lease agreement the lessee would be compelled to keep the course in good shape. Murphy replied that any lease would contain a set of standards or the lessee would default on the deal.

John Prevas asked if the golf course was damaging the aquifer with the chemicals necessary for fertilizing. Board member Tom Lokey noted that the government heavily regulates golf course chemicals. Maxwell said the aquifer should be OK.

After the questions were asked it was back to Murphy to discuss more of what he discovered in his study, and having the town run the golf course was not something he would recommend.

“We found that in cases where municipalities are running golf courses they don’t make as much money as a management deal or a lease arrangement would make,” he said. “Some cities are OK with taking the loss and writing the checks because they want their residents to have that recreational opportunity. I don’t think we’re in that position.”

Murphy said once news of the town’s intention to buy the course got out, several people have come forward with offers to run the course, and in at least two cases, to buy the course. He suggested it would not be difficult to enter into agreements whichever way the commission ultimately decided to go.

The whole idea of buying the course came about because the owners, the Ades Brothers of Miami, were threatening to foreclose on the mortgage of the Belleview Biltmore Hotel, another of their properties, to escape having to pay $250,000 in fines because of the dilapidated state of the hotel.

In addition the brothers would not agree not to develop the golf course into Townhouses, something the commission did not want to happen.

By buying the golf course for $13.5 million the town agreed to wipe out the fines, but would then be able to take the development rights for that property off the books. The Ades Brothers also had to give the town $50,000.

Already the $250 a day fines have begun piling up again because nothing has been done to improve the hotel property.

Town Manager Maxwell told the Finance Board that a town-hired appraiser has pegged the value of the golf course at $13.5 million, but that could go down once the development rights are removed.

Board Chairman Tom Olson said it was obvious the options were down to two. “Operating it ourselves is not feasible,” he said. “The hybrid idea is no good, so we either recommend hiring a management firm to run it, or enter into a lease agreement.”

He then suggested that the board consider recommending a lease agreement until it is clear what should be done with the property. Member Tom Kurey agreed.

“I think a lease is what we should do absolutely,” he said. “A management deal leaves us with all the risk and I don’t think that is the way to go.”

The board agreed to bring the matter up again at its next meeting. Maxwell said he hoped to be able to conclude the deal to buy the course by early February. He hoped the Finance Board would have a recommendation for the Commission shortly after that. 
 

Belleair Bee January 9, 2010
 

Maxwell also said he expects the purchase of the Pelican Golf Course to be completed in two weeks. The town agreed to buy the golf course for $13.5 million to avoid losing more than $250,000 in fines levied against the owners for the dilapidated state of the Belleview Biltmore Hotel, which they also own. The owners threatened foreclosure, which would have negated the liens.

As for the hotel, Maxwell noted that two incomplete demolition permits had been filed with the town and he expects another one soon.

“This time I expect the permit will be complete, although I know a number of groups are out there racing to try to beat the demo permit.”

He was referring to prospective new owners of the hotel who want to maintain it as a resort. The current owners want to demolish it and build townhouses on the site but have said they will sell it if anyone comes forward with the money.

 

Belleair Bee Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Belleair may buy Biltmore golf course  

By BRIAN GOFF

The town of Belleair may soon own the Belleview Biltmore’s Pelican Golf course

Residents of Belleair may become the owners of a golf course.

Town officials are forming an agreement with the Ades brothers of Miami to purchase the Belleview Biltmore golf course, officially the Pelican Golf course, on Indian Rocks Road.

The deal was arranged on Thursday, Nov. 1, when Town Manager Micah Maxwell sat down with the Ades brothers in Miami.

The agreement still has to be ratified by the Town Commission. Commissioners gave Maxwell the go-ahead to make the agreement, during a private meeting on Oct. 30. Under Florida law the meeting could be held privately, or in the “shade,” because it dealt with litigation.

The Ades brothers had begun foreclosure proceedings on the three Biltmore properties to avoid having to pay more than $275,000 in fines accrued because of the deteriorating state of the hotel.

Those fines were at the crux of the deal to buy the golf course. Under the terms of the purchase and sale agreement the town will pay $3.5 million for the property. The town agrees to wipe out the $275,000 in fines and drop the liens against the Beach property and the golf course. The liens against the hotel property will remain.

For its part, the town gets the golf course and $50,000 in cash.

Maxwell said he has been thinking about the deal for some time.

“We’ve been trying to find a way to move forward with the entire issue,” he said. “I’ve been thinking about this for months now, but the commission wasn’t aware of it. As we moved through the negotiation on the liens, it became a strategy that provided us with some value. This way we get some value for the lien and we get to protect the golf course property.”

Maxwell said once the town gets control of the golf course it can pass an ordinance, which would prohibit, in perpetuity, any development on the property.

In recent months both Daniel Ades and his attorneys, on separate occasions, alluded to the fact that there was nothing to prohibit the owners of the golf course from developing it with townhouses or anything else. Even the prospective buyers of the hotel, led by Richard Heisenbottle, pointed out that the golf course property could be developed.

That fact has long been a thorn in the side of Belleair Mayor Gary Katica.

“We are one of the few towns in the entire state that derives its water from the ground,” he said. “That course represents 133 acres of grass and lakes. We have six huge wells and that is where we get our water from. I recently toured the property and it is beautiful with wildlife and everything. We have to protect it.”

Maxwell predicts that the Ades brothers will now drop their foreclosure proceedings.

“Under our agreement to purchase the property the liens, which will remain on the hotel, would become senior to the mortgage so they can’t threaten to foreclose again, it would mean nothing to us.”

It may mean something to the Belleview Biltmore Homeowners Association. They, too, have a lien against the hotel for $107,000. It is for money owed as part of the hotel’s contribution to the upkeep of the residential planned development property, mainly road maintenance. Jim White, the president of the homeowners group, says it is too early to tell how this latest development will affect them.

“We have been negotiating with them,” said White. “We have agreed to settle for $40,000 and a monthly payment of $2,000 from them for ongoing road maintenance. With this latest news we’ll have to consult our attorney to see what to do next.”

As for the golf course deal itself, White was pleased.

“I have felt all along that the prize was the Pelican Golf Course,” he said. “Breaking up the three properties makes sense for the town when you look at the big picture. It allows us to get the Pelican. However having the three properties together gave the town some leverage which it no longer has.”

Maxwell admitted there are various options open to the commission. “We could decide to close the golf course, lease it, sell it or operate it. But before we do anything we will make sure there will never be any development on the property. Keeping that an open space is real important to the town.”

He added that things wouldn’t change anytime soon.

“At this point I don’t see any service interruptions because we have a lot of decisions to make,” he said. “Once the deal is accepted by the commission we will have 75 days to go over the books and study exactly what we will need to do. We have the ability to cancel the deal at any time. The brothers do not.”

Mayor Katica made it clear how he felt about the deal and the future.

“We have to get control of our town because we cannot go through this emotion every couple of years when a developer comes in and talks about townhouses. Doing that to this property would be obscene. We have to get control of our town,” Katica said.



Belleair Bee, Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Belleair to fight Biltmore foreclosure  

By BRIAN GOFF

The Belleview Biltmore hotel – the owners want to foreclose on the mortgage to avoid having to pay heavy fines to the town of Belleair.

BELLEAIR – The town of Belleair will be going to court to fight the foreclosure of the mortgage on the Belleview Biltmore Hotel and associated properties.

The decision to fight the foreclosure was made at a meeting of the Commission behind closed doors on Oct. 30.

Town Attorney David Ottinger said he asked for the meeting to get guidance on how to proceed with the case.

“The town will be defending its rights,” he said following the meeting. “We will be looking for the possibility of a settlement.”

The town has 20 days to respond to the notice of foreclosure. Ottinger said the whole process is going to take some time.

There are many pages of legal jargon involved in the foreclosure but the simplest way to explain it is that the owners of the Belleview Biltmore Hotel, the Belleview Biltmore Golf Course and the Cabana Grill and Bar Restaurant and hotel are the same people who own the mortgage on the three properties, the Ades brothers of Miami. Thus the Ades brothers are foreclosing on themselves.

The purpose of the foreclosure would be to eliminate the more than $260,000 in fines, levied against the properties because the owners have done nothing to remedy the deteriorating state of the hotel.

There was a warning of the foreclosure at the Oct. 2 meeting of the Belleair Commission when attorneys Ray Allen and Lavinia Vaughn appeared on behalf of the Ades brothers and asked the Commission to drop the liens on the beach property and the golf course. They said if that happened then they would not foreclose on the properties, thus leaving the fines on the hotel in place.

If not, they said the foreclosure would in effect wipe out the fines and the town would get nothing. At that time the commissioners delayed discussion on the matter. Before the next meeting on Oct. 16 when they were scheduled to talk about it, the foreclosure notice had been filed.

Belleair Town Manager Micah Maxwell said he wasn’t surprised at the foreclosure notice.

“At the last meeting the commissioners had a lack of consensus. David (Ottinger) and I, had no feeling there was a unified direction so you can’t efficiently negotiate under that circumstance,” he said. “I suspect the owners felt that too and had to move forward.”

With court action now begun, the town was able to convene a meeting in the “shade,” a private meeting involving only the mayor, commissioners, the town manager, the town attorney and a court reporter. Florida’s Sunshine Law allows certain matters of litigation to be discussed in private so the commissioners can map out a legal strategy and advise Ottinger how to proceed. Once the lawsuit is over what happened behind those closed doors will be made public.

Repeated calls to attorneys Allen and Vaughn went unanswered, as did an email asking for comment about the foreclosure. But at the Oct. 2 meeting, Allen said his client likely would not accept a deal of paying half the fines and pledging no development on the golf course.

“The cost of foreclosure would probably be cheaper than paying half the fines,” he said. “And I could not recommend that they make any commitment regarding future development of the golf course.”

Once the foreclosure gets into the court there will be an auction on the courthouse steps to hear all bids for the property. The current owners will be able to bid the amount of the current mortgage, which Attorney Vaughn says is $26.8 million. It has been widely reported that the Ades brothers purchased the property for $8 million. That discrepancy will likely be one of the arguments raised during court proceedings.

Mayor Gary Katica is not happy about the whole affair. “I think it is a shame that they would come into town and not do anything to the hotel and be fined $250 dollars a day. The whole purpose of doing this is to get out of the fines,” he said. “I hope they come to their senses and come to meet with us and try to settle this instead of spending all that money on the lawyers to try to usurp their responsibility.”

Beneath all this is the owner’s application to demolish the hotel. They have set Dec. 31 as the deadline for someone to step forward and purchase the property or they will begin the demolition, assuming the permit is granted. That would make the foreclosure proceeding moot because Ottinger says it will not move quickly through the courts.

“It takes a while,” he said. “It is a lawsuit, it has to work its way through the docket of the court, and it could be a six month process.”

If it makes it that far and if the foreclosure is granted, Ottinger said the $250 a day fines will begin again.

“There has not been any compliance; if the lien is foreclosed out it will start fresh with the new owners.”

 


Historic Florida Hotel Sits on Death Row

Group Seeks $116.5 Million to Rescue Shuttered Belleview Biltmore, Once Hot Spot for Rich, Famous and the 'Iron Lady'

Tampa Bay Times/Zuma Press

The historic Belleview Biltmore, closed since 2009, is facing demolition.

Now, the vacant, wood-framed hotel, long described as the White Queen of the Gulf, faces demolition if an architect from Coral Gables, Fla., and his partners fail to raise an estimated $116.5 million to buy it, rehabilitate it and eventually reopen it. The 394-room hotel has been owned since 2010 by South Florida investors Raphael Ades and Daniel Ades, who say that they intend to raze the structure early next year and sell the land for development unless preservationists hit their price.

Racing to beat that deadline are architect Richard Heisenbottle and his two partners, who have hired Miami investment bank CGI Merchant Group LLC to raise capital for buying the hotel and restoring it to its former glory.

The group so far has assembled nearly $25 million through a federal investment tax program for historic buildings, and Mr. Heisenbottle anticipates landing a $75.5 million construction loan. He still is canvassing potential investors for as much as $16 million in equity contributions, he said.

"We truly believe that this is an absolutely amazing property…that will be akin to many of the other grand hotels of the Gilded Age," Mr. Heisenbottle said, comparing a restored Belleview Biltmore with renowned hotels such as the Breakers in Palm Beach, Fla., and the Hotel Del Coronado near San Diego.

The effort to save the Belleview Biltmore from the wrecking ball mirrors many efforts throughout the country that have taken place to spare historic but costly structures. Such structures often capture public attention and are saved.

For example, the historic Biltmore hotel in Coral Gables, opened in 1926, sat vacant for several years in the 1970s and 1980s before the city bought, rehabilitated and reopened it in 1986.

In Hot Springs, Va., the 483-room Homestead resort, opened in 1766, nearly closed due to lack of capital before Club Corp. of America bought it in 1993 and spent more than $100 million over the next 12 years restoring and renovating it.

But few of these campaigns to save historic sites have played out during the downturn. Working against the Belleview Biltmore are aftereffects of the recession, such as the stringent lending market for hotel construction and renovation, as well as budget woes facing the kind of nonprofits and local governments that often ride to the rescue.

The Belleview Biltmore was built by industrialist Henry Plant on a spur of his multistate railroad in a bid to sell home sites around the hotel to wealthy Northeasterners. The hotel quickly became a favorite haunt of business leaders and politicians and emerged as a major golf destination in 1915, when golf architect Donald J. Ross built two 18-hole courses there that attracted famous amateur and professional golfers. It was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

But in the past decade, the hotel fell on hard times.

The hotel was closed in 2009 by then-owner Legg Mason Real Estate LM -1.37%I   nvestors in anticipation of a substantial renovation that ultimately didn't happen. The hotel hasn't had any guests since then besides six coyote pups who last year took up residence in an empty fountain at its front entrance.

The Ades brothers purchased the property for about $8 million in December 2010 from Bank of New York Mellon Corp. BK -2.35% which had taken the property from Legg Mason. Last month, the brothers filed an application in Belleair for a demolition permit.

Their lawyer, Vin Marchetti of Greenberg Traurig LLP, said they have committed to hold off until year-end in case Mr. Heisenbottle succeeds in raising money to buy the Belleview Biltmore. If the hotel is razed, it most likely will be replaced by condominiums and town homes, he and town officials said.

Mr. Heisenbottle first studied the property while helping Legg Mason craft its renovation plans. This time, he has teamed with Miami developer Hector Torres and tour-company executive Charles Kropke.

The trio's to-do list for restoring the hotel calls for replacing its roof, windows, electrical wiring and plumbing.

They also intend to renovate the hotel's banquet hall and build a new kitchen and laundry rooms.

Belleair's town commission in September voted 3-2 to grant the hotel a property-tax abatement on some of the restoration work, through the exact amount of the exemption isn't yet determined.

A study that Mr. Heisenbottle's group commissioned from PFK Consulting Inc. forecast that a restored Belleview Biltmore could generate average nightly rates of $273 by 2017 and $289 by 2018. Mr. Heisenbottle anticipates expanding the hotel's clientele beyond seasonal leisure travelers to include business groups, conferences and weddings.

He also plans to sign the hotel with a national brand, which would bring guests through its reservation system and customer-loyalty programs, such as possibly Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc.'s HOT -0.35% Luxury Collection or Marriott International Inc.'s MAR -0.03% Autograph Collection.

First, Mr. Heisenbottle's team must gather the money to buy the hotel.

"I think we're getting closer to the end, one way or the other," he said. "I remain optimistic that we're going to get this done, though the challenge has been more difficult than we expected."

http://www.tampabay.com/news/localgovernment/future-of-belleview-biltmore-becomes-murkier/1254661   Tampa Bay Times

Future of Belleview Biltmore becomes murkier

By Terri Bryce Reeves, Times Correspondent

Belleair town officials have received an application from the owners of the historic Belleview Biltmore hotel to destroy the massive 115-year-old wooden structure.
 

BELLEAIR — The prospective owners of the Belleview Biltmore hotel, once hailed as saviors who would restore the deteriorating landmark to its former splendor, will be not be closing on the property this week — or perhaps ever.

And to make matters even more ominous for the "White Queen on the Gulf," current property owners Raphael and Daniel Ades are requesting approval to demolish it.

Not only that, the brothers are asking the town to release the lien on the Cabana Club and Belleview Biltmore Golf Club properties. If the town doesn't comply, their attorney warned, a foreclosure could be initiated and the town could lose more than a quarter-million dollars in fines.

• • •

Mayor Gary Katica said things were getting "a little ugly."

According to Katica, Raphael Ades recently told commission members (in individual meetings) he didn't think Coral Gables architect Richard Heisenbottle and partners Hector Torres and Charles Kropke (a.k.a. the Belleview Biltmore Partners) were going to be able to obtain the financing for the hotel.

"He (Ades) said he didn't want to delay any longer and would be filing for a permit to demolish," Katica said. The owners had filed a request to demolish in January but the application was deemed incomplete.

On Sept. 21, the town received a five-page cover letter along with the application to destroy the massive 115-year-old wooden structure.

The letter, written by the owners' attorney, states that the Belleview Biltmore Partners were unable to close on the loan and are in default of the contract. (Heisenbottle and his team bought the hotel in March and were given six months to close.)

When contacted by phone, Heisenbottle would not comment on the failure to close, outlook for financing or plans to restore the hotel.

"I will only tell you that the present contract expires on Friday and I just had a meeting with Daniel Ades and we are in the process of renegotiating an extension for the contract," he said.

Luciano Lautenberg, director of marketing for Kawa Capital Management, a Miami-based asset management firm founded by Daniel Ades and Alexandre Saverin, said, "We are in the middle of negotiations and cannot comment at this time."

The letter of application gives a Dec. 31 deadline for Heisenbottle or any prospective buyers to close on the property before demolition occurs.

It also says the owners plan to apply for a zoning change to allow residential development of the property.

And, it states the owners plan to seek removal of the hotel's historic designation. The 820,000-square-foot structure has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1979.

 

Recently Heisenbottle and his group asked the town to approve a highly contentious tax exemption for renovations on historic commercial properties — such as the Biltmore — saying it was needed to make the project financially feasible.

The town was divided with preservationists on one side and those who feared the town would go belly up from losing a potential $5 million in tax revenues on the other.

A month ago, the Town Commission approved the ordinance by 3-2. Now that it is enshrined in town law, it may all have been for naught.

• • •

During a Tuesday work session, Ray Allen, an attorney for the owners, asked the town to grant a partial release of liens for the Cabana Club and golf course. The town's Code Enforcement Board has imposed a $250 per day fine as a result of hotel code violations ever since the previous owners, Legg Mason, were involved. When the Ades brothers bought the three properties the lien was attached to all three.

As of Wednesday, the fines had accrued to over $266,000, said assistant town manager J.P. Murphy.

If the town won't release the two properties from the lien, the owners say they could begin foreclosure proceedings. If the first mortgagee (Kawa) is the successful bidder, the amount of the lien would be cancelled with no payment to the town since the town is considered the secondary lien holder.

However, the attorney offered that if the town releases the lien on the Cabana Club and golf course, the town would be given the right to collect the lien money when the hotel is sold.

The Town Commission is working on a counterproposal.

• • •

In the meantime, Katica and plenty of others worry about the fate of the Biltmore.

"It's on 23 of the finest acres in the state of Florida," said Katica. "It's 45- to 50-feet above sea level and in a private community. It's worth more to the Ades brothers if the hotel isn't on it. But the best thing for the town is if the Belleview Biltmore is restored.

"I have strong feelings for the people that are true preservationists and have to see this process unfolding in front their eyes. Some are so into it they would lie down in front of a bulldozer."

http://tbnweekly.com/pubs/belleair_bee/content_articles/100312_bee-01.txt  Belleair Bee

Biltmore owners may foreclose  


Proposed action designed to eliminate liens on three properties

By BRIAN GOFF

Article published on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012       

BELLEAIR – Throughout months of debate and discussion regarding the uncertain fate of the Belleview Biltmore Hotel, one thing was certain. A fine of $250 a day was accumulating because the owners did not take any action regarding cleaning up the property and fixing the roof to prevent further damage.

At the Belleair Commission meeting on Oct. 2 it was revealed those fines now totaled $266,500 and climbing.

The current owners of the hotel, the Ades brothers of Miami, have made it clear they did not intend to take remedial action on the hotel because they planned to sell the property or tear it down to develop townhouses on the site. Their problem has been, however, fines on their two other properties, the Cabana Club on Gulf Boulevard and the Belleview Biltmore Golf club.

Recently Daniel Ades appeared before the commission and asked that the liens on the Cabana Club and Golf Course be removed so they could proceed with the development or sale of those properties. He was denied.

On Oct. 2 they made the request again but this time with some heavy support. Two attorneys from the Carleton Fields law firm were on hand to answer any questions regarding a notice the town had received that the Ades brothers, who own the first mortgage on the property, would foreclose on themselves and in so doing would wipe out the liens on all three properties, thus avoiding paying the fines.

Town attorney David Ottinger explained that the Ades brothers would not foreclose on the property if the town would release the Cabana Club and the golf course from the liens.

Mayor Gary Katica was the first to speak saying, “We as a town are always being asked to give something up. I’m up to my head in this.”

He wondered if the owners would agree to pay half the fines and give the town a legally binding document stipulating that at no time would the golf course be developed into a residential area. Attorney Ray Allen said that wasn’t likely.

“The cost of foreclosure would probably be cheaper than paying half the fines,” he said. “And I would not recommend that they make such a commitment regarding future development of the golf course, that would devalue the property many times over.”

He said Raphael Ades made a commitment via email that the golf course would not be developed. “We have no intention of rezoning or redeveloping the golf course at this time,” he said in the email.

There also was some doubt as to the amount of the mortgage on the property. It had long been reported that the Ades brothers obtained the property for $8 million. However, attorney Lavinia Vaughn said the mortgage was $26 million.

“The mortgage is now registered at $26.8 million,” she said. “My client may have paid a discounted price but that is what the mortgage is.”

Two weeks ago the owners applied for a demolition permit, saying the prospective owners, the Heisenbottle Group, defaulted on their purchase agreement. Resident Tom Curry wondered if the town had granted the historic preservation tax exemption while Heisenbottle was in default. Mayor Katica said he didn’t know.

Mayor Katica asked the attorneys if the Ades brothers would come to the next meeting to negotiate the issue.

“Have them bring us something,” he said. To which attorney Allen replied, “You have our offer, now you have to respond. We are not going to negotiate against ourselves.”

The item will be back on the agenda at the next commission meeting on Oct. 16. However, it will only be a discussion item and no action will be possible. Also at play in the scenario is time. The Ades brothers have set Dec. 31 as the deadline for any deal to be complete or they will proceed with the demolition plans. Foreclosure proceedings would take six months according to their attorney, past the deadline.

At one point during the meeting Katica said he could not imagine the owners proceeding with their foreclosure plans.

“It would be a public relations nightmare,” he said.

To which attorney Allen replied: “This whole property has been a public relations nightmare.”

 

Belleair Bee  Article published on Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2012  

Demolition application filed for Belleview Biltmore  

By BRIAN GOFF

An application is in the works to demolish the Belleview Biltmore hotel, which has fallen into disrepair in recent years.

BELLEAIR – The owners of the Belleview Biltmore Hotel filed another application Sept. 21 for a permit to demolish the historic landmark.

In the five-page cover letter that accompanied the application, the owners of the hotel, the Ades brothers of Miami, indicated they were filing for the permit because the potential new owners of the property, Miami Architect Richard Heisenbottle and his group, defaulted on their contract to buy the property because they were unable to come up with the money. The letter states “BBP (Heisenbottle) was unable to close on the loan and defaulted on the contract. BB Hotel (Ades brothers) even provided an extension at no cost which was not required by the contract but BBP was still unable to close on the loan.”

Despite that Richard Heisenbottle said the application will not inhibit him and his partners from proceeding with their efforts to buy the property.

“This has no effect whatsoever on our plans,” he said. “We are proceeding with assembling our capital stack; the process is taking longer than we thought. We just finished getting our tax exemption from the town.”

Heisenbottle said he was not bothered by the demolition application.

“They were kind enough to tell us in advance that they were going to do it,” he said. “They have to keep things moving because if this sale doesn’t go through then they have to move on and this is a lengthy process.”

Belleair Town Manager Micah Maxwell confirmed the process could take a while.

“We have 20 days to review the application to make sure it is complete and another 30 days to review it for content,” he said. “After that there has to be a public meeting with the Historic Preservation Board and another public meeting with the commission. It will be close to sometime in December before it gets to the commission for approval.”

Heisenbottle indicated that recognizing the difficulty in getting financing prompted his group to pare back their plans for the restoration of the hotel. They had initially planned for a 465-room hotel. They have since scaled that back to 274 rooms in the main building. “There could be a second phase to the project in the future in the East Wing but we need to begin with the main building,” he said. “The 274-room plan would cost considerably less money.”

The application for the demolition permit indicates the owners will soon apply for a zoning change for the site. They will ask that the property be rezoned to permit residential development. All along the Ades brothers had indicated a desire to build townhomes on the site once they couldn’t interest hotel developers to move in.

Back in January the Ades brothers filed for a permit to demolish the building. The application got nowhere because it was lacking vital information. Before they got around to filing a more complete application the Heisenbottle group stepped forward in April with the news that they intended to buy and restore the property.

Whether or not this latest application includes the information missing in the initial application remains to be seen.

“The amount of information is more substantial, but I can’t say whether it is more complete or not,” said Town Manager Maxwell, who added that he and his staff had just begun to review the document.

There is still an opportunity for Heisenbottle or anyone else to purchase the property. The owners have set a Dec. 31 deadline for prospective new owners to close on a deal by that time. They have asked the town to defer any demolition permit until after that date.

“Mr. Heisenbottle and his group have done a lot of work surrounding the purchase of the hotel,” said Marchetti. “My client would be willing to honor that and extend the time to them.”

For Mayor Gary Katica the news of the permit application was not good.

“It is a sad moment because the best thing for Belleair is that the Biltmore will be restored,” he said. “I still hope that is the way it will go, but Raphael and Daniel (the Ades brothers) are protecting themselves in case this doesn’t go through.”

 

http://tbnweekly.com/pubs/belleair_bee/content_articles/090512_bee-02.txt

Belleair OKs Biltmore tax exemption  

By BRIAN GOFF


The Belleview Biltmore hotel has been granted an historical tax exemption, which the new owners must apply for once refurbishment is done.

  
BELLEAIR – The ordinance granting the Belleview Biltmore hotel an historic tax exemption passed on second reading and now it will be up to the new owners of the property to apply for that exemption and negotiate its terms with town officials.

The ordinance was passed at a special Commission meeting on Sept. 4 and the final vote was identical to the 3-2 vote that passed first reading two weeks ago. Belleair Mayor Gary Katica and Commissioner Kevin Piccarreto voted against the ordinance, Commissioners Tom Shelly and Michael Wilkinson and Vice-Mayor Stephen Fowler voted for it.

Unlike two weeks ago there was a sparse turnout of residents and only a half dozen of them spoke to the issue; all were in favor of the ordinance.

Resident Lavonne Johnson urged the commissioners to vote in favor of the measure.

“When an opportunity arises you take the chance or you get nothing,” she said. “The opportunity is now, give life and rebirth to the hotel.”

Laurie Adams agreed.

“This is not a stimulus tax break,” she said. “We would just be adding commercial properties to the residential exemption we have now. I have faith that you will negotiate a good deal and even if these guys don’t get the money, others may be encouraged by this exemption.”

Resident Petey Henning spoke to critics of the location of the hotel. “This doesn’t have to be on U.S. 19 to be viable; there is a market for this,” she said.

Then it was the commissioners turn to speak. Mayor Gary Katica, who voted against the ordinance two weeks ago, took offense to how people had been characterizing him.

“My opinion has always been the Belleview Biltmore is best for our town. I’m not against it, I’ve always supported it,” he said. “But I must protect the town’s finances. Forty-one towns and cities in this country are bankrupt right now because of deals like this.”

Commissioner Kevin Piccarreto said the ordinance was confusing.

“I’m uneasy that there isn’t enough protection in this ordinance,” he said. “Here we are again tonight making changes on the fly. I’d like to see a successful hotel on that site but why are we under the gun tonight. We have to do due diligence.”

Voting for the ordinance was Commissioner Michael Wilkinson.

“We have the historical ordinance to encourage development of residential properties. Now we’re being asked to extend it to commercial properties. I don’t want to stand in the way,” Wilkinson said.

Fowler agreed, laughing.

“What he said,” he said.

Commissioner Tom Shelly, who proposed the motion approving the exemption, called the hotel “the best possible plan."

“There is no downside for us and we can negotiate the terms of this deal once the hotel is built,” Shelly said.

That is in fact what will happen next. The new owners will have three years to complete the refurbishment of the property, then they must apply for the tax exemption. Once that happens, the negotiations begin. To be decided is whether or not the exemption will be for the maximum 10 years, or something less, whether the amount of the exemption will be for 100 percent of the improvement costs, or something less. The town also can impose or negotiate other terms and conditions.

Hurrying out to catch a plane after the vote was prospective owner Richard Heisenbottle. With a smile he said he was pleased with the outcome.

“I’m ecstatic,” he said. “We got support from the town on what I think is a motherhood and apple pie issue. We can now take our tax savings and move forward.”

If the deal turns out to be for 10 years at 100 percent of the cost of improvements, the tax saving is estimated to be more than $4 million.

The deadline for the Heisenbottle group to close the deal on the property is sometime in September.

Budget hearings begin:

Belleair commissioners agreed tentatively, with little discussion, to set the millage rate at 5.9432 which is the same as last year. A second and final public hearing on the budget will be held Sept. 19 at 6:30 p.m. The total budget for Belleair is $18.3 million.

One of the cost cutting measures this year is to eliminate the Sunday telephone operator. Records show that on a normal Sunday the operator fields only three calls. The new system will have the calls routed to the message managers of the appropriate department. Emergency 911 calls automatically go to the sheriff’s call center. Elimination of the Sunday service will save $5,700 annually.

New vehicle for Parks and Recreation

Commissioners gave the green light for the town to purchase a new Ford Explorer at a cost of just over $21,000 to be used by the Parks and Recreation Department. The vehicle replaces another that was demolished in a crash recently. The driver of the other vehicle was cited by police for making an illegal turn which caused the crash.

Expensive lawn work

It is getting expensive to cut the lawn at 1750 Indian Rocks Road in Belleair. For the past year the owner of the vacant property has not responded to the town’s notice that the lawn be mowed and edged, the weeds removed and shrubbery trimmed.

Each time the owner neglected to take action the town moved in to do the job and billed the owner $450 for the work.

Mayor Katica said, “It is too bad that house is right at the southern entrance to our town.”

Police Chief Tom Edwards told the commissioners that repeated efforts to track down the owner, Crystina Bekier of New Hampshire, have failed.

“We even had to call India to try to find the property manager,” he said.

Town crews will now go ahead and do the work and another $450 will be charged to Bekier’s account. If she doesn’t pay then a lien will be filed against the property.

 

http://www.tampabay.com/news/localgovernment/belleair-approves-tax-break-for-biltmore-restoration/1249951

Belleair approves tax break for Biltmore restoration
By Diane Steinle, Times Staff Writer
Thursday, September 6, 2012

BELLEAIR — For weeks, town commissioners debated whether this small town could afford to give the prospective owners of the Belleview Biltmore hotel a hefty property tax exemption in exchange for their restoring and reopening the 115-year-old landmark.

Tuesday night, the debate ended in a 3-2 vote to approve the exemption and enshrine it in town law.

Mayor Gary Katica and Commissioner Kevin Piccarreto voted against the ordinance. Piccarreto was particularly critical, saying the town has not done enough research on the idea, which the commission first began discussing in July, and that a decision was being rushed to meet the prospective owners' deadline.

Biltmore Partners LLC asked for a change in town law that would make it eligible for the tax exemption by the time it closed on the hotel purchase, scheduled for Oct. 1.

The town already offered a tax exemption on the assessed value of improvements made to historic residential properties. Biltmore Partners wanted that opportunity extended to historic commercial properties as well. That's what Tuesday's final vote accomplished.

Now, if restoration of the hotel is completed, Biltmore Partners can apply for the exemption on up to 100 percent of the value of the improvements for up to 10 years.

The exemption is "discretionary, not obligatory," Town Attorney David Ottinger told commissioners. The property owner would apply for the exemption after the improvements were completed and a negotiation process would determine the amount of the exemption and the number of years.

According to estimates, the exemption could mean a revenue loss for the town of up to $5 million total over a decade. Some critics thought that would be too big a blow for the town, which is already short of cash because of the economic downturn.

But advocates, including most residents who spoke at Tuesday's meeting, said the Town Commission should not pass up the opportunity to have the Belleview Biltmore restored to its former grandeur.

The hotel, known as the "White Queen of the Gulf," is on the National Register of Historic Places and housed presidents, celebrities and generations of Pinellas County residents and their guests.

The hotel closed in 2009 and the wooden structure has been deteriorating rapidly. Restoration plans by previous owners or developers have fallen through.

Biltmore Partners LLC, consisting of architect Richard Heisenbottle and real estate developers Hector Torres and Charles J. Kropke, have indicated that with the tax exemption, they could make their restoration plans work.

However, some city officials and residents have criticized the partners for not being transparent enough about their plans and financing.

If their effort fails, any future owner of the Belleview Biltmore who restored the hotel would be eligible to apply for the tax exemption.


Tampa Bay Times   R

Belleair leaders narrowly approve tax exemption for Biltmore
In Print: Thursday, August 23, 2012

Terri Bryce Reeves, Times Correspondent


BELLEAIR — Heavy rains brought street flooding to the town of Belleair on Tuesday night, but that didn't deter a standing-room-only crowd from attending a Town Commission meeting.

At stake was the future restoration of the 115-year-old Belleview Biltmore Hotel, which its prospective buyers said probably wasn't going to happen unless the town approved an ordinance to give them a tax break for improvements to the historical property. The town currently gives such tax abatements only to historic residential structures, not commercial ones.

In the end, the Town Commission approved the proposed ordinance on a 3-2 vote.

It was a contentious meeting in a divided town. The dialogue was often peppered with laughter, hearty applause, nasty insults, and a few "out-of-orders."

On one side: Biltmore supporters, who want to see the landmark hotel restored to its former grandeur. They see the renovation as a stimulus that would bring jobs and raise property values.

On the other: opponents to the ordinance, worried that the town could go belly up from giving nearly $5 million in tax exemptions over 10 years. They fear the mammoth hotel with no beach is a dinosaur that cannot survive the times.

Resident Martin Bialow said the hotel is forever doomed because of its location. He said it can't be compared to other historic hotel properties like the Vinoy Renaissance overlooking the water in bustling downtown St. Petersburg or the Don Cesar on the Gulf of Mexico.

"Belleair is a bedroom community," he said. "This hotel has failed. It needs to be torn down and not preserved because we've seen it's not going to work."

The ordinance allows up to a 100 percent tax exemption for the cost of renovating a historical property for up to 10 years. There is no obligation for the Town Commission to give the tax exemption — that is negotiated at the completion of the renovation. The ordinance also gives up to three years for the completion of renovations.

Preservationist Bill Stokes said the commission had two options.

"You can either display the leadership and vision by granting the requested tax abatement and be heroes forever," he said, "or you can deny this reasonable request and risk being villains forever in the eyes of citizens near and far, the history books and your descendants.

"If the project does not proceed, Belleair will eventually have another unneeded, soulless, gated community," he said. "A newly restored Belleview Biltmore would provide long-term economic stimulus of taxes, prestige, jobs, tourism, social and recreational opportunities, preservation credibility and overall excitement — unlike condos."

Commissioner Mike Wilkinson, who voted in favor of the ordinance, didn't think there were any villains on the board.

"I think we're all here for the right reasons," he said. "However you come down on this issue, you're going to tick off half the people.

"All we're doing is putting a word 'non-residential' on an existing ordinance to allow someone to come in here and attempt to rehab a hotel. If they can't get the money, if their plan is incorrect or isn't doable, I don't think a bank will give it to them and then it's a moot point," he said.

Mayor Gary Katica, a "no" voter, said he was fundamentally against government partnering with private enterprise.

"The truth of the matter is, the hotel being restored, we'd have money flowing in in four or five years. Townhouses or condos would be eight or nine years. But there is no doubt in my mind that these people will go on no matter what we say tonight and the town won't be on the hook for a dime."

Commissioner Kevin Piccarreto, the other "no" vote, called on the ownership group to provide more financial information.

"I think there needs to be more transparency," he said. "As soon as they're forthcoming, I think that we could research it, and more of (the) town would be behind it."

Piccarreto said he's not opposed to the hotel.

"I'd like to see a successful hotel at that property with private funds," he said.

But Deputy Mayor Steve Fowler said by passing the ordinance, "We're simply allowing the process to move forward."

Commissioner Tom Shelly said most towns would welcome a $125 million investment.

"There will be no tax abatement until the hotel gets a certificate of occupancy, and that's the time they negotiate it," he said.

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http://tbnweekly.com/pubs/belleair_bee/content_articles/082212_bee-02.txt  Belleair Bee Wednesday August 22, 2012

Biltmore gets historical exemption 

By BRIAN GOFF

Photo by BRIAN GOFF
[Image]

It was standing room only at the Belleair Town Hall as commissioners granted a tax exemption for the refurbishment of the Belleview Biltmore hotel.

BELLEAIR – Before a packed Town Hall, Belleair Commissioners voted to give the Belleview Biltmore hotel the historical property tax exemption that the prospective new owners asked for. But it wasn’t a slam-dunk; the vote was close, 3-2, in favor of the exemption, and it came after two hours of discussion and debate.

The Aug. 21 meeting was held on a stormy night, but that didn’t stop the crowd from showing up to plead for and against the ordinance granting the exemption. In fact there was standing room only. The crowd appeared split down the middle, for and against the ordinance. There was no shortage of speakers, 23 people weighed in on the issue.

Resident Laurie Adams cautioned the commissioners to follow the law. “You are not here to determine whether or not the hotel will be viable in the future,” she said. “You are here to do what the law tells you to do.”

Resident Jim White urged the commissioners to look to the future.

“For the good of our children I urge you to do what you have to do to modify the ordinance to protect the hotel’s future,” he said. While resident Cecil Rose took the opposite view. “There is no reason to subsidize a commercial property,” he said. “Any fire marshal would condemn the place. It is not our business to determine if the hotel is viable.”

Then it was the commissioners turn to have their say before the vote. Commissioner Tom Shelly proposed the motion to support the ordinance and grant the tax exemption.

“Any town would be happy to have a $125 million investment. And we don’t have to grant the tax abatement until the certificate of occupancy,” he said.

Mayor Gary Katica spoke next and he made it clear where he stood.

“I am fundamentally against putting public money into private enterprise,” he said. “There are towns all over this country going bankrupt. I have to look at that. I have no interest other than what’s best for the town.”

He then said he didn’t believe the deal would die without the tax abatement.

“I believe these people will go ahead with this whether we grant the exemption or not,” he said. “And we won’t have to worry about 10 years and millions of dollars.”

Vice Mayor Stephen Fowler said passing the ordinance would just allow the process to move forward.

“Remember this is just first reading of the bill; we will have a chance for another crack at it,” he said. “This is just part of the process.”

Commissioner Michael Wilkinson reminded the crowd that the commissioners just want to do what’s best.

“There is no villain here,” he said. “No matter what we decide we’re going to tick off half the people. It will be the bank which will decide if these people are going to get the money, and if they don’t this will be a moot point.”

Finally, Commissioner Kevin Piccarreto spoke. All through the process he has been the most vocal, particularly in looking for financial information from the buyers.

“If this were a true public-private partnership then we would have a right to ask for that financial information,” he said. “We didn’t get it and I don’t believe we’re going to get it. I don’t believe this ordinance protects the citizens of Belleair. We need more transparency in this matter. I do not support it.”

Moments later his vote confirmed his words. Piccarreto was joined by Mayor Katica voting against granting the tax exemption. Fowler, Shelley and Wilkinson voted for it.

There are still details of the exemption to be worked out and negotiated but as it stands the exemption kicks in three years after construction plans are approved. It would then last for up to 10 years and would exempt property taxes up to 100 percent of the money spent on improvements of the property. That amount has been estimated to be $76 million and would translate into a $416,000 per year saving to the owners, or over $4 million over the 10 year period.

New tax and fee approved

On another matter commissioners unanimously approved a new stormwater fee and a new tax on resident’s electric bills. It was the second reading of the ordinances so approval was expected. The average cost to homeowners for the stormwater fee will be $11.92 a month. The tax amount on the utility bill will be 10 percent of the electric portion of the bill. Both the new fee and the tax will be used to help pay for a $10 million loan the town had to get to fix and upgrade the aging infrastructure in the community.

The stormwater fee will likely go into effect in October, while the utility tax will be effective in January 2013.

 

http://www.tampabay.com/news/localgovernment/belleair-to-consider-tax-break-for-belleview-biltmore-restoration/1244869

Belleair to consider tax break for Belleview Biltmore restoration
By Terri Bryce Reeves, Times Correspondent


Tampa Bay Times In Print: Thursday, August 9, 2012


BELLEAIR — If the prospective owners of the Belleview Biltmore don't get a requested tax exemption, their planned historical renovation of the former hotel may not move forward, spelling potential doom for the 115-year-old "White Queen of the Gulf."

That's the message that real estate developer Hector Torres and his partner Charles J. Kropke, two of the three principals in the ownership group Belleview Biltmore Partners LLC, brought to Tuesday night's Belleair Town Commission work session.

"If you give me the tools, I can be ready," Torres told Belleair commissioners.

Belleair has an ordinance that allows property tax exemptions for 10 years for the assessed value of improvements that are made to historic residential properties.

The Belleview Biltmore Partners want the town to include historic commercial properties in that ordinance too — properties like the Biltmore.

They're also asking for a longer time period to finish the construction because of the size and scope of the project.

Torres said he isn't a gambler, just a developer willing to take a calculated risk by restoring the massive wooden structure to its former splendor. And now he's asking the town to be a partner and help make the project viable by granting the tax exemption.

"I'm asking you to make a small sacrifice," he said. "You have no risk, unless we're successful."

Making a project eligible for such a tax break doesn't automatically grant a tax break. Instead, that gets decided after the renovations are done.

In the meantime, a deadline looms. Oct. 1 is the planned closing date for the partners to buy the property from its current owners, BB3 Holdings LLC.

The current owners had wanted to demolish the landmark hotel, noted for its Queen Anne style of architecture. Even though it's been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1979, the "Queen's" head has been on the chopping block several times before.

A passionate group of Belleair residents filled the seats at Tuesday's Town Commission work session as commissioners discussed whether to take up the developers' proposal at their Aug. 21 regular meeting. Votes are not taken at work sessions.

Some residents expressed concern about more traffic, the risks if the project isn't completed, and a lack of financial information about the investors.

Some said they worry how a small, cash-strapped town with annual property tax revenues of about $3.4 million can give up potential revenue streams of $477,000 a year for up to 10 years. That represents roughly 14 percent of the town's taxable value, said JP Murphy, assistant town manager.

Resident Tim Mariani said he's not sure the whole thing makes sense for the citizens of Belleair.

"It's a huge stretch for a small bedroom community to be subsidizing, with taxpayers' (money), the development of a private investor," he said.

Lil Cromer called herself a "nonpreservationist."

"The preservationists think with their heart, not with their head," she said before the meeting started. "I'm an accountant. I look at the numbers. I'm a realist."

But others were loyalists to the "Queen."

Roger Peters, who said he has 40 years in the construction industry, called the Biltmore — in its present state — a disgrace. Closed in 2009, it has been deteriorating ever since. He encouraged the commission to help make the hotel a beautiful, viable showpiece once again — a place where he can bring his grandkids.

"This is the toughest construction loan market in a while. If these guys can convince people to invest $125 million, we should cheer them on and celebrate their victory," Peters said to much applause.

"Every state in this union is looking for businesses to come into their towns and build factories, hotels and other facilities. This project will generate nearly 2,000 jobs for the local community and county, and tremendous revenues result from this particular investment.

"This town is not investing one dime," he continued. "You're just not collecting additional tax revenue for a specified period of time."

Jim White said it's a "no-brainer." He said his condo overlooking the hotel has lost 50 percent of its value. He predicted it would rise instantly as soon as restoration began.

In the end, commissioners said they'll consider the proposed ordinance on Aug. 21. It remains to be seen how they'll vote.

One potential sticking point: the fate of the Biltmore's 18-hole golf course. Apparently, a 50-year restriction on development of the golf course expired in 2006.

Though Torres felt certain the prospective owners would keep the golf course, Mayor Gary Katica said the whole idea was making him nervous. He said development of the course could hamper the town's ability to get water from the ground below, and it could obscure the views from existing homes.

"To me, that's a deal breaker," he said.
 



Belleair Bee  Wednesday, August 8, 2012

http://tbnweekly.com/pubs/belleair_bee/content_articles/080812_bee-03.txt   (photo at link)

Golf course development ‘a deal breaker’  

By BRIAN GOFF

Article published on Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2012    Print  E-Mail    


Photo by BRIAN GOFF

Belleair City Hall's meeting room is filled with residents Aug. 7, who joined the debate over the fate of the Belleview Biltmore hotel.

BELLEAIR – It was another packed house at the Belleair City Hall on Aug. 7 as once again the fate of the Belleview Biltmore hotel was on the agenda.

But it was the Belleview Biltmore Golf Club that became the center of attention and had Mayor Gary Katica remark that he was getting worried.

The issue before the commission was the request by the prospective owners of the hotel that they be granted a 10-year historical property tax exemption. That discussion, including comments from several people in the audience, went on for nearly three hours. By then half the people had left. They missed the big news.

Hector Torres, one of the three potential owners of the property, dropped a bomb that one woman said “took the air right out of the room.” He told the commissioners that he and his partners reserved the right to redevelop the golf course property.

“The golf course is developable,” he said.

Mayor Gary Katica was outraged.

“That is a deal breaker,” he said. “The golf course is 132 acres of grassland, under which is our water supply. To develop that is like a bullet to the heart of Belleair.”

Torres had earlier told the commission that the deal to purchase the hotel, golf course and cabana club was contingent upon their getting the historical tax exemption. According to Town Manager Micah Maxwell that tax break would amount to more than $477,000 a year for 10 years.

Commissioner Kevin Piccarreto had repeatedly asked why the ownership group did not come through with the financial information they had been asked for. And on two separate occasions the town’s Finance Board had recommended not moving ahead with any community support for the project because of a lack of financial information. Torres said for the most part they did not have the information the town wanted, and in some cases confidentiality agreements had been signed with potential investors that meant the information could not be disclosed. It appeared the tide was turning against the hotel’s prospective owners.

It was then Torres let it be known that they could, and might, develop the golf course. “Am I standing here and telling you that we won’t develop the golf course if we get our tax exemption?” he asked. “I say everything is negotiable.”

Town Manager Maxwell told the commissioners that indeed the golf course property is developable. He said the 50-year freeze on developing that land expired in 2006 and the owners have the property rights to develop the land. But he said it won’t be easy. “They would have to get permits. They would have to have land use regulations changed, they would have to have alterations to the comprehensive plan,” he said. “But on the other hand we would have to respect the property rights of the owners.”

Torres and another partner Charles Kropke both told the commission they preferred leaving the golf course the way it is. But Torres then said “we will agree not to develop the golf course as long as we get our tax exemption.”

It was then Mayor Katica said, “I’m hearing things here tonight that make me nervous.”

Later the mayor said; “I’m against government becoming partners in private enterprise. That’s just the way I see it.”

This was an indication that he would not support granting the tax exemption.

The evening ended with the commissioners agreeing to have the issue come back to the next meeting on Aug. 21 in the form of an ordinance. It is possible the request for the tax exemption could be defeated if the ordinance is not passed. There was discussion that perhaps the item just come back for discussion without a vote but Vice Mayor Stephen Fowler noted that time was running out.

Closing date for the sale of the Belleview Biltmore and the other two properties is Oct. 1. If the sale doesn’t happen then the current owners, the Ades brothers, could apply to demolish the hotel with an eye to building townhomes on the site. That idea doesn’t sit well with many residents, one of whom, Sandy Black, remarked during the meeting; “If we lose the hotel, we will have nothing.”

 


 

Click link to see photo:  http://tbnweekly.com/pubs/belleair_bee/content_articles/071812_bee-01.txt  Photo by BRIAN GOFF

‘Uphill battle’ doomed CRA plan  

By BRIAN GOFF

Article published on Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A full house attends the Belleair Town Commission meeting Tuesday evening as residents turned out to discuss the future of the Belleview Biltmore hotel.

BELLEAIR – It was standing room only at Belleair Town Hall July 17 as the Town Commission met to discuss the latest developments in the ongoing saga of the Belleview Biltmore Hotel.

This time the issue was the withdrawal of the request that the hotel property be designated a Community Redevelopment Area. The prospective new owners of the hotel wanted the CRA to be able to get tax money to help them finance the refurbishment of the property. But after the town’s Finance Board failed to support the request, the new owners withdrew it.

In a letter to the commission, Richard Heisenbottle, the leader of the group intending to purchase the property, said it was apparent that the citizens and committee members just didn’t understand the proposal.

“We faced similar concerns and misunderstandings the previous week when the matter came before the Pinellas County Commission,” he wrote. “It seems that few are listening and that this will be an uphill battle all the way.”

Later in the meeting Clearwater consultant Ed Hooper, speaking on behalf of Heisenbottle and his group, said the real reason for the withdrawal of the CRA request was because the new owners were convinced the county commission would have never passed the request for the CRA.

“The reality is the county commission does not grant CRAs to non-downtown areas, and frown upon CRAs lasting longer than 10 years,” said Hooper. “Our request was for up to 40 years. We are convinced they would have denied it.”

Now, they want an historical property tax exemption for 10 years. The complication with that is Belleair only grants such exemptions for residential properties, not commercial properties. The prospective owners have asked that the matter be discussed at the Aug. 7 commission meeting.

Mayor Gary Katica, impatience evident in his voice, suggested the entire issue has gone on far too long.

“I have sat here for 12 years and in that time we have had to cut staff and raise taxes and we have been carrying that hotel,” he said. “There are five or 10 houses in Belleair that pay more taxes than the hotel. The hotel might not be done until 2015; can we afford to carry it when we don’t know if we’ll have anything in the end?”

The mayor also wanted to make sure that the Finance Board had an opportunity to look over the proposed tax exemption before the commission dealt with it. Town Manager Micah Maxwell indicated that would be arranged, but with a September deadline looming for the new owners, time will be tight.

Katica replied, “We’ll do it at our pace.”

Several residents from both sides of the issue spoke, some urging the commission to act quickly, others suggesting that due diligence be taken before any decisions are made.

Underlying the entire discussion was the fact that the owners had not produced their financial information or outlined specifically how they intended to finance the $200 million project. Time and time again Katica and Commissioner Kevin Piccarreto referred to the lack of compliance by the new owners when asked to produce their financials.

To Hooper Katica said, “Show us the numbers!” To which Hooper replied; “They’re coming, they’re coming.”

It appears the finance board will have to hold a special meeting to deal with the issue and it is unlikely the commission will be able to deal with it before its Aug. 21 meeting.


http://www.tampabay.com/news/growth/belleview-biltmore-development-group-drops-request-for-one-financing-tool/1240041

Belleview Biltmore development group drops request for one financing tool, will try another
By Diane Steinle, Times Staff Writer
 

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Belleview Biltmore, on the National Register of Historic Places since 1979, has fallen into disrepair since its closure in 2009. A South Florida group is looking to buy the property.  


BELLEAIR — The prospective owners of the Belleview Biltmore hotel have dropped two parts of their proposal to rejuvenate the 115-year-old landmark.

This week, the group withdrew its request for the town of Belleair to establish a Community Redevelopment Area on the 20-acre property.

Also, the prospective owners eliminated from their plan, for now, a new "east wing" they had said they would build next to the old hotel. That would reduce the potential number of hotel rooms on the redeveloped property from 460 to 312.

Belleview Biltmore Partners LLC, the South Florida group that wants to purchase the property, previously indicated that the CRA designation was a tool they needed to help finance their $225 million restoration of the former hotel.

In a CRA, any taxes collected on increased property values can be plowed back into redevelopment. Called "tax increment financing," the developers had hoped to use it for the debt service on a $20 million bond. The Town Commission went along with the idea, even unanimously declaring there was blight on the Biltmore property, a step required before Belleview Biltmore Partners could ask the County Commission's approval for a CRA.

But county commissioners only gave approval for the town to study a CRA. They noted that most CRAs are in downtowns, and they worried about setting a precedent by approving a CRA for one property that isn't in a downtown.

Then this week, the town of Belleair circulated a staff-written report that showed the renovated hotel would come nowhere near generating a large enough tax increment to cover debt service on a $20 million loan. At best, it could support only $10 million.

The final straw seems to have been a town Finance Board meeting Tuesday, when a number of residents opposed creating a CRA on the hotel land.

Belleview Biltmore Partners got the message. On Wednesday night, the leader of the development group, Coral Gables architect Richard Heisenbottle, called Town Manager Micah Maxwell and withdrew the CRA request.

Instead, Heisenbottle said Thursday, the group will apply for an existing Pinellas County program that provides tax exemptions for 10 years to those who restore historic properties in communities that have qualifying ordinances.

"It's a very logical direction to go," Heisenbottle said, "and will ease the concerns of the community."

However, Belleair will have to amend its own ordinance, which allows tax exemptions only on residential historic properties. Heisenbottle will ask the town to add commercial historic properties to the ordinance.

The Belleair Town Commission, which has its regular meeting Tuesday, had expected to vote then on the developers' CRA request.

"I would expect it would be abandoned," Maxwell said.

Heisenbottle and his partners, tourism professional Charles Kropke and real estate developer Hector Torres, announced in April that they had acquired rights to buy the Belleair hotel property and planned to restore it to its former grandeur. The agreement allows for a six-month due diligence period, and the clock is ticking.

Heisenbottle, Kropke and Torres were greeted as saviors when they unveiled their restoration plan at a town meeting in April. They said then that they were confident they could obtain financing for the project.

They asked for, and generally have received, support from town leaders and residents worried that one of Pinellas County's most treasured landmarks will be lost. The current owner of the property, BB3 Holdings LLC, asked earlier for a permit to demolish the hotel.

The Belleview Biltmore, known as the "White Queen of the Gulf," has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1979. It closed in 2009 and has visibly deteriorated since then.

Heisenbottle said that despite the hangup over the CRA, his group still expects to close on the purchase of the property in September.

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http://tbnweekly.com/pubs/belleair_bee/content_articles/071112_bee-03.txt

Biltmore numbers beginning to unfold  

By BRIAN GOFF

Article published on Wednesday, July 11, 2012    Print  E-Mail   Share

BELLEAIR – Ever since the discussion about creating a Community Redevelopment Area for the Belleview Biltmore Hotel began, Belleair Town commissioners have been eager to hear about the potential cost.

By declaring the property a CRA, the town can then create a special fund called a Tax Increment Financing, or TIF, which would help finance the refurbishment of the hotel. It would mean that taxpayers’ money would be used for that purpose and potentially for as long as 40 years. The question has been, how much money?

In a document given to commissioners July 9, Town Manager Micah Maxwell revealed for the first time what was at stake. It amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.

In the financial summary the document revealed that as it stands the hotel property contributes just over $57,000 annually in taxes to the town. If the property were to become townhomes it would contribute an estimated $276,367, depending upon a number of variables. If the hotel is restored and reopened, it would contribute an estimated $243,031. Without the CRA or TIF money going back into helping pay for the project an additional $500,000 would go to the town in taxes. Over 40 years, the maximum life of the CRA, that amounts to roughly $20 million in lost taxes.

Little discussion on the matter took place at the meeting, however, Mayor Gary Katica and Commissioner Kevin Piccarreto both urged Maxwell to get more financial information from prospective Biltmore ownership partner Richard Heisenbottle. Katica said he could not vote for the CRA if he isn’t satisfied with the information from the new owners.

The town’s Finance Board met July 10 and did not come away with any recommendations regarding the future of the hotel, according to its chairman Tom Olson. The hotel was the only topic on the board’s agenda.

Olson said Richard Heisenbottle and his associates attended the meeting but did not, as requested, provide any specific financial information that would shed light on how they intended to pay for the refurbishment of the property.

Olson said 30 residents attended the meeting, an unusually high number for a Finance Board meeting. He said the Heisenbottle group wanted the board’s support for the creation of a CRA and a TIF to help finance the project. However, Olson said the board decided not to vote on the matter because they lacked the specific financial information they had requested.

The commission will deal with the matter again at its meeting on July 17.  

Town Attorney David Ottinger told the commissioners Monday that he met with representatives of the current owners of the hotel last week. He said they will likely prepare yet another application for demolition in case the deal with the Heisenbottle group falls through. The deadline is in September. Ottinger also said the owners will present the city with their plans to stop more water damage to the hotel. They have been accused of “demolition by neglect” because they had not addressed the water issue at the property.

New fees and taxes discussed

Faced with the need to find $650,000 a year to help pay for a $10 million loan to upgrade the town’s infrastructure, commissioners heard a plan to levy a storm water fee and to impose a public services fee on residents. The public services fee is essentially a tax on the residents’ electrical bill every month. It would amount to 10 percent of the energy portion of the bill. The storm water fee would, on average, amount to $11.92 a month. Residents with larger properties would have to pay more. Commissioners will vote on the matter at the July 17 meeting.

 

http://www.tampabay.com/news/localgovernment/belleair-demands-biltmore-owners-do-more-to-protect-it-or-risk-going-to/1228109

Belleair demands Biltmore owners do more to protect it, or risk going to court

By Lorri Helfand, Times Staff Writer     In Print: Thursday, May 3, 2012

 
BELLEAIR — If the owners of the Belleview Biltmore don't take definitive action to protect the historic landmark from further damage, the town of Belleair may take them to court.

Town Manager Micah Maxwell made that statement at Tuesday night's Town Commission work session.

Last month, a report by town consultant McCarthy and Associates found about 20 areas of the 115-year-old hotel that are in worse condition now than they were a year ago. The report included some 200 photos, many showing sagging awnings, rotting wood and spans of ceilings and walls that have peeled away.

The report was presented to the town days after Coral Gables architect Richard Heisenbottle, who wants to restore the Biltmore, announced he had a contract to buy the shuttered resort from a group of Miami investors who have owned it since December 2010.

Maxwell said he and the town attorney agree with the consultant that there is demolition by neglect occurring in the structure.

The town plans to send a letter to the owners today informing them of the violations. They would have 30 days to start fixing the problems before the town took action to make them, he said.

If nothing is done, the town could refer the matter to a code enforcement hearing. But Maxwell said he's leaning toward skipping the hearing and going straight to court if the owners don't do something.

Town attorney David Ottinger said the town could ask the court to compel the owners to make repairs or explore the possibility of criminal penalties.

Most commissioners appeared onboard with Maxwell's decision, even though town regulations don't require any action from them.

"Unless we take a firm stand, there will be nothing left of this hotel, with a hurricane season and a thunderstorm season that we're going to go through," said Mayor Gary Katica. "Whatever we have to do to put our foot down, it's time to put our foot down."

On Wednesday, Commissioner Tom Shelly said he had asked the town attorney how the town might expedite the process.

"Hopefully, they will respond during that 30-day period and put tarps on the roof and seal off the openings," Commissioner Tom Shelly said. "It's not rocket science. They know exactly what needs to be done."

Vincent Marchetti, a Tampa lawyer who represents the hotel owners, said his clients are trying to work with the town. He thinks the city should have held a public hearing to let the owners respond.

"Having the town commission, at a public meeting, discuss the results of that report without having the benefit of first having our input, from the property owners' perspective, as well as having an opportunity to meet with the town, is premature, at a minimum, and it's very concerning," he said.

The owners are already being fined $250 a day for failing to fix the hotel's dilapidated roof. They owe more than $226,000.

Last fall, a representative for the owners, Matthew Cummings, provided the Times with a pamphlet that described the procedures the owners were taking to protect the sprawling wooden structure from mold and water damage. The list included various efforts to ventilate the rooms and the use of industrial dehumidifiers if security personnel observed "moisture penetration." The information also described the use of a "canopy and trough system" to funnel rainwater leaking in from the roof out of the windows.

Marchetti said the owners are spending about $500,000 a year to maintain the hotel structures. But Shelly said he saw little evidence of that on his tour of the hotel this spring.

Also on Tuesday, town leaders discussed the process for creating a community redevelopment area for the 22-acre Biltmore property and the small bridge that leads to the hotel. With a CRA designation, revenue could be raised through tax increment financing, which reserves extra tax dollars collected because of a rise in property values in the area to be used for improvements there.

Mike Meidel, Pinellas County's economic development director, also shared options for offsetting startup costs for the project. Among the options is designating the hotel property as a brownfield site, which means the site's redevelopment may be complicated by actual or perceived environmental contamination. Applicants can receive tax refunds equal to 20 percent of the average annual wage of the new jobs created in a designated brownfield area, up to $2,500 per employee.

Heisenbottle said the renovated hotel could create between 600 and 800 permanent jobs.

His partner, Charles Kropke, who also attended the work session, thanked town leaders for their support.

"You said last time we met that you'd give us assistance on the Belleview Biltmore and you are and we're very appreciative," Kropke said.


Biltmore owners seek tax help
Article published on Wednesday, May 2, 2012
             
 

 
BELLEAIR – If Belleair residents are going to keep up on the latest activity involving the Belleview Biltmore Hotel they are going to have to learn two new terms – CRA and TIF.

[Image]

Photo by BRIAN GOFF
Richard Heisenbottle, one of the prospective new owners of the Belleview Biltmore Hotel, speaks to the Belleair Commission May 1.

A CRA is a Community Redevelopment Area. A TIF is Tax Increment Financing. The prospective owners of the Biltmore want both. They want to be designated as a CRA so they can get TIF.

It unravels this way; a municipality can designate a particular area of town as needing special help to redevelop. That usually means a slum area that needs to be rehabilitated. But it also can mean a blighted area, a place not as bad as a slum, but not far off. That is what the prospective owners of the Biltmore have suggested is the case with the hotel property. They asked the Town Commission on May 1 to designate the property as a CRA so they can then apply for TIF. In fact, they are asking the commission to help pay for the restoration of the historic property with tax money.

Here is how it works. At present the assessed value of the hotel property is $8 million. If it is declared a Community Redevelopment Area, and Tax Increment Financing is granted, then the assessed $8 million will be frozen for all intents and purposes. If the assessed value of the property goes up in future years, the difference between the $8 million base assessment and the new assessment goes into a fund which can only be used to help pay for the restoration work on the hotel. So for example, if the hotel is refurbished and restored and in 2015 the assessed value becomes $20 million, then the actual tax on $12 million would go into a fund to help pay for the work on the hotel. The actual number is about $11,000 for every $1 million assessed.

Sam Casella, a former city planner who now works for the prospective new owners of the property, pointed out to the commission that the TIF only takes the tax portions that would go to the town and the county. Taxes headed for special districts such as the school or fire district would not be affected.

Commissioners seemed to welcome the proposal. Some were concerned that the 30-year term of the deal might be a bit long. Casella told them that if loans were paid off before 30 years, then there would be no need to continue with the deal.

Getting the property designated as a Community Redevelopment Area is a process that will ultimately end up at the county level for approval. The first thing that must happen is the town must decide if there is a “finding of necessity” in the case of the Biltmore. In order to do that evidence must show that the buildings are deteriorating, a possible danger, and that the area is “blighted” which would involve the condition of parking, lighting or overall deterioration to the property.

Casella pointed out that the McCarthy report, the consultant’s study into the state of the property, clearly shows demolition by neglect, which he said, should help in getting the CRA designation.

Town Manager Micah Maxwell pointed out that Casella’s presentation would be taken into account when staff puts together its proposal to the county, but that staff and the commission had the final say in what that proposal contained.

When that discussion about the Biltmore ended another one began when Mayor Gary Katica asked Richard Heisenbottle, one of the prospective new owners, when “there might be boots on the ground and shovels in the ground.”

Heisenbottle replied, “That is the 64 million dollar question.” He said he reviewed the latest construction schedule last week.

“Everything has to fall into place. If it does then we should be able to start construction in January 2013.”

Katica didn’t like that answer.

“We are about to have another hurricane season and another thunder and lightning storm season. What are you going to do about protecting the hotel during that time?”

Heisenbottle then pointed out that he and his partners do not own the hotel.

“There are no protective measures until we own it. For now we must follow procedures and get ownership,” he said. “When we close we will be ready to go immediately.”

When asked if the project was feasible, Heisenbottle didn’t hesitate.

“Yes we can rehab it, no ifs, ands or buts,” he said. “We have five months to be in a position to close, perhaps six months. That is what the investment bankers are working on now. We’re talking around $80 million so it is a big undertaking.” Earlier Casella said the entire project would cost in excess of $200 million.

Regarding the McCarthy report, the commission learned that the report signaled out 19 violations of the town’s Historic Preservation Ordinance. The violations involve the state of the hotel and the owners’ inaction in fixing the problems. Maxwell told the commissioners that the Ades brothers, the current owners, would be given 30 days to clean up and repair the property, or at least begin the process, or they could be taken to court. If found guilty of the violations then heavier fines could be imposed. Even if the current $250 a day were imposed for each of the 19 violations that would mean the fines would be $4,750 a day. Mayor Katica noted, “That should get their attention.” The owners already owe more than $200,000 in fines because of the deterioration of the property.

The commissioners agreed that they should take the court action if necessary. Katica was the most adamant.

“Unless we take a firm stand there will be nothing left of the hotel. It is time to put our foot down,” he said.

The Biltmore will again be the topic of conversation at the May 15 commission meeting. Maxwell said he should have the results of the finding of necessity for the CRA by then. The new meeting time for the regular commission meetings will be 6:30 p.m.


http://www.tampabay.com/news/localgovernment/report-historic-belleview-biltmore-is-being-demolished-by-neglect/1226896

Report: Historic Belleview Biltmore suffering 'demolition by neglect'


By Lorri Helfand, Times Staff Writer
Sunday, April 29, 2012

Damage to the Magnolia Cottage at the Belleview Biltmore from a picture in a report by McCarthy and Associates, a consultant for the town of Belleair. The report, which found “demolition by neglect” reviewed previous areas of damage and identified new ones to determine if rainwater is causing ongoing deterioration to the structural system of the Belleview Biltmore. The report was prepared solely from visual observations of selected location on March 1 through March 6. It was not a comprehensive structural analysis. [ ]  

NP_353402_HO_biltmore_4 Damage to the Magnolia Cottage at the Belleview Biltmore from a picture in a report by McCarthy and Associates, a consultant for the town of Belleair. The report, which found “demolition by neglect” reviewed previous areas of damage and identified new ones to determine if rainwater is causing ongoing deterioration to the structural system of the Belleview Biltmore. The report was prepared ñsolely from visual observations of selected locationsî on March 1 through March 6. It was not a comprehensive structural analysis. [ ]


[Photo courtesy of McCarthy and Associates]

BELLEAIR — The owners of the Belleview Biltmore said they were taking steps to protect the historic hotel from deterioration.

But a recent report by a town consultant says that many parts of the shuttered hotel are in worse shape than they were a year ago. The consultant says "demolition by neglect" has occurred and continues to at the 115-year-old structure and its historic cottages.

Vincent Marchetti, a Tampa lawyer who represents the Miami investors who own the hotel, took issue with the report. He said the owners were surprised by the findings and are "far from being neglectful."

"The client has been paying about a half-million dollars a year to maintain the structures," Marchetti said. "It's very disappointing that a report like that would come out and say there is anything like demolition by neglect."

He also questioned whether the town has properly defined neglect in its code.

Meanwhile, Coral Gables architect Richard Heisenbottle, who hopes to buy and restore the hotel, said his team from South Florida was not discouraged.

"We knew going into this there was a tremendous amount of restoration work that had to be done," said Heisenbottle, whose group has a contract on the hotel.

The 820,000-square-foot structure, which is protected by town code, has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1979. The town's consultant, McCarthy and Associates, inspected the Biltmore a little over a year ago and reinspected the landmark in March.

The consultant found that much of the damage documented in its first report "has gotten worse, and newly damaged areas of the roof and exterior walls have become apparent." It also found that the Magnolia and Palm cottages "should be condemned." The cottages were not surveyed last year.

The town hasn't ruled that there is demolition by neglect at the hotel, a violation of town code that could result in fines or even litigation. City leaders plan to discuss the report Tuesday.

Commissioner Kevin Piccarreto entertained the possibility of penalizing the owners, Raphael and Daniel Ades. "It probably meets the elements of demolition by neglect that's defined by the code, and I think the town definitely needs to pursue any remedies available to stop the deterioration or to remedy the problems," said Piccarreto, who added that he hopes the prospective buyers' deal goes through.

Town leaders who want to preserve the hotel are walking a tightrope of sorts because pushing enforcement to protect the hotel may actually have the opposite effect. The owners are already being fined $250 a day for failing to fix the hotel's dilapidated roof. To date they owe more than $226,000. Any additional fines or liens may complicate the prospective buyers' plans.

"I think that may muddy the waters more than they are as far as the potential new owners securing financing," said Deputy Mayor Stephen Fowler.

McCarthy and Associates' investigation relied completely on visual observations. It reviewed previous areas of damage and identified new ones to determine if rainwater is harming the Biltmore's structural system. The investigation was not "intended to be a comprehensive inspection or structural analysis of the entire building or cottages," the report said.

Last fall, a representative for the owners, Matthew Cummings, provided the Times with a pamphlet that described what the owners were doing to protect the structure from mold and water damage. It included various efforts to ventilate the rooms and the use of industrial dehumidifiers if security personnel observed "moisture penetration." The information also described the use of a "canopy and trough system" to funnel rainwater leaking in from the roof out of the windows.

Apparently those efforts aren't working too well. The report includes about 200 photos that show worsening conditions in at least 20 locations. Some of the photos reveal sagging valleys in the roof and overhangs. Others show mold, rotting wood and spans of ceilings and walls that have peeled away.

 


http://www.tampabay.com/news/localgovernment/prospective-owners-share-their-vision-for-the-belleview-biltmore/1225728

Tampa Bay Times, Thursday, April 19, 2012

Prospective owners share their vision for the Belleview Biltmore
By Lorri Helfand, Times Staff Writer

Developer Hector Torres shares ideas Tuesday at the Dimmitt Community Center, where he discussed the future of the Belleview Biltmore with a citizens group. Torres is part of the team hoping to turn the historic hotel back around.

Developer Hector Torres shares ideas Tuesday at the Dimmitt Community Center, where he discussed the future of the Belleview Biltmore with a citizens group. Torres is part of the team hoping to turn the historic hotel back around.  
[DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]

BELLEAIR — A no-nonsense architect with a passion for preserving historic properties, a Miami developer with Brooklyn roots, and a tourism professional with Hollywood style.

The South Florida trio came to town Tuesday and shared their vision for making the Belleview Biltmore a world-class destination. And, a few hours later, the town helped the group jump one of the first hurdles necessary to make their $225 million restoration plan a reality.

Many in town were familiar with Coral Gables architect Richard Heisenbottle's plan to restore the hotel and turn it into a luxury resort. He had worked for a previous owner that also planned to preserve the 115-year-old hotel.

But few around town had met his partners in the new venture — tourism professional Charles Kropke and real estate developer Hector Torres.

Tuesday night, the trio visited Town Hall to ask Belleair leaders to support their plans. They also shared their ideas with a citizens group of about a dozen people who meet regularly to discuss the landmark.

Kropke told the small group that the historic Belleview Biltmore could serve as a corporate incentive travel destination, where national and international companies could meet to reward employees or discuss strategic goals. He said the renovated Biltmore will have the prestige and size — more than 460 rooms — to capitalize on that market.

"This industry alone lifted Miami out of the recession before the rest of the state," said Kropke, 48, who co-owns Coral Gables-based Dragonfly Expeditions, a company that runs cultural, ecological and historical tours in South Florida and the Caribbean.

Torres described himself as a real estate developer who worked his way up from the bottom, successfully changing the Miami skyline. One of his landmark projects is the 67-story Marquis Residences & Hotel Tempo.

He said the Biltmore served aristocrats in the past and will serve them in the future.

"We're talking about an imminent purchase that is very close to happening, that will bring a world-class luxury product and build a community and give it life for many generations to come," said Torres, 52.

It's evident that the community supports the renovation, he said, and that is vital for the project's success.

"We need everyone's help in some way or another as we move forward because it's a gigantic optimistic project, to take the Queen of the Gulf and put a crown on her head," he said.

The three were treated like celebrities at the Belleair Town Commission meeting, where they briefly introduced themselves and shared their vision for the hotel.

About 120 people filled town hall, and more than a dozen local residents encouraged town leaders to support the group's request for an extension for a 2008 plan to restore the Biltmore.

Ozona resident Terry Fortner pointed out that the resort was not just for the elite, but for working people like herself and her grandmother, who worked at the Biltmore as a young woman and celebrated her 92nd birthday there.

"This hotel is our legacy, and it is like a treasured ancestor that we would never turn our back on," Fortner said.

Others urged town leaders to support the new team.

"Let's stick with it, please, so we don't hesitate and lose these people that are behind us," said Belleair resident Laurie Adams, her comments punctuated by vigorous applause. "I don't want this deal to fall between the cracks."

And one longtime Belleair resident succinctly expressed her excitement.

Gesturing to the commission, the public and the owners, Sally Meadows said, "I just want to say to y'all, y'all and y'all: Hurrah!"

Minutes later, commissioners unanimously voted to extend the 2008 development order, one of the first major requirements to move the project forward.

Virtually everyone in the room gave town leaders a standing ovation.

Prospects for the restoration of the hotel had been dim for months. A group of Miami investors, including Raphael Ades and his brother, bought the hotel, its golf club and Cabana Club on Sand Key for about $8 million in December 2010.

Since fall, a representative for the group had been pitching plans to demolish most of the hotel to make way for townhomes. In January, the team filed a request to demolish the hotel — a request which the town deemed to be "incomplete."

Then, this month, Heisenbottle announced that his team, Belleview Biltmore Partners LLC, had executed a contract to buy the hotel. They have six months to close on the deal.

The reaction from the public was a lot more intense than it was a few years ago, when he worked for Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, which also planned to restore the Biltmore.

On Tuesday, between the booming cheers from residents and the barrage of media snapping his photo, Heisenbottle said he felt a bit like a rock star.

"We left with a great deal of enthusiasm ourselves, and it only spurs us to work as hard as we can work and as fast as we can," Heisenbottle, 61.

Kropke said he feels at home in Belleair.

"We couldn't have gotten a better response," he said. "I think people in the town understand how much the hotel means to the past and the future. And it's our intention to bring it alive so can become the center of community life once again."


http://tbnweekly.com/pubs/belleair_bee/content_articles/041812_bee-01.txt

Belleair Bee Wednesday, April 18, 2012    
 

Biltmore buyers warmly received  

By BRIAN GOFF


[Image]
 

Photo by BRIAN GOFF

The future owners of the Belleview Biltmore properties appearing before the Belleair Town Commission April 17 are, from left, Richard Heisenbottle, Charles Kropke and Hector Torres.


BELLEAIR – Unlike most Belleair Town Commission meetings dealing with the Belleview Biltmore Hotel, the meeting April 17 was described by one observer as a “love-in.”

When the commission unanimously granted the potential new owners of the property a 1-year extension on the building development plan, the audience, which had packed Town Hall, stood and applauded.

The development plan is what developers must submit for all development activities. It includes variances and other items that may fall outside the normal building codes. According to Town Manager Micah Maxwell, to have such a plan approved is a long, expensive process for both the developer and the town.

Daniel Ades, one of the current owners of the property had written the commission asking for a 1-year extension on the building development plan. That would allow the new owners to avoid having to start all over again. There was little doubt the request would be approved.

Richard Heisenbottle, the Miami architect who has been involved with the Biltmore for years, having once developed a restoration plan for former owners Legg Mason, was at the meeting and introduced his two partners, South Florida tour operator Charles Kropke and developer Hector Torres.

They received applause from the crowd and were given unlimited time to speak about their plans.

Torres paid tribute to the crowd saying, “This is a loving room and we thank you for your welcome. We believe in the Biltmore and we are investing heavily in it, but it is the momentum provided by you that has moved the project on.”

He spoke of Richard Heisenbottle as a man with a passion for the project.

“I have to tell you it isn’t about money with Richard,” he said. “He put his hand into his pocket to begin the process of making this a world class luxury resort, right here for the elite. It is just what Henry Plant wanted when he built this in the first place.”

Then Kropke outlined the group’s specific plans and how it intends to market the property and make it successful when others couldn’t.

“We’re targeting the corporate incentive market,” he said. “That is a strong powerful industry where large corporations will be looking for a world class facility at which they can reward their most valued employees or clients. That’s how this hotel will make it. We plan to make this one of the most profitable hotels in the state of Florida.”

Several people from the audience spoke in support of granting the development extension. Linda Brinkman was the most vocal.

“We need to move forward,” she said. “We need to make this dream come true for the town of Belleair. We have to take charge and put it in our own hands.”

Other questions surrounding the potential sale were answered during the evening. When asked, Heisenbottle said his group was buying all three Biltmore properties; the hotel, the golf course and the Cabana Club. It had been said that the current owners, the Ades brothers would continue to run the golf course for a year after any sale. Heisenbottle said that was not true. Once the sale was complete, the Ades brothers would be out. For that he got a round of applause. The Ades brothers made it clear they were not interested in restoring the hotel and if they couldn’t sell it they would tear it down and build townhouses on the property.

Kropke called the 22-acre site, “Twenty-two valuable acres which any developer would want to use for condos.” But he said their dream was to restore the property.

Resident Sam Casella has been hired to help find financing for the project. He promised to bring details to the commission workshop meeting on May 1. He did say his plan includes getting public money to show other investors confidence that an investment in the project would be a good one.

Resident Jim White had hoped the town would create an economic development committee to help the new owners find money. But after much discussion that idea was defeated 3-2. Vice Mayor Stephen Fowler and Commissioner Michael Wilkinson voted for the idea. Fowler was most vocal in his support but was ultimately voted down. Commissioner Tom Shelly noted that Pinellas County has economic development resources already in place to help the new Biltmore owners.

When it was announced that a contract to purchase the hotel was in place, Heisenbottle and his partners said they hoped to have their due diligence done in six months before they closed on the deal. That timeline is still in place, although Heisenbottle has said he hopes it can be finished before then.

Kudos for Carlen

Town Clerk Donna Carlen was the recipient of hug after hug after hug. The town has just declared by proclamation that the week of April 29 to May 5 would be Municipal Clerks Week. Once the proclamation was read Mayor Gary Katica said, “Before we take a vote on this I want each commissioner to go give Donna a hug.”

Dutifully each took their turn with a hug for Donna. Town Manager Micah Maxwell didn’t join the parade saying with a smile, “Donna works for me; I don’t think a hug would be appropriate.”

 


NBC TV news  April 17, 2012
Peter Bernard reporting


http://video.tbo.com/v/55434649/investors-look-to-renovate-historic-hotel.htm?q=belleview+biltmore+hotel


http://www.tampabay.com/news/business/realestate/commissioners-approve-extension-of-plan-to-restore-belleview-biltmore/1225566

Commissioners approve extension of plan to restore Belleview Biltmore

By Lorri Helfand, Times Staff Writer
Tampa Bay Times In Print: Wednesday, April 18, 2012

BELLEAIR — Town commissioners received a standing ovation from about 120 local residents at Tuesday's town meeting after they approved an extension of a 2008 plan to restore the historic Belleview Biltmore.

Coral Gables architect Richard Heisenbottle and his team have a contract to buy the hotel and plan to spend about $225 million restoring it to its former glory and to renovate other resort properties, he said.

"This extension is pivotal for us being able to move forward," Heisenbottle said after the meeting.

Commissioners unanimously approved the extension of the development order, which was originally approved in 2008.

It was deferred nearly a year by a lawsuit and later extended through May of this year.

Heisenbottle and his team plan to restore virtually all of the enormous wooden structure.

He and his partners from South Florida, developer Hector Torres and tourism professional Charles J. Kropke, also attended Tuesday's meeting and shared their vision for the hotel.

The team also wants to build a new 153-room east wing in the style of the old hotel and restore the historic Magnolia, Palm and Sunset Cottages on the property.

Their plan includes more improvements to the Biltmore's golf club and the development of the Cabana Club property into a 38-room boutique hotel.
 


http://www.tampabay.com/news/business/economicdevelopment/biltmore-purchaser-wants-officials-to-support-2008-restoration-plan/1224755

Biltmore purchaser wants officials to support 2008 restoration plan

By Lorri Helfand, Times Staff Writer
In Print: Friday, April 13, 2012

BELLEAIR — A prospective buyer of the Belleview Biltmore is hoping town officials will continue to back a 2008 plan for restoration of the 115-year-old hotel.

If not, Richard Heisenbottle is worried his team will have to start from scratch and the restoration project may never happen.

On behalf of Heisenbottle's group, Belleview Biltmore Partners LLC, the current hotel owner has requested an extension of the project development order originally approved in 2008.

Commissioners will consider the extension at Tuesday's Town Commission meeting.

"Having the development order in place is pivotal to having the project go forward," said Heisenbottle, a Coral Gables architect whose firm is known for renovations of landmark historic properties in South Florida.

Heisenbottle also worked for the previous Belleview Biltmore owner, Legg Mason Real Estate Investors. He remembers a difficult battle four years ago, when commissioners unanimously supported Legg Mason's plans to restore the hotel, but not all residents did.

In June 2008, three Belleair residents sued the town and the hotel owner because they disagreed with parts of the owner's plans. In May 2009, a panel of judges in the appellate division of the 6th Judicial Circuit Court in Pinellas ruled against the residents.

Then, that same month, Sand Key residents appealed Clearwater's approval of a plan to replace the Biltmore's beachfront Cabana Club restaurant with a six-floor hotel. In 2010, a panel of Pinellas County circuit judges denied their legal challenge, too.

But by that time, the economic downturn was well under way and project representatives said it was virtually impossible to secure financing to complete the hotel restoration.

The litigation, Heisenbottle said, "derailed the entire project."

Supporters of the hotel are hoping to avoid a similar scenario now.

If the town's previous approval of the project development order is not extended, Heisenbottle's team will have to submit a new development package to the town before renovation efforts can move forward.  And that could open the door to more lawsuits, more delays and further deterioration of the hotel.

Diane Hein, who heads Save the Biltmore Preservationists, has been sending out emails urging supporters to show up at Tuesday's meeting.

In December 2010, a group of Miami investors bought the Biltmore, its golf club and Cabana Club for about $8 million. Three months ago, the owners, who had pitched plans to build more than 150 homes on the hotel property, filed a request with the town to demolish the hotel. Town officials decided their application was incomplete.

Then early this month, Heisenbottle's team announced it had a contract to buy the hotel. His partners from South Florida are real estate developer Hector Torres and tourism professional Charles J. Kropke. All are expected to attend Tuesday's meeting.

Both Mayor Gary Katica and Deputy Mayor Stephen Fowler said they plan to do whatever they can to save the hotel. Of all of the people who have brought forward plans for the hotel, "Richard Heisenbottle is the one I have the most trust in," Katica said.

Commissioner Tom Shelly said he also plans to support the extension because he thinks the majority of Belleair residents, about 90 percent, are in favor of preserving the Biltmore.

The 260-room hotel, known as the "White Queen of the Gulf," has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1979.

Heisenbottle and his team plan to restore virtually all of the enormous wooden structure, which closed in summer 2009. They also want to build a new 153-room east wing in the style of the old hotel and restore the historic Magnolia, Palm, and Sunset Cottages on the property. Their plan includes more improvements to the Biltmore's golf club and the development of the Cabana Club property into a 38-room boutique hotel.


http://tbnweekly.com/pubs/belleair_bee/content_articles/040412_bee-01.txt

Belleview Biltmore sale in the works  

By BRIAN GOFF

Article published on Wednesday, April 4, 2012    

Rendering courtesy of R.J. HEISENBOTTLE ARCHITECTS P.A.

An architectural rendering depicts the main entrance view for a renovated Belleview Biltmore Hotel.

BELLEAIR – “This will not be an ordinary, run of the mill hotel.” Those words are from the man who is heading up a group poised to buy the Belleview Biltmore Hotel, and by his account, a group that believes they can make a go of it.

Richard Heisenbottle, a Miami area architect, is the man who believes his group can make a profit after they spend millions restoring the 115-year-old hotel. At one time Heisenbottle was the architect for Legg Mason, an investment firm that once owned the property, but became among those who sold once they discovered a profit would be elusive at best.

For several weeks Heisenbottle’s name has been linked to the hotel as rumors spread that he was poised to buy the property. No wonder, he said his attorneys have been working on putting the deal together for the past month. It is a deal he calls complicated.

“The negotiating of this agreement is a very complicated thing,” he said. “This is not some 34-page agreement, it is a complicated agreement as would any such deal involving three separate properties.”

The three properties are the hotel, the Belleview Biltmore Golf Club and the Cabana Club on Sand Key.

On April 2, Heisenbottle met with the ad hoc Belleview Biltmore citizens committee and outlined the group’s plans for the restoration of the historic property.

“We truly believe it can become one of the great resorts in the country, if not the world,” said Heisenbottle. “We have a lot of work to do, but we’re going to get on it right away and be open about it, with the community, the RPD, the golf club folks and the elected officials. Our goal is to give the Belleview Biltmore a second chance at greatness.”

The plans include the restoration of the 260-room hotel and construction of a brand new 153- room east wing. They also plan to restore the Magnolia, Palm and Sunset Cottages on the property. What will not be kept are the hotel’s modern lobby and spa and any buildings on the property, which, according to a news release, “Do not contribute to the hotel’s historic designation.”

The prospective owners also plan improvements to the golf club, which was extensively renovated last year, and the development of the Cabana Club property into a 38-room boutique hotel.

In addition to Heisenbottle, the ownership group consists of real estate developer Hector Torres and Miami tour operator Charles Kropke. The group has the backing of the Miami investment firm CGI Merchant Group.

The letter of intent to purchase the hotel and the ancillary properties was signed on March 30. Heisenbottle says he expects the deal to close sometime within the next six months, and hopes it can happen long before that.

What makes Heisenbottle and his group confident they can restore the hotel and make a profit when for many former owners gave up? He says it is all about timing.

“Over the last two or three years in the recession there was a tremendous downturn in the hotel industry and the hospitality industry,” he said. “Now the industry is coming back and coming back strong, and that is clear. It is not all the way back yet, but it is coming.”

He also suggested it was easier for potential investors to walk away from the challenge of the Biltmore.

“We think a lot of other folks who looked at the property viewed it as a deal that is very complicated. Why would you want to do this deal when there are hundreds of others that are not nearly as complicated as this one is? This project requires some heavy lifting on the part of all those involved.”

It was just a week ago that Daniel Ades appeared before the Belleair Town Commission asking for relief of some of the liens and fines which had built up to over $200,000. Specifically he wanted the Cabana Club relieved of the encumbrance, suggesting it might discourage a potential buyer who was negotiating for the club. The commission refused. Apparently that did not stop the deal from going ahead.

In the April 2 press release, Ades was quoted as saying, “As we promised from the first day we acquired the property we are going out of our way in trying to make the restoration of the hotel possible by providing unprecedented financing and a very extended due diligence period so the project can materialize.”

A spokesman for the Ades brothers, Matt Cummings said he was happy for the new buyers. “Every single time I talked about this I said we wanted to try to make sure the hotel would be restored, so I’m happy for them.” He then referred all further questions to Tampa lawyer Vin Marchetti, who was unavailable for comment.

Belleair Mayor Gary Katica, while pleased with the news of a potential buyer for the hotel, was also cautious in his comments.

“It will be very exciting if it goes down,” he said. “But we’ve had so many false alarms in the past. Until I see the final sale in front of us I’ll be cautious. I have a lot of faith in Richard Heisenbottle. This is the best news yet, it will be absolutely great for the town.”

One of the purchasing partners, Hector Torres, estimates the restoration of the properties will take about three years and will generate 4,500 permanent and temporary jobs.

Despite facing the challenges he described, Heisenbottle is upbeat about what lies ahead.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, to be involved in this incredible historic landmark, they don’t make too many like this one,” he said. “We’re lucky to be a group of guys who can market, design and build and have some profit at the end of the day.”


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http://tbnweekly.com/pubs/belleair_bee/content_articles/040412_bee-02.txt

Belleair to explore helping Biltmore  

By BRIAN GOFF

Article published on Wednesday, April 4, 2012    
Photo by BRIAN GOFF

Judge Dee Anna Farnell swears in Belleair Mayor Gary Katica, who is accompanied by his grandsons Aaron, left, and Nathan.

BELLEAIR – Town commissioners plan to explore a suggestion that Belleair participate in a proposed economic development committee devoted exclusively to helping the potential new owners of the Belleview Biltmore Hotel in their quest to purchase and restore the historic hotel.

Jim White, the president of the RPD Homeowners Association and a member of the ad hoc citizens committee that was formed to encourage the restoration of the Biltmore, brought the idea forth at the April 3 Town Commission meeting.

White, who was present at the April 2 meeting with Biltmore buyers Richard Heisenbottle and Charles Kropke, said they were encouraged by the idea of the community helping them.

“They welcomed the idea of having anything help them find development money for the project,” he said.

Vice Mayor Stephen Fowler said he would like to explore the idea of bringing in people from Clearwater and the county who might help in the process. Commissioners Kevin Piccarretto and Tom Shelly said commissioners have approached them both from other jurisdictions that have offered help.

Mayor Gary Katica said it has been a hectic week once the news of the pending sale was announced.

“I am loaded with optimism,” he said. “Richard Heisenbottle is a terrific architect and we have to be 100 percent behind him.”

At their next meeting on April 17, the commissioners will move to formalize a special committee to be involved with the prospective new owners of the hotel.

Mayor and commissioners sworn in

Judge Dee Anna Farnell, who is a Belleair resident, administered the oath of office to Mayor Katica, Vice Mayor Stephen Fowler and Commissioners Kevin Piccarretto and Michael Wilkinson. Katica and Piccarretto were elected unopposed in last month’s election, while Fowler and Wilkinson were elected in a three-way race for two seats.

Various family members joined all those who were sworn in Tuesday.

Manager’s contract approved

Town Manager Micah Maxwell will be around for a while longer. The commission recently approved a new 2-year deal for Maxwell. In fact he had been offered a raise, but rejected it given that the rest of the town employees have been without raises for some time.

Maxwell has been the town manager since 2006. His new contract goes into effect on Aug. 15. His annual salary is $107,000.

Meeting times to change

Commissioners agreed unanimously to change the start time of the regular monthly commission meeting from 7:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Their decision was based on a staff recommendation.

Commissioner Tom Shelly was the first to indicate he was in favor of the change.

“It is a much better time because whenever our 7:30 meetings have a major issue they go late. The earlier start time will allow us to finish up earlier.”

The new time will go into effect at the May 1 meeting. The meetings on the third Tuesday of each month are primarily workshop meetings and they start at 5:30 p.m. That time will remain unchanged.  

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http://tbnweekly.com/pubs/belleair_bee/content_articles/040212_bee-01.txt

Belleview Biltmore properties to be sold  

By BRIAN GOFF

Article published on Monday, April 2, 2012    

This rendering depicts plans for the Belleview Biltmore’s south entrance and swimming pool.
Courtesy of R.J. HEISENBOTTLE ARCHITECTS P.A.

BELLEAIR – A group of Miami investors has signed a letter of intent to purchase the Belleview Biltmore Hotel and its ancillary properties, the Belleview Biltmore Golf Club and the Cabana Club on Sand Key.

Architect Richard Heisenbottle, who had been involved in the properties when they were owned by the investment firm Legg Mason several years ago, leads the investment group.

On Monday, April 2, the group met with the ad hoc Belleview Biltmore citizens committee and outlined their plans for the historic property. They say they plan to restore the 115-year-old hotel.

In a press release, Heisenbottle said, “Our goal is to give the Belleview Biltmore a second chance at greatness.”

The plans include the restoration of the 260-room hotel and construction of a brand new 153-room east wing. They also plan to restore the Magnolia, Palm and Sunset Cottages on the property. What will not be kept are the hotel’s existing lobby and spa and any buildings on the property, which, according to the release, “Do not contribute to the hotel’s historic designation.”

The prospective owners also plan improvements to the golf club, which was extensively renovated last year, and the development of the Cabana Club property into a 38-room boutique hotel.

In addition to Heisenbottle, the ownership group consists of real estate developer Hector Torres and tourism executive Charles Kropke. The group has the backing of the Miami investment firm CGI Merchant Group.

A spokesman for the group would not disclose the selling price of the properties, but said the letter of intent was signed on March 30. He expects the deal to close sometime within the next six months.

It was just a week ago that one of the current owners of the properties, Daniel Ades, appeared before the Belleair Town Commission asking for relief of some of the liens and fines which had built up to over $200,000. Specifically, he wanted the Cabana Club relieved of the encumbrance. The commission refused.

In the April 2 press release, Ades was quoted as saying, “As we promised from the first day we acquired the property we are going out of our way in trying to make the restoration of the hotel possible by providing unprecedented financing and a very extended due diligence period so the project can materialize.”

A spokesman for the Ades brothers, Matt Cummings, referred all further questions to Tampa lawyer Vin Marchetti, who was unavailable for comment.

Belleair Mayor Gary Katica, while pleased with the news of a potential buyer for the hotel, was also cautious in his comments.

“It will be very exciting if it goes down,” he said. “But we’ve had so many false alarms in the past. But this is the best news yet, it will be absolutely great for the town.”

One of the purchasing partners, Hector Torres, estimates the restoration of the properties will take about three years and will generate 4,500 permanent and temporary jobs.  


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http://tbnweekly.com/pubs/clearwater_beacon/content_articles/040412_clw-01.txt  click on Link to view rendering

Renderings reveal Capitol Theatre plans  


Article published on Wednesday, April 4, 2012    

Proposed rendering of the Capitol Theatre in downtown Clearwater.


CLEARWATER – Zev Buffman, president and CEO of Ruth Eckerd Hall Inc., recently presented the proposed renderings of the Capitol Theatre to city of Clearwater officials, members of the Ruth Eckerd Board and staff and the members of the community.

On March 22, a nearly two hour presentation was made of the renderings to the City of Clearwater officials, which included Mayor George Cretekos, City Manager William Horne and Assistant City Manager Rod Irwin. The Ruth Eckerd Hall staff and board of directors were also in attendance.

“The architectural and artistic production plans that I have seen reinforce my belief that the Capitol Theatre can be a catalyst for the long-term revitalization of downtown Clearwater. While the economic downturn has slowed the renovation of the Theatre, it has given the management team time to improve on the initial design and to plan for innovative uses of the new Capitol Theatre,” Cretekos said.

“The proposed renderings of the Capitol Theatre are impressive and create an image of our downtown that will make people want to visit,” Horne said.

"The Board of Directors of Ruth Eckerd Hall are very excited about the proposed changes to the Capitol Theatre and are looking forward to starting our Capital Campaign to make this a reality for downtown Clearwater,” said Rick Bouchard, chairman, Board of Directors at Ruth Eckerd Hall.

On March 25, Buffman presented the concept to 250 residents and guests of Water’s Edge Condominiums located in downtown Clearwater. This gathering received unanimous great reviews from the many guests and leaders there.

Among those in attendance, William Sturtevant, chairman, Clearwater Downtown Partnership raved, “The vision that Ruth Eckerd Hall has for the Capitol Theatre as depicted through the latest renderings is truly awesome. They have captured that historic charm and also brought in a touch of the 21st century. We are all so excited about what the future holds for the theatre and its impact on our downtown community."

“The new look of Cleveland Street and Osceola Avenue is going to be unified by a huge wrap-around façade that creates the illusion of the Capitol Theatre being four-times its size. The building’s dramatic lighting will make downtown a friendly and inviting nighttime place to visit as well,” Buffman said. “This beautiful, hidden treasure will be the crown jewel on Cleveland Street and will be the anchor of the new downtown for residents and visitors to our area. The renovation is on the FAST TRACK and the proposed completion is set for October 2013.”

“I am convinced that with the incredible work of the Ruth Eckerd Hall staff and the reputation that comes with them, the Capitol Theatre will be known as one of the premiere entertainment theatres of its size across the country,” Buffman said.

Stephen R. Fowler, AIA, NCARB, owner and president of Fowler Associates Architects Inc., in Clearwater has been selected as the architect for the renovation of the Capitol Theatre.

"We're thrilled to be a part of the team to bring new life to the Capitol Theatre. Downtown will come alive again and be an exciting destination for all of Clearwater,” Fowler said.


Architect who wants to save Belleview Biltmore announces contract to buy historic hotel

http://www.tampabay.com/news/humaninterest/architect-who-wants-to-save-belleview-biltmore-announces-contract-to-buy/1223093


By Lorri Helfand, Times Staff Writer
Lorri HelfandTampa Bay Times In Print: Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Photo of hotel with this copy:  Architect Richard Heisenbottle and his team plan to restore virtually all of the massive wooden structure. The nonhistoric spa and green-roofed pagoda-style entrance, in the lower right, will be removed if the purchase goes through as planned.

BELLEAIR — Three months after the owner of the historic Belleview Biltmore filed a request to raze most of the 115-year-old hotel, Richard Heisenbottle, a Coral Gables architect who wants to restore it to its former grandeur, announced Monday he has a contract to buy it.

Heisenbottle's company, Belleview Biltmore Partners LLC, signed the purchase and sale agreement with the owner, BB3 Holdings LLC on Friday, according to Heisenbottle and current owner Daniel Ades. Ades declined further comment.

"We're going forward with great confidence," Heisenbottle said. "We're going to need everybody in the community's support and commitment to make this a reality."

The agreement gives Heisenbottle's group six months to perform due diligence and close on the purchase. Heisenbottle said he could not disclose the purchase price.

Heisenbottle's firm is known for its renovations of landmark historic properties in South Florida, including the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts, Colony Theater and Freedom Tower.

The current Biltmore owners, Miami investors including Ades and his brother, Raphael, bought the hotel, its golf club and its beachfront Cabana Club on Sand Key for about $8 million in December 2010.

The 260-room hotel, known as the "White Queen of the Gulf," has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1979. Since 2004 it has been at risk of demolition at least three times.

Monday's news came as a relief to those who want it preserved.

"It's very exciting and beyond wonderful that the hotel is going to be restored again," said Diane Hein of Save the Biltmore Preservationists Inc.

Belleair's deputy mayor, Stephen Fowler, said he is "thrilled" and he pledged his support.

Heisenbottle is confident his team will secure financing to restore the hotel and its assets — projects that could cost more than $145 million.

Heisenbottle worked for the previous Biltmore owner, Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, which bought the hotel and its assets for $30.3 million. That company's plans to restore the hotel never came to fruition.

In line with Legg Mason's original vision, Heisenbottle and his team plan to restore virtually all of the massive wooden structure, which closed in summer 2009 and has been visibly deteriorating. The hotel's spa and pagoda-style entrance, which do not contribute to the hotel's historic designation, will be removed.

Heisenbottle's team also wants to build a new 153-room east wing in the style of the old hotel and restore historic cottages on the property. Their plan includes more improvements to the Biltmore's golf club and the development of the Cabana Club property into a 38-room boutique hotel.

Heisenbottle's partners are real estate developer Hector Torres, who couldn't be reached for comment, and tourism professional Charles J. Kropke, both from South Florida.

Kropke co-owns Coral Gables-based Dragonfly Expeditions, a company that runs cultural, ecological and historical tours in South Florida and the Caribbean. Kropke said he sees great potential in the Biltmore.

"We can basically market all of the Tampa Bay region as a mecca for corporate tourism," he said.

State records show that in 2005 and 2006, Kropke was an officer for the World Literacy Crusade of Florida, a tutoring program that uses the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology.

But Kropke said he has no links with the Church of Scientology. He said he's a Catholic and didn't even realize he was listed as an officer of the World Literacy Crusade. For a few months, he said, he was involved with another organization called Girl Power, a company that is affiliated with the World Literacy Crusade.

Kropke said his partner Torres is "very high profile in the city — he has built one of the most beautiful additions to the Miami skyline," the 67-story Marquis Residences & Hotel Tempo.

In October, Heisenbottle announced he had a plan to save the Biltmore, but he had remained virtually mum since then.

Belleair Mayor Gary Katica praised Heisenbottle's work. For a while, Katica said, he was unsure about the fate of the Biltmore.

"I'm much more optimistic about it now," Katica said. "I think it's time and I'm just very hopeful."

But he won't believe it until he sees "boots and shovels on the ground."

"Then we'll know it's for real," he said.


http://www2.tbo.com/news/2012/apr/03/belleview-biltmore-attracts-a-buyer-45110-vi-26645/?referer=http://www2.tbo.com/news/real-estate-news/2012/apr/02/3/partnership-plans-restoration-of-belleview-biltmor-ar-387843/&shorturl=http://tbo.ly/HEyPmL 

 Karmen Hayes honorary member of Save the Biltmore Preservationists and her husband of 22 years TC Hayes are on this video.

http://www.abcactionnews.com/dpp/news/region_pinellas/belleview-biltmore-may-be-getting-another-chance

TC Hayes is interviewed on this video.


Tampa Bay Times  Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Crowd at town hall meeting discusses future of Belleview Biltmore

By Lorri Helfand, Times Staff Writer

BELLEAIR - No decision on the fate of the historic Belleview Biltmore was made Tuesday night, though about 175 people showed up at a town hall meeting to weigh in on the landmark's future.

The crowd showed up in response to a recent request by the hotel's owner to raze much of the 115-year-old hotel. Most of the 30 or so people who spoke pleaded with town leaders to save the Biltmore, saying it was precious and important to Pinellas County's history.

"I'm absolutely shocked and appalled that there are people that want to tear down that thing," said resident Will Johnson, his voice breaking.

His wife, LaVonne, told town leaders that the couple bought a home in Belleair because of the Biltmore.

Some even suggested that the town buy the hotel.

A couple of speakers, however, including resident Lil Cromer, said the decaying hotel had become an eyesore. It's time to plan for its funeral, she said.

A group of Miami investors bought the hotel, its golf course and its Cabana Club on Sand Key for about $8 million in late 2010. BB Hotel LLC, which owns the hotel, filed the demolition request.

The town is still reviewing the request, but town manager Micah Maxwell said it appears deficient and likely will be sent back to the company with recommendations for additions.

The town scheduled the discussion of the Biltmore to brief town leaders on development issues pertaining to the 22-acre property.


Tampa Bay Times, Saturday January 13, 2012

National group, preservationists defend endangered Belleview Biltmore

By Lorri Helfand, Times Staff Writer

A national nonprofit and other preservationists vow to fight the owners' proposal to raze the hotel.

BELLEAIR - Five days after the owners of the Belleview Biltmore filed a request to raze most of the 115-year-old hotel, a national nonprofit is urging town leaders to deny that request.

"I understand the frustration when it takes longer than anticipated to find a preservation solution for a building, but the answer is not demolishing the building for the promise of something 'better' that in many cases is never built," wrote John Hildreth, a vice president at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

In the Jan. 11 letter to town leaders, Hildreth emphasized that, in the long term, preserving historic structures pays off both economically and culturally. He said the nonprofit has been committed to saving the Biltmore since before 2005, when it was declared one of the organization's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. And he pledged to support the town now.

As town leaders prepare for a Biltmore-related meeting Tuesday night, Mayor Gary Katica, who previously doubted there would any strong objections to demolishing the hotel, said he has received 25 to 30 fiery emails and passionate pleas to save the landmark.

One urged commissioners to resign, he said. Another claimed the mayor was "ripping out the heart of Belleair."

"I get these emails from people like some decision has been made," Katica said. "Even if everything was successful, it would take pretty close to a year."

Local preservationists say they're gearing up for battle. They're booking TV interviews, passing out fliers and coming up with a game plan to combat rhetoric from the owners.

They say they have their work cut out for them because, for months, Matthew Cummings, a representative for the owners, has insisted that saving the Biltmore is virtually impossible.

In 2005, when the hotel was at risk of demolition, the town adopted a historic preservation ordinance, which protects the Biltmore and puts the burden on the owners to prove they have little choice but to raze it.

Diane Hein, the head of a preservation group, said they're trying to get residents to come out to Tuesday's city meeting, where the Biltmore will be discussed.

"We're trying to show the commissioners that people still want the hotel saved and it's very important that the historic preservation ordinance be upheld," said Hein of Save the Biltmore Preservationists Inc.

People see pictures of the hotel's rusted railings, chipped paint and tattered roof and lose hope, she said.

"We need to get the message across that all of these things can be repaired," Hein said.

But not everyone is a fan of the Biltmore. A number of residents, especially those who live in the condominiums near the Biltmore, say they're tired of looking at the dilapidated hotel day after day. Others are concerned because the town is losing about $200,000 in annual revenues since the hotel closed in June 2009.

The owners, a group of Miami investors, are considering building townhomes on the 22-acre property. Cummings previously said plans could include as many as 180 or more homes. But earlier this week he said he's not sure how many homes they would need to build or whether their plans will include condominiums.

Besides a request to raze the hotel, the owners have submitted an application to remove the hotel's historic designation within the town and an application for a special certificate - required when seeking to demolish a historic structure.

On Tuesday, no vote will be taken on the Biltmore. Town leaders will be prepped on the process for considering the owners' application and on town regulations pertaining to the Biltmore property.

"We're going to be talking about the roles of the different boards and the commission itself," said Town Manager Micah Maxwell. "And we'll try to answer whatever questions they might have concerning demolition or site plan approval."


>>if you go

Belleair Town Commission

Belleair will hold its Town Commission meeting at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Town Hall, 901 Ponce de Leon Blvd.


Owners' plans for Belleview Biltmore are taking shape


http://www.tampabay.com/news/growth/owners-plans-for-belleview-biltmore-are-taking-shape/1208317

Friday, December 30, 2011

By Lorri Helfand, Times Staff Writer

The owners may seek to raze the historic property and build not 80 townhomes, but 180 or more.
BELLEAIR - The owners' plans for the Belleview Biltmore are taking shape. And, while many details are still up in the air, it seems those plans are getting bigger.

A rep for the owners has been pitching plans to raze most of the 115-year-old hotel to build just over 80 townhomes. Now, he says plans for the property may involve as many as 180 townhomes or more.

As for the earlier plans, the rep, Matthew Cummings said, "It kind of looks like it won't make any money. We've talked to experts in pricing around the country."

The owners may seek a zoning change allowing as many as 300 townhomes on the site, which is about 20 acres. But Cummings thinks final plans will include fewer units. They're currently exploring how many homes should be built, how large they should be and how much they should cost, he said.

No plans have been submitted to the town of Belleair. But Cummings has floated the townhome plan at various local presentations over the past few months.

In November, Cummings said homes would sell for around $450,000 to $750,000 and would span from 2,100 to 3,000 square feet.

Now, after receiving feedback from a marketing specialist, he thinks they'll likely range from around $300,000 to $600,000 and from 1,600 to 2,100 square feet.

Reaction to renderings of the Queen Anne-style townhomes has been overwhelmingly positive, Cummings said. But a couple of town commissioners say residents have been questioning the practicality of building townhomes on the property.

Commissioner Tom Shelly said he's hearing a lot of people say "townhomes wouldn't work and seniors won't deal with stairs."

Deputy Mayor Stephen Fowler said some residents are worried what will happen if the project gets approved but fails.

"Those I've talked to are concerned that if the hotel is demolished or drastically remodeled to the point it's no longer a hotel and the townhomes don't sell, then what do you do?" Fowler said.

Cummings said the owners are still exploring the possibility of saving a small part of the Biltmore, including the hotel's original lobby and the floor above it, to build a museum to honor its history. The hotel's ice cream shop may be re-created as part of that plan. According to one bid, it would cost about $3.5 million to do that.

Meanwhile, Cummings said, the Biltmore is still for sale. He thinks the owners would be willing to sell all of the hotel's assets, including its golf course and Cabana Club on Sand Key, for around $20 million.

Miami investor Raphael Ades and his partners bought them for about $8 million about a year ago.

But Cummings insists that the prospects for a hotel at the site are bleak because of the condition of the Biltmore and its location.

"We've entertained a bunch of hotel guys," said Cummings, who has a small ownership interest in the Biltmore. "Every time we do, they leave shaking their heads."

Within a month or two, the owners plan to submit their proposal to the town, Cummings said. A request to demolish most of the hotel will likely precede a formal presentation, Cummings said.

The onus will be on the owners to prove they have little choice but to raze it. Five years ago, when the Biltmore was at risk of being destroyed, the town adopted a historic preservation ordinance to protect the hotel, which was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

The ordinance "puts a pretty strong burden on the owner seeking to demolish a historic structure to show that all alternatives have been exhausted and that it's truly a substantial hardship to save it," said Town Attorney David Ottinger.

Since they've only owned the property a year, Shelly doesn't think the owners "can begin to prove an economic hardship."

Cummings said he expects some resistance from the town's historic preservation board, which will make a recommendation to town leaders. But he thinks most residents trust the owners' opinion of the hotel.

"The majority of people that live in the town believe that what we're saying is true," Cummings said. "It's just impossible to save."

It remains to be seen how the Town Commission will respond. Their opinions will likely be shaped by feedback from residents.

Years ago, when the Biltmore was at risk, many pushed to save it. But, as the economy continues to slump and the hotel continues to decay, more seem ready or willing to say goodbye.

Mayor Gary Katica, who frequently takes morning walks through town, said, "Nobody talks about saving it."

But Shelly said residents talk to him about the Biltmore almost every day and say it's a "shame it hasn't been restored."

Fowler said he thinks the majority of residents, like himself, are still hopeful the hotel, or at least a major portion of it, can be saved.

"I believe it can be salvaged. It can be restored. I keep looking at the Vinoy and the Don Cesar and the Biltmore in Coral Gables and the other properties around the country that have fallen on hard times but have been like the phoenix coming out of the ashes," said Fowler, who heads Fowler Associates Architects Inc. "I think with the proper management and the proper flag, it can happen."


 


In Memoriam:  Our Vice President of Save the Biltmore Preservationists Ed Lee Jameson, and husband of our president of our nonprofit organization, Diane Hein.  He was loved and will be truly missed in many ways.

Biltmore Preservationist Ed Jameson Remembered 

http://clearwatergazette.com/A4_gif.html

January 20, 2011


By Renee Burrell

CLEARWATER - Edward Lee Jameson (age 65), a Clearwater resident who tirelessly   promoted preservation of the Belleview Biltmore Hotel in Belleair, passed away December 8, 2010. Jameson suffered from complications following surgery to remove a
benign brain tumor for several months before his death. The death was announced by Jameson's wife and partner of 34 years, Diane Hein, with whom he co-founded Save the Biltmore Preservationists. Says Hein, "Ed was a fascinating, articulate, analytical and loving man who contributed so much to historic preservation in Pinellas County."

Jameson was known locally as the Vice President of Save the Biltmore Preservationists and was a familiar sight at Belleair town meetings where for  six years he followed the actions taken concerning the hotel and spoke on behalf
of so many other members of the community concerned that the property would be developed into a colony of even more condominiums. In particular, Jameson and his group advocated to ensure that all four wings of the landmark hotel
would be preserved for future generations. Jameson's efforts were instrumental in helping to pass an amendment to
the town of Belleair's preservation ordinance in which the interior of the hotel would be preserved
historically. Hein said Jameson strongly felt that the Biltmore was the most important historical structure
within Pinellas County and indeed contributed much to the county's very development. "He always had faith that the people of Pinellas County, Belleair and their elected officials would do their best to preserve the hotel."

A military veteran, Jameson served proudly in the United States Air Force in Great Britain as a weather researcher. Once discharged, he attained a Bachelor of Science in Business from Eckerd College and went on to form a career in information technology, retiring as a systems analyst from Pinellas County Government.

A memorial service was held at Bay Pines Veterans cemetery for Jameson who is survived by wife Diane, brother George (Faith) and two nephews.

Side note:  Ed colorfully once said this about the Biltmore:  the attic area was akin to the bowels of a ship at sea, the crew's living quarters, only turned upside down.  Ed used to walk the two miles of corridor at the Biltmore during his lunch hours when he worked downtown before he retired.  We strongly feel that the Biltmore is still standing because of Ed, who introduced the hotel to his wife, Diane Hein, President of Save the Biltmore Preservationists who put up this web site in 2004.  With the help of much community support and this web site, the Biltmore was saved from demolition.


http://www.tampabay.com/news/business/bellview-biltmore-catches-a-break-as-appeal-period-expires/1084852 

St. Petersburg Times April 3, 2010
 

Belleview Biltmore catches a break as appeal period expires

By Lorri Helfand, Times Staff Writer
In Print: Saturday, April 3, 2010



The historic Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa, center, announced plans 21/2 years ago for a $100 million makeover. Court challenges have stalled the project.
 

Belleview Biltmore catches a break as appeal period expires

The historic Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa, center, announced plans 21/2 years ago for a $100 million makeover. Court challenges have stalled the project.

BELLEAIR — A chain-link fence surrounds the 113-year-old resort, shuttered nearly a year. Plans to restore the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa were unveiled 2 1/2 years ago, but legal challenges stalled the project.  Monday, the hotel got a break. The appeal period on the latest court challenge expired, basically clearing the way for the development team to jump in where they left off.
"All of the pieces have to be put back together," said Martin Smith, a project consultant and hotel managing director.

The historic hotel was supposed to open in January 2012. Now, the timetable is unclear.  "I don't think that at this point we can possibly speculate. We have to see what kind of reception we get in the credit market and what opportunities are really out there," said project architect Richard J. Heisenbottle. "At least the path is clear."

The hotel owner, Latitude Management Real Estate Investors, plans a makeover exceeding $100 million. It also wants to build a 38-room, Victorian-style "boutique hotel" with an adjoining 160-seat restaurant on the Cabana Club site on Sand Key. But both of those plans were waylaid by lawsuits.

Two years ago, three Belleair residents challenged plans for the Biltmore. Then, last year, just around the time that group lost its appeal, another group of Sand Key residents appealed Clearwater's approval of plans for the Cabana Club.  That group lost its challenge in late February, and Monday the suit's 30-day appeal window closed.

Sand Key resident Cynthia Remley, a spokeswoman for the residents' group, said expenses played a role in the group's choice not to appeal.  "We believe this is the best result we are going to get," Remley said.


With the legal hurdles behind, the development team has new obstacles.  "The challenge now is finding financing for the entire project and moving it forward," Heisenbottle said. "This is the first time we can truly begin the process of doing that, knowing full well we can really build it."

On top of that, the owners are being fined daily for not fixing a decaying roof.  In November, the hotel's owner filed a petition requesting a review of the town's decision to fine it $250 a day. The owner has until Monday to file a brief in the case.  The owner has also asked Belleair to extend the expiration on its site plan and project variances, which expire next month, Town Manager Micah Maxwell said. The town previously approved plans to provide fewer parking spaces and taller structures than the code allows.  Heisenbottle said the development team is still enthusiastic.  "It can easily be the finest hotel on the west coast of Florida and one of the finest in the state," he said.


The owner, formerly known as Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, bought the hotel for $30.3 million in June 2007. The resort, which was named to the National Register of Historic Places in December 1979, was a popular spot for movie stars, pop icons and presidents.  The historic resort dodged the wrecking ball at least twice in recent years.  Five years ago, after at least two plans by potential buyers to raze the hotel, the resort was named one of America's most endangered historic places by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Now, some aren't sure the renovation will come to fruition due to the economic downturn, tough credit market and huge cost of renovation. Mayor Gary Katica said people in town are "constantly" inquiring about the hotel and many are nervous.  Katica said he's glad the "frivolous lawsuits" are over, but he's not breathing a sigh of relief, yet.  "I think it's a step forward, but I won't really feel comfortable until I see shovels in the ground," he said.
 

. Fast facts
Project highlights
• Underground parking.
• Demolition of the much-maligned pagoda-style entrance.
• Restoration of the main building, providing 260 rooms.
• New east wing, adding 176 rooms.
• Restoration of the Magnolia and Palm cottages.
• Complete restoration of the Starlight, Candlelight and Tiffany ballrooms to their original grandeur.
• New 18,908-square-foot full-service spa.
• Golf Club facelift includes renovated clubhouse, new landscaped parking lot and new 3,840-square-foot banquet facility.
Source: Belleview Biltmore Web site.


http://tbnweekly.com/pubs/belleair_bee/content_articles/033110_bee-01.txt?archiveview&print&print&print  Belleair Bee March 31, 2010

Questions remain on Biltmore timetable

By HARLAN WEIKLE

File photo by CHARY SOUTHMAYD

[Image]

Martin Smith, who still holds the title hotel manager and director of the Belleview Biltmore, believes that after months of delays, getting investors all back on board is a top priority.

BELLEAIR – Closed for almost 12 months, the Belleview Biltmore Resort still dominates the landscape, sitting idle but not forgotten, as speculation mounts over the future of the hotel that was once a playground of the elite.

The hotel’s new owners, Latitude Management Real Estate Investors, have been stymied in their efforts to resurrect the world-class resort by a series of legal challenges that Belleair Mayor Gary Katica labeled “frivolous” in a recent phone interview.

After the close of the 30-day appeal window for a lawsuit filed by a group of residents known as Save Our Neighborhood, which was aimed at halting plans for a newly expanded Cabana Club on Sand Key, Katica said, “We can thank those people who filed the suits for pushing back the timetable until now when we find ourselves in a very different economic climate.”

LMREI officials had announced in 2008 that the Biltmore would reopen in 2012, but now it’s difficult to find anyone who believes that timetable is possible including the mayor, and the group’s local consultant, Martin Smith, who still holds the title of hotel manager and director.

“I’m the manager of the world’s largest empty hotel,” Smith said.

Smith, who maintains a close eye on the property with a staff of five full-time, on-site maintenance/security inspectors, said that while he can’t speak for project architect Richard Heisenbottle, the fact remains that the owners still have much work to do. Their first priority according to Smith is, “getting the investors all back on board.”

It’s been awhile and everybody has got to be on the same page, Smith said.

Although the owners have site plans and an impressive set of architectural renderings which depict for the public how the Biltmore might look after reconstruction there are no engineering drawings. Smith said, “It will take at least 12 months just to do the detailed drawings.”

He added three to four months for the approval process by Belleair’s building department before construction can begin. If all proceeds without delay the start date could be pushed back to July 2011 – just months ahead of the originally proposed completion date.

Leslie Dougall-Sides, assistant city attorney who represented Clearwater in the action, confirmed March 30 that no appeal had been filed in the case. Attorneys had until the end of business Monday the 29th to file such an appeal.

“The city is pleased with the decision of the court,” Dougall-Sides said, adding “We assume that the owners (LMREI) will be coming in to apply for permits shortly.”

The permit process has been on hold during the legal challenges first in Belleair, then the Sand Key suit.

In an e-mail dated March 29, the spokesperson for Save Our Neighborhood, attorney Cynthia L. Remley wrote, “The appeal will not be filed even though the previous panel of three judges agreed with S.O.N. that: (1) the CDB was incorrect and deviated from the law when they combined the hotel rooms of the Belleview Biltmore, located in Belleair, with the proposed Cabana Club Hotel on Sand Key, in order to evaluate the Cabana Club Restaurant as an “accessory restaurant” to avoid the requirement that there be 75 parking spaces for the restaurant and 38 for the hotel; and (2) the CDB was “incorrectly advised on the rules of evidence” by their own attorneys when they were directed to not allow S.O.N.’s attorney, Mr. Zimmet, to cross-examine the parking expert of Legg Mason.”

Katica, who said he had expected to be attending a gala grand re-opening in 18 to 19 months conceded that the delay was troubling.

“There is nothing we (the town) can do,” he said. “But I’ll cheer the day when a shovel is in the ground.”

According to Remley, LMREI has until Sept. 16, 2010 to file an application for a building permit for the Cabana Club and may seek an additional six-month extension as part of the Community Development Board’s amended development order.

Neither Alan Zimmit, counsel for Save Our Neighborhood, nor Tom Reynolds, counsel for LMREI in the Cabana Club lawsuit, could be reached for comment.


http://tbnweekly.com/pubs/belleair_bee/content_articles/031710_bee-03.txt  Belleair Bee Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Biltmore owners invoke new state law  

BELLEAIR – Following passage last May of Florida Senate Bill 360, the so-called “Community Renewal Act” alternatively dubbed “sprawl legislation” by opponents, which allows for sweeping changes to the state’s growth management laws, the owners of the Belleview Biltmore applied for an extension to the time they’re allowed to file for a building permit.

The time period was set to expire this May.

Town Attorney David Ottinger advised the Town Commission March 16 that the law allows for automatic filing extensions for existing approved projects like the Biltmore restoration.

Last year town officials granted their own extended time period for filing a building permit application after two residential groups, one in Belleair and the other in Sand Key, filed suits challenging variances granted for the Biltmore renovation project by Clearwater and Belleair officials. Those suits have now cleared the courts, but the result has been nearly a year of delays to the start of the restoration project.

The Biltmore owners, Latitude Management Real Estate Investors, had previously announced a planned reopening of the hotel/spa complex in 2012. The Biltmore was officially closed May of 2009.

LMREI now has a two-year extension to the permit application window; in other words LMREI has until May 2012 to apply for a building permit.

After Tuesday’s commission meeting Ottinger explained that even as challenges to SB 360 are in the offing the new rules governing, “the two-year extension would likely be preserved and still apply.”

Tuesday commissioners heard two opinions on yet another issue linked to home rule, a potential restriction on the residential use of phosphorous-rich fertilizers.

A proposed county ordinance encourages local governments to enforce a limited restriction of the use of fertilizers containing phosphorous during Florida’s rainy season May through September.

The county has determined that excess runoff from residential sources is a major contributor to algae blooms similar to the one this past summer that stretched 14 miles long and persisted for four months.

Cathy Harrelson of the Suncoast Sierra Club and board chair of that group’s Coastal Task Force spoke to the commissioners, urging them to adopt the county’s regulations approved this past January.

Those recommendations which are not binding on local governments are, according to Harrelson, the substitute use of a 50 percent slow-release fertilizer that may be used twice a year before and after the rainy season.

“The regulations call for a one-year phase-in so that retailers have an opportunity to stock up on the slow release product,” Harrelson said.

Harrelson explained that during the rainy season or summer when most homeowners apply fertilizer products, natural nitrogen from condensed forms in the atmosphere provide plant nutrients through normal rainfall. Excess fertilization during the rainy season ends up as runoff which in turn stimulates coastal algae blooms.

Andy Neiswender, golf course superintendent at Belleair Country Club, told the board, “I believe we should take some action, but I’m just opposed to a total four-month ban.”

Neiswender said he was concerned that a residential ban now might pave the way for a ban on commercial use in another four to five years.

“That would be catastrophic for our industry,” he said.

Neiswender suggested a course that included training and licensing for professional use of fertilization might be a preferable alternative.

Under the current county guidelines playing fields and golf courses would be exempt from the proposed seasonal ban.  


http://www.ClearwaterGazette.com Thursday, March 4, 2010

Belleview Biltmore Prevails - Owners of the Belleview Biltmore have prevailed in the recent legal tussle over construction of a hotel/condo project at the former Cabana Club location on Sand Key. The court's decision could, however, be appealed. Thus, it is only a matter of time before the Biltmore owners may develop their properties. Will the development begin after 30 days?


http://www.ClearwaterGazette.com   Save Our Neighborhood's Appeal - The Result Is In - The CDB Was Wrong  Thursday March 4, 2010  Letter to the Editor

May 2009 Save Our Neighborhood (S.O.N.) filed an appeal with the Circuit Court seeking to overturn the September 2008 ruling of Clearwater's Community Development Board (CDB) that approved the multiple code deviations Legg Mason requested to redevelop the site of the Cabana Club restaurant and swimming pool on Sand Key. These deviation requests included the approval of only 56 parking spaces where 113 are required for a 38-room hotel and a 165-seat restaurant.

A panel of three Circuit Court judges issued an Order on February 26, 2010. The judges agreed with S.O.N. that the Community Development Board (CDB) was incorrect and deviated from the law when they combined the hotel rooms of the Belleview Biltmore, located six miles away in the Town of Belleair, with the proposed Cabana Club Hotel on Sand Key. This combination was done by Clearwater's Planning Department, and then approved by the CDB, in order to characterize the Cabana Club Restaurant as an "accessory restaurant" that did not need to have its own designated 75 parking spaces, in addition to the required 38 parking spaces for the hotel.

The judges also agreed with S.O.N. that the CDB was "incorrectly advised on the rules of evidence" by their own attorneys when they were directed to not allow S.O.N.'s attorney, Mr. Zimmet, to cross examine the parking expert of Legg Mason. "Such testimony could have made the difference in assuring that cars do not stack out onto Gulf Boulevard jeopardizing the safety of our residents," said Ms. Remley, a spokesperson for S.O.N. It also would likely have illustrated that Legg Mason anticipates that as many as 268 Belleview Biltmore Hotel guests are expected to drive to the Cabana Club Hotel's 56 parking spaces rather than taking a shuttle or a "water taxi" as Legg Mason represented.

Ms. Remley added that "when S.O.N. representatives met with the City's Planning Department in July 2008, it was apparent that they had never read an important document that clearly established that no water taxi could be operated by Legg Mason. They do not own any docks or water front uplands on Sand Key and there are no commercial docks or commercial zoned uplands in this residential area." But the Planning Department's Director said that it was too late for him to change his mind, even though the CDB hearing had not yet occurred, and he indicated residents would just have to file a lawsuit.

Ms. Remley said, "It is very disappointing that the judges concluded that these mistakes 'did not result in a miscarriage of justice' or 'depart from the essential requirements of the law.' It is Sand Key's residents who must live with another additional and very serious mistake made by Clearwater's Planning Department and its CDB, adversely affecting our property values and impacting our residential neighborhood."

An appeal can be filed with the Second District Court of Appeals within 30 days from the date of the Order. "Whether an appeal should be filed is being evaluated," said Ms. Remley.

Cynthia Remley
Save Our Neighborhood


http://tbnweekly.com/pubs/belleair_bee/content_articles/030310_bee-01.txt  Belleair Bee Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Cabana Club plans clear legal hurdle

Legal challenges have delayed restoration of the Belleview Biltmore Resort
 
By HARLAN WEIKLE
 
 
 
[Image]
Rendering courtesy of LMREI
Latitude Management Real Estate Investors, owners of the Belleview Biltmore Resort, plan a 38-room hotel and restaurant at the Cabana Club site on Sand Key.
BELLEAIR – In a 15-page ruling, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals Feb. 26 upheld the decision of an administrative judge in a lawsuit challenging the Clearwater Community Development Board’s approval of plans for a 38-room hotel and restaurant at the Belleview Biltmore’s Cabana Club on Sand Key.

Robert E. Meale, the administrative law judge appointed by Clearwater to review that board’s decision to grant parking code variances to Latitude Management Real Estate Investors for the facility, ruled that the city had acted within its authority.

In a unanimous decision, the panel of three appellate judges upheld Meale’s ruling. The exception will allow the proposed changes to the Cabana Club without increasing the number of parking spaces.

A group of local residents, Save Our Neighborhood, filed the suit claiming that increased traffic and the subsequent change in usage violated the city’s existing code. Their Petition for Writ of Certiorari contended that by code the hotel required 38 parking spaces, one for each room and an additional 75 parking spaces for the restaurant; the property as planned has room for just 56 cars. LMREI said it intends to provide a valet service which will increase the parking capacity to 67 vehicles.

Plans for the restoration and reopening of the Belleview Biltmore Resort and Spa have been held back for nearly a year by challenges from first a group of residents of Belleair who brought suit against the town over similar code enforcement concessions – that suit was settled late last year – and the recent suit by Save Our Neighborhood.

That group claimed increased commercialization of the Biltmore annex would adversely impact the value of local residential properties by more than $8 million.

“It’s not clear to us how a 38-room annex can be such a vital economic component of the much larger development in Belleair,” said one of the plaintiffs, attorney Cynthia Remley, in an earlier interview.

Reached at his office Monday, Tom Reynolds, the attorney for LMREI, said the ruling was anticipated and he felt there should be no further obstacles to commencing with the project. LMREI closed the Biltmore in May of last year. The announced reopening date for the $100 million restoration is scheduled for 2012.

“The owners are very pleased with this decision,” Reynolds said.

Messages to Joe Penner, spokesman for Latitude Management Real Estate Investors, requesting reaction to the court ruling, were not returned by press time.

Attorney Alan Zimmit for the petitioners said Tuesday his clients had not yet had time to consider whether or not they would file an appeal. The attorney added however that he felt, “the court had made two glaring errors in rendering its opinion: first they cut short my cross examination of the city’s parking expert Vicky Gagliano.”

Zimmit had tried to cross examine the witness on similar testimony she had provided in the Belleair suit, however, according to the court’s ruling, the testimony had to be suppressed because the city’s board had no opportunity to properly evaluate the previous testimony in that case.

Zimmit said the court also erred by disregarding evidence that the Cabana Club was not designed as an annex to the main hotel in Belleair, but rather should be considered a second principle use of the property in that it offered guests an opportunity to reside at a gulf-front venue with its own restaurant.

Belleair Town Commissioners greeted the court decision Tuesday as good news, “anticipating that the owners would now be able to start getting financing together and get the project started,” said Town Attorney David Ottinger.

In a related matter, LMREI has filed an appeal over the town’s imposition of a $250 a day fine for code violations involving the deteriorated condition of the Biltmore’s roof structure. The court granted LMREI 30 days to file a brief for that appeal.

“They have about two weeks to respond,” Ottinger said.

http://www.tampabay.com/news/courts/civil/judges-clear-way-for-boutique-hotel-on-sand-key-site-of-old-cabana-club/1076932 

St. Petersburg Times, Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Judges clear way for 'boutique hotel' on Sand Key site of old Cabana Club

By Mike Brassfield, Times Staff Writer
In Print: Wednesday, March 3, 2010

This drawing shows the 38-room, boutique hotel that would replace the Cabana Club as planned by the owner, Latitude Management Real Estate Investors.


This drawing shows the 38-room, boutique hotel that would replace the Cabana Club as planned by the owner, Latitude Management Real Estate Investors.
  Current view of the Cabana Club
CLEARWATER — After a long and convoluted legal fight, a panel of judges has cleared the way for the owners of the Belleview Biltmore Resort to replace the resort's Cabana Club restaurant on Sand Key with a six-floor beachfront hotel.

The project has been the subject of intense debate and legal challenges since 2008, when Clearwater's Community Development Board approved it.

Many Sand Key residents oppose the plans for a 38-room hotel and 160-seat restaurant, saying it would be too much development for a small site with little parking.

But the Biltmore's owners say the Victorian-style "boutique hotel" they have planned will fit in with its surroundings along Gulf Boulevard and be an improvement over the aging building now at the site.

A Sand Key citizens group called Save Our Neighborhood appealed to the courts to overturn the board's decision.

But a panel of three Pinellas County circuit judges has ruled that the city was justified in allowing the $14 million project.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether the Belleview Biltmore and its Cabana Club property will truly be redeveloped.

The 110-year-old Biltmore, one of Pinellas County' most significant historic structures, closed last summer for a three-year, $100 million makeover.

Some observers aren't convinced the Biltmore will reopen due to the economic downturn and the huge cost of renovation. Its owners are being fined daily for not fixing the decaying roof.

"It's a rotting hulk sitting there," Belleair Mayor Gary Katica said. He hopes renovation work will begin now that various lawsuits against the resort have been decided. "All I know is the path is clear. Let's rock and roll."

The legal challenges have delayed construction, said George Rahdert, an attorney representing the Los Angeles-based owners, Latitude Management Real Estate Investors, formerly known as Legg Mason.

Rahdert said the judges' ruling in the Cabana Club case "really eliminated the last major legal hindrance to the project."

The Cabana Club is essential for the overall Biltmore restoration, he said. "My clients were not willing to do this project without having the beachfront element that this part of the project provides."

A group of Sand Key residents has been fighting the Cabana Club project because, among other reasons, residents fear that inadequate parking there will send cars spilling over into condominium parking lots.

The lawsuit argued that Clearwater didn't follow its own development code when it approved the hotel and restaurant with 56 parking spaces.

The panel of judges found some errors by the city, but nothing compelling enough to make it overturn the city's decision.

"We are reviewing and investigating our appeal options," said Sand Key resident Cynthia Remley, a spokeswoman for the residents' group.

"We are disappointed that the judges thought the errors were not egregious enough to constitute a departure from the essential requirements of the law," Remley said. "And we are disappointed because of the adverse impact this will have on our residential neighborhood."

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4160.


http://www2.tbo.com/content/2010/mar/02/court-rejects-suit-blocking-belleview-biltmore-ren/  Tampa Tribune TBO.com

Court rejects suit blocking Belleview Biltmore renovation

Published: March 2, 2010

BELLEAIR - The redevelopment of the historical Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa might be inching closer.

The 6th Judicial Court denied an appeal Friday by five petitioners who questioned an earlier ruling on parking and traffic requirements for a "Cabana Club" with hotel rooms and restaurant that will be located in Clearwater's Sand Key near the resort and is a part of the more than $100 million development plan.

"This is a real victory for us," said Stephanie Oddo, a commissioner for the town of Belleair.

"It's going to be a fabulous thing for the economic development for Pinellas County," she said.

Oddo said that with a lawsuit hanging over the heads of the developers, they couldn't get financing to rehabilitate the more than 100-year-old resort.

Legg Mason Real Estate Investors of Los Angeles bought the 22-acre property in 2007. Belleair commissioners approved the hotel renovation plans in 2008.

Shortly after, residents of Belleair sued concerned over parking and the height of a proposed building, Oddo said. In the first lawsuit, the judge ruled in favor of the development, she said.

Often called the world's largest occupied wooden structure, the 247-room Biltmore hotel was built by railroad tycoon Henry B. Plant and opened Jan. 15, 1897. It has lured notables such as the Duke of Windsor, Babe Ruth and Thomas Edison.

 


http://tbnweekly.com/pubs/belleair_bee/content_articles/010610_bee-01.txt  Belleair Bee   Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The commission continued its discussion of “goals” for 2010. This is part of the process by which the commission sets performance expectations for Town Manager Micah Maxwell.

Maxwell who consistently receives high marks from the board was tasked with among other items keeping the Belleview Biltmore project on track by “handling all issues regarding the Belleview Biltmore in a timely and appropriate manner.”

Biltmore project still on hold

The project to begin renovations to the historic Belleview Biltmore Resort and Spa on hold since the hotel’s closing May 21 is currently stalled over a dispute with residents of Sand Key who are suing Clearwater for alleged violations of the city code in granting a series of variances to the Biltmore and Cabana Club owners, Latitude Management Real Estate Investors.

LMREI has maintained that the Cabana Club is a critical part of the whole and that until they receive a ruling from the three-judge appeals panel the project cannot proceed. It is unclear what would happen to the entire project should the Cabana Club variances be overturned. Owners of the Belleview Biltmore had no comment Tuesday.

“It’s not clear to us how a 38-room annex can be such a vital economic component of the much larger development in Belleair,” said one of the plaintiffs, attorney Cynthia Remley of Sand Key. The lawsuit contends that the variances granted for the Cabana Club exceed the city’s land to structure ratio by 260 percent and would reduce residential values in nearby neighborhoods by $8.35 million, Remley said.

While the project languishes, LMREI collects a $250 per day fine for code violations imposed by Belleair officials related to the deteriorated condition of the Biltmore’s roof.


http://www.tbnweekly.com/pubs/belleair_bee/content_articles/121609_bee-03.txt   Belleair Bee, Wednesday, December 16,, 2009

Belleair discusses 2010 wish list

By HARLAN WEIKLE

Article published on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2009


BELLEAIR – Town commissioners Dec. 15 debated over what role their manager should have next year in the Belleview Biltmore’s restoration process.

They presented their criteria for a wish list of projects that they would use in evaluating Belleair Town Manager Micah Maxwell’s job performance next year.

Commissioner Stephanie Oddo asked that Maxwell “facilitate success with the Belleview Biltmore.”

Calling Oddo’s suggestion vague and lacking any meaningful method for evaluation, Commissioner Karla Rettstatt said, “We don’t want to micro manage the town manager and at any rate how would we as a board go about assessing his ‘success’ with that process.”

The owners of the Biltmore, Latitude Management Real Estate Investors, closed the Biltmore on June 1 in preparation for extensive restoration promising the famous hotel and spa would reopen in 2012. Lawsuits brought against both Belleair and Clearwater over elements of the design and how code enforcement exceptions were handled by the two jurisdictions have delayed construction.

While Belleair’s suit has been resolved, LMREI has maintained that the project, which includes demolition and new construction on a portion of Sand Key called the Cabana Club, remains under litigation.

Belleair Mayor Gary Katica seemed to agree with Rettstatt.

“What’s going on with Clearwater (Sand Key) is totally out of our hands; it’s up to God now,” Katica said.

“There is nothing we can do and we shouldn’t hold the town manager to that goal,” he said. “When we set goals, it should be something we can control.”

Oddo stood by her proposal, maintaining that despite the delays there are still options for the town manager to facilitate the project.

As if to underscore her point Maxwell replied, “In eight months if the legal issues are in fact resolved we can simply strike that evaluation goal off the list; if on the other hand they (the Biltmore owners) come tomorrow and say we want to pull a permit then we should be ready.”

Other items on the wish list include continued street lighting improvements, which began late in 2009, enhanced code enforcement using a newly created code officer position, training for new volunteer board members and undergrounding utilities.

In other town matters, three candidates have been qualified for the upcoming March elections to fill two seats on Belleair’s commission. They are incumbent Tom Shelly, Patricia Irwin and Brad Ackerman.


http://www.spiritsofbelleviewbiltmore.com/acajoom/mailing-view/4.html 

Newsletter from Spirits of the Belleview Biltmore web site by BonSue Brandvik     Tuesday, December 15, 2009   

BELLEAIR'S CODE ENFORCEMENT BOARD TAKES ACTION
 

shredded roof coverings
Many layers of temporary tarps
have become shredded and
ineffective at stopping leak

The old roof of the Belleview Biltmore Resort was severely damaged during the hurricane season of 2004.  Like most property owners who suffered roof damage that year, the resort
Many layers of temporary tarps have become shredded and ineffective at stopping leak owners covered the damaged areas of the roof with temporary tarps and began negotiating with their insurance company over the amount of damage and replacement costs. Because of the size and historical value of the structure, as well as the amount of damage incurred, the insurance claim process was complex and lengthy. Before the roof was properly repaired, the property was sold to the Latitude Management Real Estate Investors Group (A.K.A. Legg Mason Real Estate Investors Group), who subsequently developed plans for a total renovation/up-grade of the resort.

Because the $100 million renovation plans called for a brand new roof over the entire property, the Town of Belleair tried to be lenient with regard to code enforcement. While the hotel was still in operation, its owners continued to layer-on temporary tarps/skins to help stop the many roof leaks. Despite their efforts, over time, some hotel rooms had to be closed off due to leaks, water damage and/or musty smells.

Fast-forward to the present. As many as seven layers of shredded tarps currently cover some sections of the poor old roof. Although the hotel closed for renovation on June 1, 2009, Latitude Management refuses to begin the promised renovation until all legal issues associated with the property are resolved. The only legal action remaining is the appeal of the judgment in the lawsuit regarding the small part of the resort that is located on Sand Key Beach. Because there is no way to determine how much longer the judicial process will take to resolve that matter, the Town of Belleair’s Code Enforcement Board decided to take action to make sure the historic resort doesn’t suffer irreparable damage as a result of the delays. The Board voted 5-2 in favor of fining the Latitude Management Group $250 per day, beginning November 1, 2009 and continuing until the resort’s roof is brought up to town code standards.

The resort owners are not expected to replace the roof with a permanent structure, since any new roof would be destroyed in the up-coming renovation. However, they are expected to replace all the shredded tarps and make sure the new temporary roof coverings actually stop the leaks until the renovation project gets underway.
 

christmastree
The 7' tree provided a chance
to teach more people about the
historic Belleview Biltmore

BELLEVIEW BILTMORE CHRISTMAS TREE

The “Save the Biltmore” preservationists created a beautiful Belleview Biltmore Christmas tree that was auctioned off during the recent 2009 Festival of Trees fundraiser. More than 100 local artists, businesses and community leaders donated trees for this event, which benefits the Upper Pinellas Association for Retarded Citizens (UPARC.) ornament 1

Diane Hein, one of the founders of the “Save the Biltmore” organization said she was pleased the popular festival was held at Westfield Mall because it provided an opportunity to share information about the Resort with many people who had been previously unfamiliar with her historical significance.
The group’s seven foot tree featured 50 hand-crafted cornucopia ornaments, similar to ones that might have decorated the opulent Resort’s tree way back in 1897, the year the Resort first opened. Volunteers spent over 65 hours constructing the ornaments from scraps of paper, cloth, cotton, yarn, tinsel, and ribbon, and then filled each one with an assortment of candy, nuts, pine cones and other holiday decorations. 
To see more pictures or learn more about the “Save the Biltmore” group, visit their website at: www.SaveTheBiltmore.com 
Photo: The beautiful tree was covered with authentic handmade ornaments.

A POINT TO PONDER ABOUT GHOSTS: DOES WATER HELP CONDUCT SPIRITUAL ENERGY? water  spirits

An episode of the new television show, Ghost Lab, presented an interesting theory that might help explain why so much spiritual energy is reported at the Belleview Biltmore Resort. The basic theory is that water might fuel paranormal activity in much the same way water conducts electricity. According to this theory, ghosts are able to use water to amplify their ability to make their presence more readily known.  This theory could help explain why so many guests and workers have such strong paranormal experiences at the Belleview Biltmore Resort. Not only is the resort built on a bluff overlooking Clearwater Harbor, but there is also a fresh water spring running directly beneath the Resort!  Photo: The balcony view from the Belleview Biltmore just above Clearwater Harbor.

WORLD WAR II PRESENTATION AT HERITAGE VILLAGE

1942 army air corps
1942 Army Air Corps poster

Last month, Deirdre Schuster offered a fascinating program to members of the Pinellas County and Clearwater Historical Societies, hosted by Heritage Village. Her presentation covered the period during WWII, when the Belleview Biltmore Resort was requisitioned by the US Government to provide housing for Army Air Corps soldiers. Ms. Schuster, a Social Studies instructor at Countryside High School, was well-versed in the subject, having earned her degree in History from the University of South Florida, where she focused her studies around the history of Clearwater, and in particular, the Belleview Biltmore Resort. 

Visitors who have taken the historic tour of the Belleview Biltmore might recall that the fine furniture, dishes and most of the lighting fixtures were moved to storage just before the soldiers arrived, replaced by standard military-issue furniture, bunks and mess hall tables. During their stay, soldiers painted all 1,700 of the hotel’s windows black, to prevent detection by the enemy, should their submarines find their way into Clearwater Harbor (including the interior, Tiffany glass windows.) The soldiers tore up the rail road tracks that Henry Plant had laid when the hotel first opened in 1897, to make use of the scrap iron. They painted most of the woodwork and even the beautiful brass chandeliers in the Tiffany room, drab army green. They installed three tiny phone booths where soldiers would line up every Sunday to call home. They completed an intricate sprinkler system the same month they moved out of the resort. All these things visitors could learn from taking the hotel tour.
Ms. Schuster; however, truly brought the war years to life. Through her use of photographs, letters and newspaper articles, she demonstrated the love/hate relationship that existed between the soldiers stationed at the hotel and local residents. She explained that merchants were grateful the soldiers supported the local economy of Clearwater at a time when customers were hard to come by. Simultaneously, residents were upset with what they perceived as military waste of valuable resources while residents faced strict supply rationing. The military arranged boxing matches, athletic competitions and dances, but they also issued orders to close the local casino and most taverns. Some residents opened their homes and ‘adopted’ soldiers for the holidays, but others were resentful of their presence. For example, the local male population faced serious competition when it came to courting single ladies living in the small community. 

Ms. Schuster did an excellent job of demonstrating how the soldier’s brief occupation of the Belleview Biltmore made several lasting impressions on the Resort, the City of Clearwater and much of the surrounding community. For those interested in the ghostly aspects of the military's presence, she also uncovered documentation of a young soldier who fell to his death down an elevator shaft at the Resort. A few soldiers, who are now retired and still living in the area, were in the audience and gave first-hand accounts of life in Clearwater/Belleair during the war.  It was an enjoyable afternoon and I hope to meet with Ms. Schuster after the holidays to learn even more about her intriguing research.


DOCENT AT HERITAGE VILLAGE
heritage village

I have begun to volunteer as a docent at the Living Historical Museum, Heritage Village, located at 11909  125th Street, in Largo, FL. Often called re-enactors, docents dress in period-authentic clothing and give tours of the various homes and buildings, providing visitors a glimpse of what life might have been like for early Florida settlers. Photo: The McMullen Home at Heritage Village.

I have been assigned to the House of the Seven Gables; a large Victorian home that was built in 1907, on the bluff overlooking the gulf, as part of the Clear Water Harbor settlement. Seven Gables was moved to Heritage Village in 1976, making the journey via a barge on the Intercoastal Waterway.

Several buildings at Heritage Village are currently decorated for the holidays, showcasing the traditions that were honored by locals during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Visitors can see examples of table-top Christmas trees, trees made of feathers (when wood was too precious to squander), and larger Christmas trees in the homes of the wealthy or in community gathering spots, such as the local church or school house. The larger trees were decorated with cornucopias, filled with candy, nuts and other treats for local children. 

If interested in local history, a tour of Heritage Village is certainly worth your time.For hours of operation, etc, go to: www.PinellasCounty.org/Heritage

 

porch 2
"Uncle Bernie" made every piece of the
furniture covering the expansive porches
of the Belleview Biltmore Resort

MEMORIES OF THE BELLEVIEW BILTMORE; AN INTERVIEW WITH CRAIG SHIREMAN

Several months ago, my nephew’s girlfriend took a few photos at the Belleview Biltmore Resort and posted them on Facebook. I commented that my favorite shot was a picture of the carriage porch veranda, filled with wide wooden rocking chairs and beautiful, hand-constructed tables.

One day a man named Craig Shireman posted a comment on the same picture, stating that his uncle had made every one of the chairs in the photo by hand. I was immediately intrigued and got in touch with Mr. Shireman to see if he would share some insights about the Resort with me. He agreed to an interview and we sat down together a few weeks ago.

Mr. Shireman showed me his copy of the book “The Belleview Mido Resort Hotel; A Century of Hospitality” (currently out of print), which was published while the Resort was called the ‘Belleview Mido Hotel’ and belonged to a Japanese hotel chain. The BASK Development Corporation purchased the Resort from the Mido Corporation in the late 1990s, changed its name back to the Belleview Biltmore Resort, and planned a partial renovation while keeping the resort open for business.
The son of the new owner, Shaffin Jetha, moved down from Baltimore to oversee hotel operations and renovations for BASK. Mr. Shireman, who was already friends with the former Belleview Biltmore Resort manager, became friends with Mr. Jetha, as well as the new resort manager, Bill Schuster. When Mr. Jetha became dissatisfied with the firm handling the hotel’s public relations/media coverage regarding the upcoming restoration of the Belleview Biltmore, Mr. Shireman, with a background in television news programming, volunteered his services.

Like so many others, once Mr. Shireman became involved with the White Queen of the Gulf, he was smitten. With his parent’s approval, he offered the hotel impressive discounts at his parent’s store, to provide new wallpaper, drapes and carpet for the renovation. Meanwhile, he spent so much of his time climbing through the resort’s attics, searching for treasures buried among the rafters, that many thought he was an employee! He told me he found a large mirror that appears to be original to the resort, but otherwise, his searches went unrewarded.
 

craig shireman 2
Craig Shireman

Mr. Shireman claims to have witnessed frequent paranormal activity, especially while roaming the 4th & 5th floors. He said that even as late as the 1960s, the resort would hire staff for the season and allow some of them to stay in the servant's quarters on the 5th floor.  He said that in several of those rooms, workers had written their names or made other marks in certain rooms as though trying to ‘claim’ the space as their own. He got errie feelings whenever he was in those spaces and believes he was feeling the presence of ghosts or spirits from the past.

He said several resort workers in the kitchen next to the Tiffany Room also claimed to have experienced paranormal activity. For instance, above one of the kitchen’s work islands was a large, suspended fluorescent light. On several occasions, workers in the area claimed the air would suddenly become very cold, even though there are no windows or air vents in that area. Then the large light would begin to sway back and forth, despite the fact it was hung too high above the ground for a person to reach it.  He said the workers he spoke with had little doubt about the cause. They were all certain it was paranormal activity.

But Mr. Shireman said his most convincing paranormal experiences occurred when sitting by the pool late at night with Mr. Jetha and Mr. Schuster. Several times, the group witnessed one of the windows on the 5th floor, in an unoccupied and locked portion of the resort, go up and down, with no logical explanation for the activity. He said when they checked the area, they found the room still locked, with no evidence that any one had been there. After several unsuccessful attempts to debunk their experiences, the group finally accepted it was paranormal activity, teasing that Henry Plant was roaming the resort.

Unfortunately, the BASK Development Corporation fell on hard times and was unable to complete the planned renovation of the Belleview Biltmore Resort. The bank sold the resort to Urdang Capital Management, who in turn, sold it to the present owners, the Latitude Management Real Estate Investors Group.

Although no longer associated with the property, Mr. Shireman said, “I’m a big history buff, so a part of my heart will always belong to the Belleview Biltmore. I hope the current owners are able to complete the renovation and bring her back to the glory I’ve always wished for her.” I'm sure I speak for many when I say, "I hope his wish comes true!"


Santa Claus Visited Save the Biltmore Preservationist Tree         http://clearwatergazette.com/   December 3, 2009

The Save the Biltmore Preservationist seven foot Christmas tree combines the old with the new. The Belleview Biltmore Hotel opened during the Victorian era in 1897, and a popular Christmas decoration at that time was the beautiful cone-shaped ornament, the cornucopia. The Save the Biltmore hand-crafted cornucopias included decorations of pine cones, silver and gold leaves, miniature craft pearls, apples, pears, gold and silver-coated nuts, foil, ribbon, and other Christmas decorations. Half of their ornaments are adorned in the center with a photo representation of their nonprofit's Belleview Biltmore 14 karat gold jewelry charm to represent the "charm of the Belleview Biltmore." The top of their tree has larger gold printed images of their charm, and you can see the hotel's distinctive chimney stacks. It took the organization approximately 65 hours to make and decorate the cornucopias and tree topper. The tree was on view at the Festival of Trees show at Westfield/Countryside Mall sponsored by the UPARC Foundation show the end of November.


http://www.tbnweekly.com/pubs/belleair_bee/content_articles/120209_bee-02.txt?archiveview&print 

Belleair Bee, Wednesday December 2, 2009

On Tuesday the Biltmore’s owners filed an appeal to that decision with the Second Circuit Court. Ottinger said he would determine if the appeal had merit and report his findings to the town commission.
 


http://www.tampabay.com/news/localgovernment/sunshine-law-flap-erupts-over-biltmore-roof-repair-fine/1049485

St. Petersburg Times, November 4, 2009

Sunshine Law flap over Biltmore fine

By Lorri Helfand, Times Staff Writer


BELLEAIR — Questions are swirling about the way Belleair's code enforcement board handled an issue involving the historic Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa.

The resort owner's attorney, George Rahdert, has already cried foul about the board's decision Monday to fine the owner $250 a day if it doesn't fix the hotel's dilapidated roof.

And Mayor Gary Katica joined the fray at Tuesday's town commission meeting, saying he saw evidence that some board members may have violated the state's Sunshine Law, an assertion that board members denied.

Katica also was disturbed that, during the meeting, a new board member asked if the hotel would provide certain benefits for the Belleair Country Club and neighbors if the town rescinded the fine.

Latitude Management Real Estate Investors, formerly known as Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, bought the 112-year-old hotel in 2007 with plans for a $100 million full-scale makeover.

"If there was any indication that they violated the Sunshine Law, the entire decision is null and void," said Rahdert, who also represents the St. Petersburg Times on First Amendment issues.

The Sunshine Law restricts government officials from doing public business outside of public view.

Town Manager Micah Maxwell said he saw two board members talking after the meeting and wasn't sure what they were talking about. He told them they shouldn't be talking about code board business.

Katica, who attended the code board meeting, told officials he also saw discussions before the meeting and heard words like "follow my lead."

At least two board members rebutted Katica's interpretation of their actions.

"We didn't talk before the vote period," code board member Tom Vourlos said Wednesday. "And what we discussed after the meeting I'm not going to say yes, no or anything to."

New board member Don Newman admitted he did talk to another board member, but not about the Biltmore.

"I asked the gentleman next to me who the people were sitting around me," Newman said.

Alexis Lambert, Sunshine Law attorney for the Attorney General's Office, said the law's prohibition is against discussing pending business before the board.

"It's the subject matter of the conversation that makes the difference," she said. "It depends entirely on the content of the conversation."

Florence Snyder, a First Amendment lawyer in Tallahassee, said board members shouldn't discuss public business out of the public spotlight, period. And she said the "quid pro quo" comments are inappropriate.

"The last time I checked, code enforcement boards do not have legal authority to act like rug merchants and do a little bartering," she said.

Belleair officials asked town attorney David Ottinger to look into the Sunshine Law issues.

Rahdert said his client is determined to work with the town.

"The Belleview Biltmore owners have always had the best of relationships with the community and the city despite our disappointment with the way this board behaved," he said.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com


http://www.tampabay.com/news/business/economicdevelopment/belleair-fines-biltmore-resort-250-a-day-says-roof-still-dilapidated/1049147   St. Petersburg Times  November 4, 2009

The hotel roof, seen here in May, is still in the same “dilapidated and deteriorated” condition as it was before, the city says.  DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD, photographer

Belleair fines Biltmore resort $250 a day, says roof still dilapidated

By  Lorri Helfand, Times Staff Writer
 

BELLEAIR - The hotel roof, seen here in May, is still in the same “dilapidated and deteriorated” condition as it was before, the city says.

The town is slapping the owner of the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa with daily fines until it fixes the resort's dilapidated roof.

The roof has been in disrepair since the summer storms of 2004, when the hotel had another owner.

The city's code board voted 5-2 on Monday to institute the fine.

"We don't agree and we will hopefully work it out through other avenues," said Joe Penner, a managing director for the owner.

The fines, $250 a day, are another roadblock for the $100 million renovation project, which has been delayed by lawsuits, said George Rahdert, a lawyer representing owner Latitude Management Real Estate Investors, formerly known as Legg Mason Real Estate Investors.

With an appeal outstanding, it's difficult to obtain financing, and the fine is another hindrance, said Rahdert, of Rahdert, Steele, Bole & Reynolds in St. Petersburg. "You can't get financing today with any blemishes on the application," Rahdert said.

In June 2008, three Belleair residents sued the town and the owner of the hotel because they disagreed with some of the owner's plans. In May, the appellate division of the 6th Judicial Circuit Court in Pinellas ruled against the residents.

Around that time, Sand Key residents appealed Clearwater's approval of a plan to replace the resort's Cabana Club restaurant on Sand Key with a six-floor beachfront hotel.

The specific code issues involving the roof trace back to February 2007, more than a year before Latitude Management bought the property for $30.3 million.

In November 2007, the town's code board gave the owner two years, or until last Sunday, to bring the roof into compliance.

Fred Hawes, the town's building official, said he examined the structure from the ground Monday and told the board that the hotel, which closed in June, was basically in the same "dilapidated and deteriorated" condition it was in before.

Project architect Richard Heisenbottle told the board that bringing the roof up to code was a "Herculean task." He and owner representative Ron Harn said it would cost almost $6 million.

Meanwhile, hotel representatives said, the owners have repaired portions of the roof and implemented techniques to avoid leaks.

Heisenbottle said it was illogical to pour millions of dollars and months of work into bringing the roof up to code, when the 112-year-old hotel really needs to be renovated from square one.

"This building has to be restored correctly. It has to be restored from the ground up," Heisenbottle said.

After the meeting, Rahdert said he was specifically concerned about a comment made by board member Don Newman.

Newman mentioned "quid pro quo" and suggested rescinding the fine if the owner would consider certain things that would help nearby neighbors and the Belleair Country Club. They included installing lighting along the roadway that leads to the hotel as well as nearby condos, pushing back intrusive fencing and unblocking parking, formerly used by the country club.

Rahdert called the comment "extortion."

Newman, contacted Tuesday, laughed at the extortion idea and said his concerns were mostly for neighbors who live in the area.


http://clearwatergazette.com/     Thursday, November 5, 2009

Belleair's Hotel Hit With Fines

By Leo Coughlin

BELLEAIR - The Town Commission held a routine meeting Tuesday night but the focus of news seemed to switch to the town's Code Enforcement Board on two counts.

For one, the board has levied a $250 a day fine on the Belleair Biltmore Hotel because of a roof, festooned with colorful covering draperies, that is in obvious and sad disrepair.

That situation has existed for years and the eyesore has become a marker beacon for aircraft making their way into Clearwater Airport.

The other count includes talk - apparently at the rumor stage right now - of a violation of the Sunshine Law by two members of the board.

Town officials are looking into that, but the real authority for that kind of probe is the State Attorney's Office.

Probably more observed in the breach than any way else, the Sunshine Law is a tough edict to enforce which only demonstrates what a bad law it is.

The only notable violation that resulted in a severe penalty in recent years is the case in Pensacola where a former elected official was sent to prison.

In its action Tuesday, the commission approved a resolution setting March 2, 2010 as the election date. The terms of Karla Rettstatt and Tom Shelly are expiring. Neither has indicated her or his plans. Qualifying takes place in December.

A contract with the Sheriff's Office for supplemental services like K-9, crime scene forensics, etc. was approved.

The commission also okayed the purchase of Crown Victoria police car for $25,348, a 15-passenger club wagon for the Recreation Department for $22,981 and two vehicles for the Solid Waste Department totally $223,562.

Next meeting for the commission is November 17 when a discussion on traffic issues is scheduled to be resumed.


http://tbnweekly.com/pubs/belleair_bee/content_articles/110409_bee-02.txt  Belleair Bee Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Controversy erupts over code meeting
Belleair Code Enforcement Board levies fines for Belleview Biltmore
 
By HARLAN WEIKLE

BELLEAIR – A controversy sparked by what some labeled an inappropriate suggestion by a board member and a private conversation during Monday’s Code Enforcement Board meeting spilled over into the Town Commission meeting Tuesday.

Mayor Gary Katica interrupted the regular meeting agenda Tuesday by asking to speak about a matter that he said, “Has been burning in my mind.”

Katica, who attended Monday’s meeting of the Code Enforcement Board, recalled how he had witnessed code board member Don Newman and another person having a private conversation during the course of the Monday meeting. Town Manager Micah Maxwell later identified the other participant in that conversation as board member Jeff Lopatin.

Present at Monday’s meeting were representatives of the Belleview Biltmore – Latitude Management Real Estate Investors Managing Director Joe Penner, project architect Richard Heisenbottle, and Don Harn of Skanska the project construction manager.

On Monday night the board voted to fine Latitude Management Real Estate Investors $250 a day for continued violation of the town building code.

The Biltmore, which is now closed and with no start date as yet set for its restoration, remains as it has for five years under a patchwork quilt of roof repairs that fail to meet the town’s building code. Neighbors complain of windblown debris from the roof littering the landscape and town officials worry about public safety.

The fines became retroactive to Nov. 1.

Following Katica’s utterance Tuesday, resident Steve Johnson, who also attended the previous night’s code meeting, read from a prepared statement quoting Newman as saying, “If the hotel did something for the country club perhaps the board would do something for the hotel.”

Johnson demanded the commission remove Newman from the code board for what he termed, “An inappropriate suggestion. I think he (Newman) mentioned parking spaces.” Johnson called Newman’s statement, “A quid pro quo proposal that might as well be termed bribery.”

Johnson concluded that because no one present on the board who heard Newman’s statement objected the entire board ought to be replaced. The other serving members of the code enforcement board are Sherrie Morton, A.T. “Buzz” Cooper, Jeffrey Lopatin, Nancy Reardon, Tom Vourlos and David Grieco.

During last year’s sometimes rancorous town hall meetings over variance requests by LMREI, several issues emerged between the owners of the Biltmore property and officials of the Belleair Country Club. LMREI wanted to reduce parking density yet, at the same time needed required additional off property, overflow parking and asked to use country club parking on occasion. In return LMREI agreed to spend money for landscaping and to maintain the club’s existing parking space. The request was approved.

“In the years I have been in Florida I have developed a great respect for the state’s Sunshine Law and we cannot tolerate any situation that abuses that trust,” Katica said.

Asked for a legal assessment of the circumstances surrounding the alleged misconduct during the code board meeting, Town Attorney David Ottinger, who was not present at Monday’s meeting said, “This should not be taken lightly; in fact a similar situation in Venice (Florida) recently resulted in nearly $700,000 in legal costs.”

The commission opted to refrain from further discussion of the matter pending a legal assessment by consul.

After the meeting Ottinger confirmed there would likely be an investigation, but at the same time offered another possibility, that the alleged ex parte conversation may have been nothing more than a conversation between a board member and an audience member, which he added is not subject to restriction under the Sunshine Law.


http://tbnweekly.com/pubs/belleair_bee/content_articles/092309_bee-02.txt  Belleair Bee Thursday, September 24, 2009

Belleair resident Virginia Donahue asked the commission if they had any idea when the renovation project would begin on the Belleview Biltmore.

“Recently I had the displeasure of driving past the hotel which is a total disaster,” Donahue said. “My question is when are you guys going to do something to get this thing off the dime?”

Maxwell explained that the commission has no authority to affect the schedule other than should the owners, Latitude Management Real Estate Investors, fail to meet the June 2010 deadline set in their permit, the commission had the power to revoke the permit as well as the site plan approval. He added that the condition of the roof was a matter for the city’s code enforcement board which he said would most likely examine the roof issue next month during their regular meeting.

“They then could take action,” Maxwell added.

Largo Fire Chief Wallace told the assembly that he had done a recent walk through of the shuttered hotel.

“It is still up to code as to fire suppression and protection,” Wallace said.


Below is part of an article about the Biltmore from the Belleair Bee"

http://tbnweekly.com/pubs/belleair_bee/content_articles/092309_bee-02.txt  Belleair Bee Thursday, September 24, 2009

Belleair resident Virginia Donahue asked the commission if they had any idea when the renovation project would begin on the Belleview Biltmore.

“Recently I had the displeasure of driving past the hotel which is a total disaster,” Donahue said. “My question is when are you guys going to do something to get this thing off the dime?”

Maxwell explained that the commission has no authority to affect the schedule other than should the owners, Latitude Management Real Estate Investors, fail to meet the June 2010 deadline set in their permit, the commission had the power to revoke the permit as well as the site plan approval. He added that the condition of the roof was a matter for the city’s code enforcement board which he said would most likely examine the roof issue next month during their regular meeting.

“They then could take action,” Maxwell added.

Largo Fire Chief Wallace told the assembly that he had done a recent walk through of the shuttered hotel.

“It is still up to code as to fire suppression and protection,” Wallace said.


http://clearwatergazette.com/  Thursday, July 16, 2009

Liquidation Sale Preludes Resort Property's Redevelopment

Photos/text By Renee Burrell

The gates of the chain link security fence that now surrounds the 112 year old Belleview Biltmore opened last week for a 45 day liquidation sale of the hotel's non-historical contents

BELLEAIR - The historic Belleview Biltmore Resort, 25 Belleview Blvd, has turned over its non-historical contents for a six-week public liquidation sale. According to a press release announcing the sale, "The hotel's owners have retained the services of NCL/National Content Liquidators, leading experts in hotel liquidation management, to clear the hotel of its current contents as a prelude to the property's redevelopment."

The sale started Wednesday, July 8, and will continue for 45 days, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and will be open for business Sundays, noon to 5 p.m.

Hotel manager Martin Smith, estimated that 5,000 shoppers have come through the sale thus far. He said, "The sale is doing very well. It's very organized and running smoothly. Saturday alone saw 1,800 people."

Shoppers should be prepared to stand in line as groups of 50 at a time are led in to the sale. Handicapped access is provided for. "During the week, the wait to get in is no more than 10 minutes," said Smith. Though the buyers are responsible for moving purchased items out, there are moving dollies available for use and shoppers are able to pull their trucks and trailers up to the hotel's lobby entrance.

For sale on a first come first served basis with the buyer responsible for hauling are: wall hangings; floral arrangements; objects d' art; light fixtures, including art nouveau chandeliers and sconces; ceiling fans; armoires, writing desks; sleigh and poster beds; couches, loungers; and loveseats. Patio and outdoor furniture from the hotel's grounds and also from the hotel's Sand Key property, the Cabana Club, are on site and for sale.

Other fixtures and items included in the sale are: office furnishings, antique pine panel doors, pedestal sinks, bar equipment, commercial kitchen equipment, PTAC units, and commercial laundry equipment.

A multitude of photographs featuring sale items can be viewed on NCL's website at: www.nclsales.com.

There are no refunds, no checks or American Express cards accepted. Visa, Master Card and Discover are acceptable methods for payment, if not paying with cash.

The Belleview Biltmore closed June 1, 2008. Its projected grand reopening is January 2012, to coincide with the resort's 115-year anniversary. The Belleview Biltmore Golf Club and dining will remain open during the entire restoration process.

For more information about the sale, call (727) 441-9690.

Furniture from the hotel's 250 guest rooms and suites are up for grabs --armoires, dressers, writing desks and beds are sought after items by hoteliers, landlords and


http://tbnweekly.com/pubs/belleair_bee/content_articles/071509_bee-03.txt   Belleair Bee Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Belleview Biltmore sale         
Going, going, not quite gone

By HARLAN WEIKLE

Photo by HARLAN WEIKLE

[Image]

Judy Frazier, owner of On The Veranda, a used furniture store in St. Petersburg, stands with a chair she picked up from one of the Biltmore’s luxury suites.


BELLEAIR – Nothing about selling the Belleview Biltmore is easy; the liquidation sale alone that began July 9 might run for 45 days, according to Don Hayes, the man in charge.

“We figure we’ll be at around $300,000 by the time it’s over,” estimated Hayes, who works for National Content Liquidators of Dayton, Ohio.

His firm was hired by the Biltmore owners to handle the sale. From the beginning, handling it was the operative word as several hundred people lined up before 10 a.m. for the opening day.

Customers began early forming a line that stretched from the back entrance of the hotel into the parking lots that were already filled by 9 a.m. At the top of the stairway two women sat patiently waiting for the doors to open.

Pat Bogel and Estelle Sztuczko, friends from Largo, said they had arrived by 8:45 a.m. hoping to find, “bargains,” but then admitted they were there more out of curiosity and to have a final look into the historic hotel before the renovation began.

Hotel security opened the doors at 10, admitting the first 100 people who quickly dispersed down the hall disappearing into side rooms that were once the hotel’s museum, a gift shop and a beauty salon as they looked for something useful, unique, or something they simply couldn’t live without.

Chairs, tables, lamps and bureaus lined the walls of a hallway and in the main ballroom a cavernous interior filled with linens, stem ware, dishes and a mountain of pillows looked like the warehouse from an “Indiana Jones” movie as shoppers and treasure hunters dug through aisle after aisle of slightly worn hotel accessories.

There were tables lined with gleaming serving dishes, warming trays and chafing dishes; enough for a dozen weddings or a small political convention.

Venturing further down any hallway led to more treasures: a $1,280 sideboard with richly carved reliefs and stained from years of buffet service still had the appearance of stately dignity that promised years of faithful service to the right owner.

Portraits peered out of every room at passersby as if hoping to be left in their original frame to stay a part of the Biltmore as it was, though that would not be the case.

The planned renovation is less about the past than it is about the future. The new Biltmore, targeted to reopen in 2012 will be full of new chafing dishes, portraits, linens and chairs.

A liquidation sale means the old and worn and perhaps no longer valued things have to go; they’re not part of the Biltmore anymore. For others like Bogel and Sztuczko, the sale is perhaps more about taking a last look and remembering the White Queen of the Gulf as she was and taking a bit of that past home to keep the memories intact.


http://www.tampabay.com/news/business/article1017251.ece

Everything must go during a 45-day liquidation at the Belleview Biltmore    St. Petersburg Times, Friday, July 10, 2009

By Brian Spegele, Times Staff Writer
 

“I just want a little piece of history,” says Sarabeth Reeves of Crystal Beach on Thursday morning at the Belleview Biltmore sale.

“I just want a little piece of history,” says Sarabeth Reeves of Crystal Beach on Thursday morning at the Belleview Biltmore sale

Belleview Biltmore owners are optimistic they can overcome legal challenges delaying the Belleair hotel’s renovation.

Belleview Biltmore owners are optimistic they can overcome legal challenges delaying the Belleair hotel’s renovation.

More photos at: http://www.tampabay.com/specials/2009/photo_galleries/biltmore_sale/

For a moment, it's quiet Thursday morning inside Room 4336 — once the bridal suite at the Belleview Biltmore hotel. The carpet is gone, the floors slant beneath your feet and a mustiness hangs in the air. "I didn't realize it was this rundown," a woman remarks, tiptoeing toward the balcony. The guest rooms are gutted, their paint chipped — hardly the place where dignitaries once relaxed: Barack Obama, Babe Ruth, Margaret Thatcher and Henry Ford all among them. The hotel closed in June for what is said to be a three-year, $100 million makeover. Though an array of legal complications have delayed renovation plans, the first step in the overhaul began with a liquidation sale at 10 a.m. Thursday, bringing out the nostalgic, the curious and those just looking for a good deal.

The Biltmore lobby bustles as shoppers around the hotel peruse everything from pepper shakers (pepper included) to pillows. A couple wheels a brass Bingo number generator through the lobby, as Donald Hayes, president of National Content Liquidators, talks with shoppers nearby.

Some are business owners themselves and scrutinize the industrial equipment with tape measurers. Others have fond memories of the hotel and buy a knickknack or two.

James Partridge is last in a line of several hundred people that stretches from the hotel.

He and Bernard Struelens brunched for years at the Biltmore; Partridge won't forget the bread pudding.

When he was 18, Partridge worked as a waiter there. The hotel still holds a place in his heart. "It was just timeless."

Shoppers, all with fond memories of the resort, repeat similar stories — company parties, bridal showers, relaxed Sunday meals.

For all the national recognition, the hotel was a special part of their community.

The main dining room, where waiters like Partridge once scurried around in tuxedos, appears more like a flea market: 143 coffeemakers priced at $5 apiece line part of the wall; whiskey glasses sell for $2.

Strands of green, decorative garland — each $45 — still hang in the archways. A red, pushcart popcorn machine is $175.

Alyson Damery-Ouellette of Dunedin and Vivienne Manias of Palm Harbor browse some items near the mahogany bar, just off the main dining room. The bar itself costs $3,800; the nearby grand piano is $5,800. They admire crown molding on the walls, worry about the mold inside the walls, and say they can only hope the Biltmore will soon reopen.

"You don't want to destroy every old thing in Florida," Manias said. "We have so few as it is."

Joseph Penner, managing director of hotel owner Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, said it is still eager to restore the hotel.

But a legal challenge has delayed the construction, said Legg Mason's attorney, Thomas Reynolds of Rahdert, Steele, Bole & Reynolds in St. Petersburg.

Three residents had appealed Belleair's approval of a site plan and variances for the project. In late May, an appellate panel denied that challenge, and the time limit to file another appeal has expired.

A challenge to another Legg Mason site, though, could further delay plans for several months, Reynolds said.

The hotel owner plans to replace its Cabana Club restaurant on Sand Key with a six-floor beachfront hotel. In May, after an administrative appeal failed, a group of Sand Key residents also filed a suit appealing Clearwater's approval of the plans.

"The lack of a legal right to move forward makes it impossible for any project to obtain financing — especially in today's financial environment, where everyone has become ultra sensitive to any risk," Penner said.

But Penner said his group hopes the Sand Key case will wrap up over the next few months, and he's enthusiastic about the Biltmore project's future.

Some shoppers aren't convinced the hotel will ever reopen. Between a financial slump and the huge costs of renovation, the project could slip away, they agree.

Upstairs on the fourth floor Thursday, it's quiet near the former bridal suite. A few browsers admire the century-old handiwork. The only sounds are a few creaking, tired floorboards.

Lorri Helfand contributed reporting. Brian Spegele can be reached at bspegele@sptimes.com.

FAST FACTS

If you go

The Belleview Biltmore's liquidation sale will continue for 45 days, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. For more information, call (727) 441-9690.


http://www2.tbo.com/photoalbum/2009/jul/09/biltmore-liquidation/   July 9, 2009  Click link to see 9 photos

 

http://tbnweekly.com/pubs/belleair_bee/content_articles/070809_bee-02.txt   Belleair Bee Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Belleview Biltmore ruling unchallenged

By HARLAN WEIKLE

BELLEAIR – Town Attorney David Ottinger informed city officials at the July 7 Town Commission meeting, “Notice of appeal in the Biltmore suit has not been filed within 30 days, the decision stands.” The citizen challenge to Belleair’s zoning variances had failed.

Now the only obstacle remaining to the Belleview Biltmore’s planned renovation resides with pending litigation over zoning restrictions at the Cabana Club on Sand Key. Neighbors there have filed a suit claiming the city exceeded its own limitations on commercial space by allowing the construction of an expanded Cabana Club as part of the proposed renovation/upgrade of the Belleview Biltmore Resort and Spa. Biltmore owners, Latitude Management Real Estate Investors, have indicated that the project will not proceed until all legal challenges have been settled.

Anticipating such a delay town officials proposed a change to the standing “sunset” provision limiting the period in which a contractor may apply for a building permit following a variance grant from six months to a year. The commission voted unanimously to interrupt the countdown clock in the event of any pending litigation; the clock not to start until resolution of the suit.

State law suggests that any construction which proceeds prior to an unfavorable legal determination in such cases must be undone at the applicant’s expense. LMREI officials have from the outset maintained that their plans were contingent on a financial model based on an all or nothing strategy, without which the financial success of the venture remained in doubt.

In other action, Commissioner Tom Shelly advised the commission that he had attended a meeting of Belleair Bluffs’ fire officials at which it was confirmed that Belleair Bluffs would put the question of turning control of its fire department over to Largo to a referendum. Last month Belleair voted to switch its contract for fire protection and EMS service from Belleair Bluffs to Largo.

After Belleair declined to renew the agreement Belleair Bluffs’ officials conceded the probability that loss of the contract, which represents roughly 45 percent of the community’s budget, might necessitate negotiating a separate contract with Largo to assume control of the town’s fire brigade.

Shelly reiterated what Largo Fire Chief Michael Wallace said during preliminary negotiations that none of Belleair Bluffs’ firefighters would lose their jobs in the process.


http://tbnweekly.com/pubs/belleair_bee/content_articles/070809_bee-01.txt?archiveview&print 

Belleair Bee Wednesday July 8, 2009

Biltmore hosts liquidation sale


Article published on Wednesday, July 8, 2009 Print E-Mail

[Image]


Photo courtesy of NCL/NATIONAL CONTENT LIQUIDATORS
King and queen sleigh beds are among the offerings at the Biltmore liquidation sale.

BELLEAIR – A liquidation sale at the Belleview Biltmore Resort is set for Thursday, July 9, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. The hotel’s owners have retained the services of NCL/National Content Liquidators.

The sale, which is open to both the hospitality industry and the general public, will continue daily, Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. The sale is expected to be well attended, so early arrival is encouraged as everything is first come, first served.

Items of interest for sale will be the complete contents of the hotel’s 246 guestrooms and suites, featuring king and queen sleigh beds, color TVs, armoires (many styles), writing desks, artwork, lamps, loveseats, chandeliers and ceiling fans. Also available will be the Palm Court furnishings, antique pine panel doors, pedestal sinks, lobby furnishings, two bars with all under bar equipment, commercial kitchen equipment, office furnishings, PTAC units, pool and patio furnishings, commercial laundry equipment and more.

The Biltmore closed June 1 for a planned $100 million dollar plus restoration and renovation. The projected grand reopening is January 2012, to coincide with the resort’s 115th anniversary.

Although the hotel has closed, the Belleview Biltmore Golf Club remains open during the entire restoration process.

To get a look at items available, visit www.nclsales.com


Here's to The White Queen of the Gulf & Her Staying Power http://clearwatergazette.com/   June 11, 2009

Photos/text by Renee Burrell

Farewell sentiments as seen at the Belleview Biltmore's last Sunday Brunch

BELLEAIR - The 112 year old Belleview Biltmore Resort's closing was bitter sweet. Some of the hotel's last events were attendance record breakers--mainly a family friendly Victorian picnic Saturday May 30, Sunday's brunch and a fundraiser benefitting the Upper Pinellas County Retarded Citizens later that night.

Optimism was up for the largest wooden structure in the world's 100 million dollar renovation project which is expected to take several years to complete and will adhere to the United States Secretary of Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation.

The hotel, 25 Belleview Blvd, built by railroad tycoon Henry Plant in 1897 is a Pinellas County landmark that's been designated in Belleair as a "significant structure" pursuant to Section 74-332 of the town's code (A-7) and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. As such, it is subject to the Secretary of Interior's standards.

News of the latest ruling from the Sixth Judicial Circuit Court in favor of the Town of Belleair and Belleview Biltmore owner, Latitude Management Real Estate Investors, over petitioners Robert Swinehart, Scott Spencer, and Fred Thomas, was welcomed and discussed throughout the busy weekend.

Swinehart, Spencer and Thomas own homes neighboring the hotel and object to some of the renovations and the town's actions to grant them during a hearing last year.

The majority of homeowners living near the hotel are in stark contrast to the petitioners. For example, Bill and Sandy Hutton strongly support the architectural plans and the town's position in the matter. "As owners of a condo in the Belleview Biltmore Home Owners Association, we were delighted to learn the case had been decided in favor of the town. We, along with several of our neighbors, were present for the entire time at the famous Town of Belleair hearing that lasted into the wee hours of the night. We certainly saw no evidence that the opposition was treated badly or didn't have the chance to present their case. In fact, near the end of the meeting, [Belleair's] Mayor Katica specifically asked Scott Spencer whether he was comfortable with the compromise that he and the hotel had agreed upon, and he had said yes. It was such a surprise to learn that he had later joined Thomas and Swinehart in the lawsuit against the town. We believe the vast majority of residents and owners are delighted that the hotel project will continue, and look forward to having a 4 or 5 star spa right next to them. More importantly, having a property like this, and with this kind of rating, within a gated community will have a very positive effect on property values. Frankly, there has been much talk among the residents of what a shame it is that three individuals and their expensive lawyers can hold the rest of the community hostage like this. We just hope that the three plaintiffs will consider the negative impact that their lawsuit has had on our community, especially in light of the continued economic and real estate recession. The sooner the hotel renovation can start, the sooner we can all look forward to the Opening Day Celebration of this great old hotel."

Diane Hein who heads up the Save the Biltmore preservationist group voiced concern over the structure's physical well being, but looks forward to its future. She said that she and vice president Ed Jameson and secretary/treasurer Doug Mann are "Overjoyed that the future of the Belleview Biltmore Hotel is secure now" and reminded that "everyone has to be aware that the hotel will be vacant and we hope that security will prevent any untoward events from occurring…We look forward to keeping abreast of the progress of the renovations over the next three years.. .We will miss the Biltmore's lovely buffets, the historic Victorian charm, the long walks through the two miles of corridors, the many gables and chimneys and especially the Christmas holiday decorations and ambiance."

Cynthia Gandee, Director of the Henry B. Plant Museum which is housed at the University of Tampa, formerly the Tampa Bay Hotel (an older sister hotel built in 1891 by Plant and also a national landmark), commented on the closing, "I think the Belleview Biltmore is THE iconic structure in the area just as the Tampa Bay Hotel is in Tampa. I know also know that restoration and conservation of the Tampa Bay Hotel has been ongoing. Had we had the money, it would have been wonderful to renovate it in one fell swoop. Few historical structures get the chance the Belleview Biltmore is getting. I so wish them success."

Gianna Russo, the museum's curator of education summed up the optimism for the Belleview nicely, "Plant was all about taking advantage of adversity (he bought up ruined Southern railroads after the Civil War to build his empire.) In that tradition, the Belleview will be transformed from its former sad state into the elegant grande dame it was meant to be. We anticipate visiting Plant's iconic 'White Queen of the Gulf.' And the Henry Plant Museum looks forward to welcoming visitors from across the bay to our door."

Until the Belleview Biltmore's reopening, a trip to Tampa and a tour of the Henry B. Plant Museum or one of their educational opportunities may be in order for Victoriana fans, history buffs and all who will miss the Belleview Biltmore during the renovation period. It's located at 401 W. Kennedy Boulevard, Tampa, FL. For more information, you can go to: www.plantmuseum.com or phone (813) 254-1891.

 

 

 

The Belleview Biltmore has been known for playing hostess to charity events, so it was no surprise that the last night party was for a good cause. The Upper Pinellas Adult Retarded Citizens (UPARC) held a Back to the Future fundraiser there May 31. Committee member Terry Banning of Largo (left) and Honorary Chair Diane Gobo of Palm Harbor (right) joined others in writing their names with chalk on bricks lining the Belleview Biltmore's underground tunnel during the last tour.


www.ClearwaterGazette.com   Thursday, June 11, 2009

Among the 500 people attending the last night party and Back to the Future fundraiser for UPARC at the Belleview Biltmore Hotel Sunday, May 31, were UPARC's former executive director Karen Crown and the hotel's former general manager, Martin Smith, Crown's daughter, Ginger; ; Back to the Future's Honorary Chair Crown and Smith.

**Note: Our Save the Biltmore Preservationist vice president Ed Jameson attended the event also.


UPARC Took Supporters Back to the Future  Clearwater Gazette June 11, 2009

Text/photo by Renee Burrell

Fundraising committee members for Sunday's event (l to r): Gwen Hoover, Susanne Reynolds, and Chairman Chris Daily. Other committee members contributing to the evening's success were: Linda Anderson; Karen Aungst; Terry Banning; Leeward Bean; Cindy Caldwell; Dawn Cooper; Courtney Daily; Cheri Elliot; Carol Ewing; Julie Featherstone; Melissa Fontaine; Melody Figurski; Pat Grohman; John Holcombe; Shirley Long, Lorna Metcalf; Brett McMullen; Paula Paxton; Ellen Pope; Louise Robinson; Jan Tracy. Co-Chairman was Mary Lynne Hawkins and Honary Chairs were Karen Crown and Diane and Dr. Dean Gobo

 

Supporters of the Upper Pinellas Association For Retarded Citizens Foundation (UPARC) and the Belleview Biltmore Hotel went "Back to the Future," Sunday, May 31, at the hotel, 25 Belleview Boulevard, to raise funds for UPARC and have one last party before the hotel closes for several years of renovations. The festivities included tours of the hotel and its tunnels, themed cuisine from past eras, live music and dancing in each of the hotel's ballrooms plus a Chinese raffle with prizes donated by area businesses. Back to the Future Chair, Chris Daily, said of the evening's fundraising, "We netted around seventy five thousand dollars. We were very pleased and superseded our initial goal amount. Hopefully, we'll have a Back to the Future II at the Belleview Biltmore in a few years."

All proceeds will benefit UPARC who has been helping in need adults with developmental disabilities throughout the county for 50 years. Their future goals include opening a home dedicated to disabled and troubled children from the foster system.


http://www.tampabay.com/opinion/editorials/article1008319.ece  St. Petersburg Times editorial  Monday, June 8, 2009

Time for hotel project's foes to concede defeat


The 112-year-old Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa now is closed to guests in preparation for what promises to be a years-long process to restore the historic hotel and expand its facilities. This project that is so close to the heart of history-loving Pinellas residents hopefully will not be delayed by three residents further pursuing their failed lawsuit against the project.

Residents Fred Thomas, Robert Swinehart and Scott Spencer sued the town of Belleair and the owner of the hotel, Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, because they disagreed with some of the owner's plans. Legg Mason wants to preserve and restore the existing hotel, which is one of the biggest wooden structures in the world and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The three residents, who live near the hotel, sued after a May 20, 2008, Town Commission meeting at which the hotel asked for seven variances and approval of its site plan. The quasi-judicial public hearing went on until the middle of the night and involved hours of witness testimony and grilling by attorneys representing various sides. Yet the three residents argued that they did not get the due process to which they were entitled, they weren't allowed enough time to speak and the commission's approval of the site plan and variances did not meet certain legal standards. They particularly disliked the height and location of a planned spa building.

Late last month, the appellate division of the 6th Judicial Circuit Court ruled against the three residents in a straight-forward opinion that cedes no ground to the petitioners.

"This Court is satisfied that the Commission accorded sufficient minimum due process to all parties," the court stated in its ruling. The court also stated that "there is competent substantial evidence to support the Commission's decision" to approve the project and variances.

Any objective person who attended the public hearing and witnessed the hours of testimony and cross-examination of witnesses would not be surprised by the court's decision.

Now, the three residents have 30 days to decide whether to appeal the appellate court's decision. It is hoped they will not. The appellate court opens no potential line of argument for the petitioners, and pushing the case to the next level will only further burden the taxpayers, who are funding the city's defense, and Legg Mason, which already faces the problem of a soured economy and tight credit markets. Some hotel supporters have been worried that Legg Mason might delay the restoration because of the twin challenges of financing projects in the current economy while also fighting a legal battle. There is no indication so far that the company plans to delay.

Meanwhile, hurricane season has begun and the Belleview Biltmore stands tattered and weakened by age and lack of recent substantial maintenance. The hotel is a national treasure, and the work to strengthen and restore it needs to proceed post haste. Some Pinellas residents may recall what happened to another historic Pinellas hotel, the Vinoy, which stood boarded up and rat-infested for a decade, an eyesore on the St. Petersburg waterfront, before restoration finally began. The Biltmore, because it is a wood structure, could not so easily withstand a long delay.

The residents who sued over the town's support of the project exercised their legal rights and now have an answer from the courts that their case is without merit. To further delay the project only puts the treasured "White Queen of the Gulf" at risk.


The Belleview Biltmore and Cabana Club Poised For Next Steps   Clearwater Gazette  http://clearwatergazette.com/

June 4, 2009

BELLEAIR - The Belleview Biltmore Hotel has received a favorable decision from a three judge panel of the Circuit Court for Pinellas County, Florida, sitting in its appellate capacity, regarding the restoration of the historic property.  On May 28, 2009, the Circuit Court entered an Order and Opinion upholding the Belleair Town Commission’s grant of variances and approval of site plans necessary for the restoration.  The complaining parties have thirty days from the date of that decision to take an additional appeal to the District Court of Appeal of Florida, Second District. The attorneys for the Belleview Biltmore Hotel do not know if the additional appeal will be filed.  

The Belleview Biltmore Hotel also owns a parcel on Sand Key which it proposes to redevelop with a 38 room boutique hotel as part of the overall project.  The City of Clearwater Community Development Board approved redevelopment of the Sand Key site on September 16, 2008.  Several neighboring residents appealed this decision to the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings.  On April 13, 2009, the assigned Administrative Law Judge rejected this challenge to the approval and upheld the decision of the Community Development Board.   The residents have now filed a Petition in the Circuit Court for Pinellas County, Florida challenging the decisions of the Community Development Board and the Administrative Law Judge. That Petition remains pending before the Circuit Court. The attorneys for the Belleview Biltmore Hotel expect the Circuit Court to render a decision within the next thirty days as to whether the Petition sets forth a sufficient basis for the appeal to proceed.

The historic restoration project for the Belleview Biltmore will include:


Judges deny review in Biltmore challenge   Belleair Bee June 3, 2009 

http://www.tbnweekly.com/content_articles/060309_bee-02.txt?archiveview

By HARLAN WEIKLE
 
 
BELLEAIR – The court ruling handed down May 28 came on the eve of the closing of the Belleview Biltmore, as celebrants and well wishers prepared to close the hotel in style.

“The Petition for Writ of Certiorari, DENIED,” ended the long wait for residents of Belleair as well as the owners of the Biltmore, Latitude Management Real Estate Investors Inc. formerly Legg Mason Real Estate Investors Inc. and the three petitioners; Belleair residents Robert Swinehart, Scott Spencer and Fred Thomas, who had asked the court to review the town’s decision to grant several variances to the Biltmore’s owners in preparation for a three-year renovation.

Three principle objections by the petitioners were at the heart of their request for review of the town commission’s decision: whether the petitioners’ arguments during a town commission meeting were afforded due process, whether essential requirements of law were observed and whether the commission’s final decision was supported by the evidence.

Circuit judges Amy Williams, J. Thomas McGrady and Peter Ramsberger found that the petitioners’ claim that they were denied due process by the time limits imposed by the commission for their individual testimony failed the standard of proof, considering that they were only three of the many interested persons to speak during the long commission meeting.

The second point addressed in the petition argued that essential law pertaining to the commission’s decision was not followed, namely that all accessory uses of the new resort’s construction, spas, restaurants, etc. should not exceed 16 percent of the total square footage; the petitioners calculated that the accessory use would be 16.3 percent of the gross space. The judgment was that the Biltmore owner’s calculations were based on net square footage and since the town’s code does not specifically address gross versus net method of calculation the judges determined that they must rely on the town’s interpretation of their own code.

Finally the court found that a legal standard was met with regard to the town’s decision to grant the variances based on the substantial amount of testimony, particularly the testimony of expert witnesses and the length of the transcribed meeting.

David Ottinger, who represented the town of Belleair’s interests in the challenge, reached by phone June 1 said, “I’m surprised there wasn’t a lot of case law cited in the judge’s decision, but again this was kind of an unusual situation.”

Regarding the 16 percent calculations, Ottinger said he was pleased the ruling did not attempt to second guess the town’s rules.

Reached at his office, the petitioner’s attorney Alan Zimmet said, “I’m disappointed, our arguments were solid and had merit.”

Asked if they would appeal the decision Zimmet said he hadn’t had a chance to speak with his clients but planned to offer that option.

“We can appeal based on the first two issues,” Zimmet said, “due process, and, essential law, but not on the question of competent evidence, at this level that section of the ruling cannot be appealed.”

Belleair considers giving Biltmore more time   Belleair Bee June 3, 2009 http://www.tbnweekly.com/content_articles/060309_bee-03.txt?archiveview

By HARLAN WEIKLE
 
 
BELLEAIR – The Town Commission set June 16 as the date to once again attempt to put the Belleview Biltmore’s restoration project back on track.

Citing an apparently obscure ordinance, town attorney David Ottinger urged commissioners Tuesday evening to consider invoking a rule that would extend the time a contractor has to apply for a building permit after receiving a variance. Currently that period is six months; Ottinger suggested the commission could extend the time to one year.

The ruling May 28 by the Sixth Circuit Court denying a petition for a legal review of the town’s decision in the Biltmore’s variance hearings seemed to clear the way for Latitude Management Real Estate Investors Inc., formerly Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, Inc. to begin making plans for the demolition phase of their project.

“The petitioners have 20 days to appeal the decision but I think that is highly unlikely,” Ottinger said.

However, another court decision denying a petition by Clearwater residents aimed at blocking plans for the Biltmore’s Cabana Club on Sand Key was recently appealed and as such threatens to delay the entire project.

Ottinger told the commission, “That appeal could take up to six months.”

The delay means that LMREI would either have to apply for a building permit limited to just the Belleair phase after the 20 days allowed for an appeal and wait on the Cabana project or hold the entire scheduled construction up to as much as the six months it could take to obtain a final ruling in the Cabana Club case. According to Ottinger, under Florida law any construction done during this time would have to be demolished at the contractor’s expense if the variance is overturned on appeal.

Ottinger said that in a recent conversation with LMREI lawyer Tom Reynolds, Reynolds told him that an appeal to either of the two rulings could conceivably hold up the entire project.

“I felt reluctant to extend an offer of 24 months,” Ottinger said. He told Reynolds, “If you feel you need more time, come back and ask for it.”

Biltmore managing director let go   Belleair Bee   June 3, 2009

http://www.tbnweekly.com/pubs/belleair_bee/content_articles/060309_bee-04.txt  

By CHARY SOUTHMAYD
 
 
BELLEAIR – Martin Smith, vice president and managing director of the Belleview Biltmore, will be leaving the company July 24.

He was notified of his dismissal by Joseph Penner, fund manager for Latitude Management Real Estate Investors, owners of the Belleview Biltmore. The ownership group was previously known as Legg Mason Real Estate Investors.

“This is financial, not personal,” said Smith in a phone interview. “What’s there for me to do?”

Smith said pending legal issues regarding the hotel and its Cabana Club on Sand Key will delay start of demolition and restoration of the entire Biltmore project for the foreseeable future. Nothing will move forward until all legal issues are resolved, he said.

Smith, however, has already found something else to do.

In a phone conversation June 3, Smith revealed that he has submitted a contract to George Rahdert, owner of the Fenway Hotel in Dunedin, to have Smith’s company, Integrity Hotel Group, manage the Fenway. It’s a five-year contract, Smith said, which would take effect as soon as the Fenway’s renovation plans receive all final approvals, which is expected in early August.

After extensive renovation, Smith said plans are to open the Fenway in late 2010.

Smith, who has been with the Belleview Biltmore for five years, insists he is not bitter and does not intend to burn any bridges while parting ways.

“My love for the hotel is still the same today, probably a little stronger,” he said. “I’m sad and happy. Lawsuits, delays and the economy all became the perfect storm.”

Among the dozens of Biltmore employees also left jobless is Sharon Delahanty, who has been the executive assistant and historian at the hotel for more than a decade. Smith said Delahanty will be leaving in one month. In the meantime, Delahanty will, among other things, pack up the hotel’s historical museum.

http://www.tampabay.com/news/business/economicdevelopment/article1006394.ece   St. Petersburg Times June 2, 2009

The pool is modern but the hotel was built in 1897. The resort is now closed for renovations. The plan is to take the hotel back to the way it looked in the late 1930s, both inside and out.

The pool is modern but the hotel was built in 1897. The resort is now closed for renovations. The plan is to take the hotel back to the way it looked in the late 1930s, both inside and out.

Remodel may be delayed
By Lorri Helfand, Times Staff Writer

Published Monday, June 1, 2009


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

BELLEAIR — Four days before the historic Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa closed its doors to prepare for a $100 million makeover, an appellate panel denied a legal challenge that could have hindered the project.

But the owner's attorney, Thomas Reynolds, says the restoration of the 112-year-old hotel is still somewhat in "limbo" because his client, Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, doesn't know if the decision, filed Thursday, will be appealed.

Neither does the attorney who represents three Belleair residents who last summer filed the suit, which challenges the town's approval of a site plan and variances for the project.

"I haven't heard from all of them yet," Alan Zimmet said Monday afternoon. The Palm Harbor lawyer represents the residents, Fred Thomas, Robert Swinehart and Scott Spencer, who own homes within 75 feet of the Biltmore property.

An appeal could delay the restoration for at least another six months, said Reynolds of Rahdert, Steele, Bole & Reynolds in St. Petersburg.

His client, which bought the resort for nearly $30.3 million in June 2007, already has a lengthy process ahead, with acquiring financing and submitting plans and drawings for a building permit, he said.

Among other topics, the residents' challenge raised issues about the location and height of the spa. They said the town of Belleair showed favoritism toward the owner and unfairly limited the amount of time they had to present testimony and arguments at a town hearing for the project.

The appellate panel said the residents were "only three of the many interested persons" that showed up in response to the Biltmore's application and that they were properly allowed to present evidence and cross examine witnesses. It also found that the commission had "substantial evidence" to support its decision.

Reynolds said he was confident his client would prevail.

"In my opinion, the case law and statutory law was on our side," Reynolds said.

Zimmet said he was "extremely disappointed with the court's ruling."

The town has spent between $50,000 and $100,000 fighting the challenge, according to Belleair Mayor Gary Katica, who called the suit "frivolous."

"The town has done their part," Katica said. "The rest is up to Legg Mason."


http://www.tampabay.com/news/humaninterest/article1006401.ece  St. Petersburg Times Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Charlie Evans, left, of Tampa gets a jitterbug lesson Sunday from Tim Gherrieri of Tampa at the Belleview Biltmore Resort’s “Back to the Future” party Sunday. Decked out in an American Jukebox theme, the room was one of several set up to represent different eras of the historic hotel’s past.

Charlie Evans, left, of Tampa gets a jitterbug lesson Sunday from Tim Gherrieri of Tampa at the Belleview Biltmore Resort’s “Back to the Future” party Sunday. Decked out in an American Jukebox theme, the room was one of several set up to represent different eras of the historic hotel’s past.

One last night to dance with history
By Julie Church, Times Correspondent

Published Monday, June 1, 2009


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

BELLEAIR — The buildings have no roof shingles, the paint is peeling and the carpet is worn. Inside, there is a noticeably musty smell.

But the more than 500 people who gathered Sunday at the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa didn't care about the current condition of the facilities. They were there to celebrate the rich history of the hotel and raise money for a good cause.

Sunday marked the final event before the historic hotel closes for a three-year renovation. "Back to the Future," a benefit for the Upper Pinellas Association for Retarded Citizens, featured tours of the hotel, themed ballrooms with dancing, live bands and an auction.

When members of the UPARC Board of Trustees learned the hotel was slated to close for renovations, they approached Martin Smith, managing director and vice president of the resort, and asked if they could host a party on the eve of its closure.

"What a fun opportunity for us to showcase the history of this hotel," said event co-chairman Chris Daily. "The response has been fabulous."

Known as "The White Queen of the Gulf," the hotel was built in 1897 for transportation magnate Henry B. Plant. It was purchased in 2007 by Legg Mason Real Estate Investors Inc.

Renovation plans include taking the hotel back to the way it looked in the late 1930s, both inside and out, Smith said.

"The biggest change people will notice on the outside is that there will 700 parking spaces underground and a 22-acre park surrounding the hotel," he said. "Back in 1897 when the hotel was built, there were no automobiles."

Sunday's event raised more than $75,000 for UPARC, and Smith said he promised the board that the first fundraising event held when the hotel opens again will also benefit the agency.

John and Mariette Holcombe of Indian Shores and their daughter, Tracy, 32, attended the event. John Holcombe is a board member, and Tracy is a UPARC consumer who currently works for the agency as a cleaning person.

"I like UPARC," she said. "They have helped me a lot."


http://www.myfoxtampabay.com/dpp/news/local/pinellas/belleview_biltmore_renovations_060109  

Click link for video. Our Save the Biltmore Preservationist vice president Ed Jameson was interviewed for this video segment.

Fox TV News Monday June 1, 2009

By Alcides Segui Alcides Segui

Belleview Biltmore closing until 2012

$100 million renovation project set to begin

BELLEAIR - A piece of Bay Area history is about to close its doors.

The Belleview Biltmore is one of the oldest wooden structures in the U.S. and is among 168 historic treasures that have been identified since 1988.

"It's the root of Pinellas County history. It had all the movers and shakers of the people really had influence on the 19th century," said Ed Jameson, the Vice President of Save the Biltmore Preservationists. "It made people aware of Pinellas County."

Jameson remembers its rich history. The Biltmore has hosted many famous people and world leaders. U.S. Presidents George W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford.

Monday, the century old hotel will enter a new chapter after hosting its last major function until 2012. The hotel is closing for massive renovations.

A local non-profit group heard about the facelift and rented several rooms before it closed.

"We've been working on this for two months. We've got tons of people coming. You can still come at the last minute," said UPARC 's Chris Daily.  "And yes we're thrilled."

For years the Biltmore was threatened with demolition. But about two years ago investors bought the property and promised to build it up instead of knocking it down. It's a decision many here say maintained the heart of Bellair.

"It's going to be a turning point in this community. It's going to be a bright shining star," Jameson said. "Something the whole community can be proud of."

The $100 million renovation is forcing many employees to look for new jobs since the resort will be closed for so long.
 


http://tbnweekly.com/pubs/belleair_bee/content_articles/052609_bee-01.txt  Belleair Bee Tuesday May 26, 2009


Belleview Biltmore says farewell

By CHARY SOUTHMAYD
[Image]
A photo from the Heritage Village archives and library shows the old Hotel Belleview.

BELLEAIR - The aging White Queen of the Gulf is saying her final farewells in the coming days as she prepares for an elaborate makeover that will restore her to the magnificence of her glory days.

On Monday, June 1, at 1 p.m. guests at the Belleview Biltmore Hotel will be escorted to the door for their last checkout, serenaded by musical recordings reminiscent of bittersweet parting with the promise of reuniting.

"It will be a fun day," said Martin Smith, Belleview Biltmore vice president and managing director.

Special events are planned over the weekend, including a poolside Victorian Garden Party Saturday, May 30, 4 to 8 p.m., a Back to the Future fundraising party to benefit UPARC Sunday, May 31, 5 to 9 p.m., and what is being called The Final Final Tournament, a golf tournament symbolic of a long tradition involving golf club members from the Biltmore and Foxborough Country Club near Boston. It will be the golfing rivals' last chance to stay at the hotel, though the Biltmore Golf Club on Indian Rocks Road will remain open throughout restoration of the hotel.

The golf club will, in fact, see some improvements of its own, including the addition of a members-only lounge, an enhanced restaurant menu, prime rib buffet on Fridays and continuation of a Sunday brunch, though on a smaller scale than the hotel has presented.

As for the Biltmore itself, the plan is to reopen sometime in 2012, in part pending resolution of an ongoing legal challenge of plans for the hotel's proposed new spa.

"We are sticking to the timeline of three years," Smith said. "Defeat is not an option." He promises that what will emerge will be a Victorian-style resort surrounded by beautiful gardens and walking paths in an idyllic 22-acre setting. Absent will be vehicles driving around on the property.

"You are never going to see a car," Smith said, referring to the plan for underground parking accessible through a couple of "rabbit holes" where vehicles will disappear from view at the grand entrance.

"The outside has to be restored to what it looked like in 1937-'38," said Smith.

The same holds true for the entire first floor. The restoration goal is to make the Belleview Biltmore as historically accurate to the 1930s as possible, based on existing drawings and photographs.

There will be 450-plus guest rooms, with 50,000 square feet of meeting space, intended to attract large conferences, and the spa.

The three cottages on the property will be restored. The Magnolia Cottage will have sleeping accommodations for 18, plus a dining room and gourmet kitchen. The Palm Cottage also will include sleeping space. The cottages are envisioned as perfect for weddings, family reunions or private business meetings.

"So much is being kept," Smith said of the hotel's restoration plan.

What will go is much of what was not original, including the pagoda, spa, amphitheater, the porch portion of Palm Grill, the meeting rooms near the lobby bar, aluminum siding, and the stage portion of the Starlight Ballroom.

Though the hotel has to look "period" to meet its obligations as part of the National Register of Historic Places, it also will be energy efficient and environmentally-friendly.

"This is a green project," said Amy Maguire of Southern Strategy Group, who handles public relations for the Biltmore. "It will be green, state-of-the-art, and historic, with a beach property as well." Smith and executive assistant Sharon Delahanty, who is also the hotel's historian, have been busily cataloging, photographing, tagging and preparing to store everything of historical significance, right down to the solid brass fixtures and a reservation log from March 17, 1987 that set aside accommodations for Vice President George H.W. Bush and Justice Department officials.

As he looks ahead to closing, Smith waxes nostalgic about his 200 employees, many of whom he has helped to find other jobs but, unfortunately, not all.

"The staff has stood by this hotel. They're loyal," he said. "There is something about this building that brings out the good in people. They've made this place what it is." Hundreds of construction jobs will be created over the three years.

Updates are planned throughout the restoration process at www.belleviewbiltmore.com.

"We want to keep people informed," Maguire said. "We need to continue to engage the community." While a 3-year construction timetable may seem like a painfully long wait to those eager to experience a newly magnificent Belleview Biltmore, Smith offers some perspective.

"It will be just around the corner," he said. "This used to be the place to be, and it will be again."


http://www.tbnweekly.com/pubs/clearwater_beacon/content_articles/052009_clw-01.txt  Clearwater Beacon

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Cabana Club dispute headed to court

By LESTER R. DAILEY
 
Article published on Wednesday, May 20, 2009
[Image]
Photo courtesy of R.J. HEISENBOTTLE ARCHITECTURE
A schematic design depicts the proposed Belleview Biltmore Cabana Club in the Sand Key area.
CLEARWATER – Five Sand Key-area residents are hoping that the third time is the charm.

After losing at Clearwater’s Community Development Board and in an administrative hearing, they have filed an action in hopes that a three-judge panel from the 6th Judicial Circuit will prevent the owners of the Cabana Club from building a six-story, 38-room Victorian-style “boutique hotel” and a new, 165-seat restaurant on the land that they lease for their current restaurant.

The residents, all members of the Save Our Neighborhood organization, say that the site is too small for the proposed structures and will cause parking problems in the surrounding neighborhood. They have hired attorney Alan Zimmet to represent them, and Zimmet feels that his clients have a good chance of blocking the project.

“I’m very optimistic that the three circuit judges will be willing to follow the law and deny the owners’ request,” Zimmet said.

Cynthia Remley, an attorney and Sand Key activist, agrees.

“They have a good chance of winning because this goes before three neutral judges, unlike an administrative judge employed by the state and paid for by the city,” she said.

The Cabana Club is owned by Los Angeles-based Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, which also owns the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa in Belleair and runs a shuttle bus between the two facilities to alleviate the parking problem.

The main question, according to Remley, is whether the new restaurant will be an “accessory use” of either the new hotel or the Belleview Biltmore, as the city claims it is. By definition, Remley said, an accessory facility must serve the primary facility and be adjacent to it. Therefore, the restaurant can’t be an accessory of the Belleview Biltmore, which is six miles away by road and nearly two miles away as the crow flies.

A restaurant that is accessory to a hotel normally has one seat for each hotel room, she added, but the new restaurant will have four seats for each room in the new hotel and therefore does not meet the definition of an accessory use.

“There is no zoning issue on this piece of property,” Remley said.

Instead, she added, the city is ignoring “numerous and grievous violations” of its own code by allowing a building that violates height and setback restrictions and has only 56 parking spaces when the code calls for 113.

Belleview Biltmore Spokeswoman Amy McGuire feels that the city should welcome the project because it will provide both temporary construction jobs and permanent jobs in the restaurant and hotel.

“The positive side of this project is that it has a lot of support at all levels,” McGuire said. “Everybody is committed to seeing it become a reality.”

Nobody knows exactly how long it will take for the court to issue its final ruling.

“Depending on the first few steps, it could be six to eight months,” McGuire said.

http://www.sandkeysun.com/SKS_04_19.pdf   April 23, 2009 to May 6, 2009 issue  Sand Key Sun    Front Page

Status of Belleview Biltmore Renovation Makes Town Mayor "Nervous"

By Renatta Valere

Business will cease at the 1897 Victorian Style Belleview Biltmore Resort and Spa on May 31, 2009 .

"We will close as planned," confirmed Martin Smith, Vice President and Managing Director of the Resort who has been working on getting the Resort and its original 300 member staff ready for renovation during his five year tenure.

In commemoration of the event and to celebrate ongoing efforts to ‘save’ the Biltmore, a Gala Reception dubbed ‘Back to the Future’, to benefit an organization that serves individuals with disabilities is being planned for May 31, 2009.

However, a pending legal matter brought forth by three Belleview residents, still threatens to stall over $100 million worth of renovation work.

The renovations were expected to begin shortly after closure and continue for a period of approximately three years with the expectation that ‘The White Queen of the Gulf’ would re-emerge as a Five Star Resort with all the bells and whistles including a Spa to replicate the original structure, underground parking, a new tennis court and a Conference facility certain to bring business and visitors to Belleview.

Instead, Latitude Management Real Estate Investors Inc (LMREI), formerly called Legg Mason Real Estate Investors Inc., have to wait on word coming out of ongoing court proceedings which the Mayor of Belleair, Gary Katica, deems as a "travesty".

During an interview with the Sand Key Sun, Mayor Katica said that he was personally pleased that the Biltmore had been ‘saved’ , "…but with legal action to contend with amidst a change in our economic times, I am nervous."

"I would feel much better if we were ‘good to go’ and that the actions of a few were not of a threat to the restoration of this historic place, its present and future staff, a community and a country as a whole," Mayor Katica confided.

Katica recalled the many public opportunities and hearings that were made available to Belleview residents to air their concerns and noted that the investors, the architects involved and other key players "made great compromises to the original plans for the Resort to satisfy the needs of the people here."

Because the issues raised are before the Court, the Sand Key Sun opts to withhold the names of the residents filing the law suit and the details surrounding their case. However, many bloggers on www.SaveTheBiltmore.com have expressed their personal thoughts and readers can gain much insight into the efforts that were made to preserve the property which has earned its right to be listed among ‘The National Register of Historic Places’.

"The Biltmore is a part of our identity. It is an American treasure. My Office has received many letters from travelers from all over the world raving about the unique experiences that they have enjoyed while at the Biltmore," said Mayor Katica.

"To have the Biltmore restored would be dynamite; delays or a change in direction would be a disaster," he underscored.

The Executive at the Biltmore confirm that the start date for renovation has not been set and cannot be set until legalities are over, that no contractors have been hired or selected and that unless the legal matter is out of the way, "mum’s the word from the investors."

In an official response to the Sand Key Sun, Smith also said that much effort was being made to source jobs for the Resort’s staff .To date, 80 of the 300 members of staff have found alternative employment as a result of placement assistance provided by the Resort while job fairs, outreaches and general job search skill sessions have been provided for all.

"It is my hope that many of our original team members would once again serve with excellence at the Biltmore," said Smith.

While Mayor Katica concedes that during the three years of the Biltmore’s renovation there would be an added blow to unemployment levels within the town of Belleview, he thinks of the Property Tax that the town would benefit from in the long run, the sustainability of an historic gem, future employment opportunities and the attractive markets that a property of this type would bring to the town once renovated and made ready for today’s traveler seeking a snippet of yesteryear with all the modern trimmings.

DT Minich, Pinellas County Director of Tourism, explains that the Belleview Biltmore once renovated would be an even greater asset to the local tourism industry. He is particularly excited to market the Resort among business planners who he thinks would jump at the combination of offerings the Resort would serve – conference facilities together with world class amenities including golfing and spa services.

"The Biltmore just can’t be replicated anywhere. Its historic value from a tourism stand point makes it absolutely unique and a priceless asset to its community," he adds.

Minich says that during the planned three year renovation period there would understandably be a drop in tourism figures for Pinellas County but he’s quick to add that "in the long run, any renovation work done to this Grand Lady would be worth the wait and the return."

On the ‘Save The Biltmore’ website, Diane Hein, President of the ‘Save the Biltmore Preservationists Inc. recalls that "Legg Mason Real Estate Investment company from Los Angeles, California purchased the Belleview Biltmore Wednesday June 20th, 2007.

On May 20, 2008 Belleair Town Council and Mayor approved the final site plans for the restoration of the Biltmore - so this is wonderful news! After a three year long battle with many struggles, the war is won!" . However, it seems that the battle is not yet fully over.


Last Biltmore party to benefit UPARC   http://tbnweekly.com/pubs/belleair_bee/content_articles/042909_bee-04.txt 

Belleair Bee Newspaper

Article published on Wednesday, April 29, 2009
BELLEAIR – UPARC and the Belleview Biltmore Hotel present Back to the Future on Sunday, May 31, 5 to 9 p.m.

This is a very special “last night before closing” party. The Biltmore will be bid a fond farewell with shared special memories and a celebration of the rich history and the much anticipated 2012 return of the White Queen of the Gulf.

Event co-chairs Chris Daily and Mary Lynne Hawkins along with honorary chairs Karen Crown and Diane and Dean Gobo are planning an unforgettable evening. Guests can tour the hotel, enjoy cuisine from past eras and dance the night away in every ballroom to a variety of live music – all in a casual atmosphere. Reservations are being taken to be a guest at the hotel on this historic night.

All proceeds benefit UPARC.

Individual tickets are $100. Patron level tickets, which include a listing in the event program, are $150. Tickets for the Chinese Auction also are available in advance for $20/8. Sponsorship opportunities are still available.

For tickets, call Elisa Fredericks at UPARC at 799-3330, ext. 7451. If no answer call
(727) 797-8712.  For Belleview Biltmore information, call Mark Boyer at 373-3762.    

Lady Victoria’s Priceless Pearls     Thursday March 19, 2009  Clearwater Gazette

Photo/ Text by Donna Malloy

The Hidden Staircase. Webbed though out the hotel, secret passages like this one exhibits years of wear from the service staff of the Belleview Biltmore.

Morton Friedman Plant, son of railroad tycoon Henry Bradley Plant, observed her from across the room at the Belleview. Used to getting what he wanted, Morton was not concerned that the captivating woman was with her third husband. Not dissimilar to the movie “Indecent Proposal” where Robert Redford’s character offers Demi Moore’s husband $1 million dollars for a date with his wife, Morton offered the woman’s husband $8 million dollars in exchange for his wife. Who was this engaging woman who captured the heart of one of American’s most eligible bachelors at the time?

Later in life, she would be known as Maisie Plant, a New York socialite. Born in 1878, Mae Caldwell Manwring Plant, like her husband, became accustomed to the finer things money could buy and no one said no to Maisie, except Morton.

Shortly after they were married, a double strand of natural pearls caught her attention. Maisie coveted them, but Morton refused to purchase them for her. Undaunted, crafty Maisie devised a plan. She approached the jeweler, Pierre Cartier, and made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.

In exchange for the pearl necklace, the Plants would give Cartier his first flagship store in America; their Neo-Renaissance mansion on Fifth Avenue. The year was 1915; the pearls were priced at $1.2 million dollars and the House of Cartier has remained at this location for the last 94 years.

Maisie was floating on air. Now she could proudly pass along through the hallways of the Belleview, head held high and her neck encrusted with the $1.2 million dollar, double strand of natural pearls. But would her happiness last forever?

The eyewitness, for obvious reasons, wishes to remain anonymous. He relates the following story:

“Working at the Belleview in the 80’s was different than it is today. Back then, the staff had access to the service stairwells that had hidden entrances to every floor. Using the staircases instead of the elevators, the staff could work behind the scenes, undetected by hotel guests. They could also sneak up to the 5th floor and smoke, undetected.

On one occasion, the Houseman, who was responsible for organizing the maid staff, started his shift on the 4th floor. Something caught his attention. As he looked up from his cart, a woman materialized in front of him. Adorned in violet-blue, her hooped skirt encompassed the entire hall. So frightened was the Houseman that he ran out of the hotel shouting: ‘I saw her, I saw her.’ The Houseman never returned; not even to pick up his last pay check.”

In years to follow, the Victorian woman has become known as Lady Victoria. Or maybe Lady Victoria is really the ghost of Maisie Plant. Legend has it that even today, Maisie’s ghost restlessly roams the hallways of the Belleview, searching for her lost pearls.

According to “Wisdom of Pearls,” Jill Newman, Maisie’s pearl necklace did show up in 1957. At a Parke Bernet auction, Maisie’s necklace sold for a mere $150,000.

More recently, in 2004, a similar natural, double-strand pearl necklace sold at Christie’s for $3.1 million dollars. Because only one gem-quality pearl is uncovered from every 25,000 wild oysters found in the ocean, these pearls are considered the rarest in the world today. And because farming these perishable mollusks is a costly enterprise, one strand of the pearls can command up to $100,000.

If only Plants’ heirs had held on to her necklace for a few more decades, they could have sold Maisie’s pearls for much more. As the saying goes; be careful what you wish for.


GROUP KICKS SAND ON BILTMORE PLANS FOR A BEACHFRONT HOTEL

Wednesday, March 4, 2009   St. Petersburg Times

CORRECTION: (03/05/2009) CLARIFICATION: The Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa has a 100-year lease on the Cabana Club property on Sand Key that is automatically renewable for another 100 years. The lease dates back to 1982 and extends through 2182. A story in Wednesday's paper said incorrectly that the Biltmore owns the land. The Biltmore's lawyers say that, even though the resort doesn't own the title to the land, it has all the property rights of a typical landowner.

Legg Mason says the new hotel will fit in with its surroundings and will be an improvement over the aging building that's there now. "It's beneficial for the community," said Martin Smith, the Biltmore's managing director.

Legg Mason says the new hotel will fit in with its surroundings and will be an improvement over the aging building that's there now. "It's beneficial for the community," said Martin Smith, the Biltmore's managing director.

A Sand Key citizens group is fighting City Hall and the owners of the Belleview Biltmore Resort.

The ongoing conflict continued Tuesday in a quasi-judicial hearing where the residents argued against the resort's plan to replace its aging Cabana Club restaurant on Sand Key with a six-floor beachfront hotel.

The city has approved this plan. Yet nearly 50 people from Sand Key with strong feelings about the case showed up at City Hall for an incredibly dry, highly technical, four-hour hearing on the issue.

"It's a declaration of war by the city on Sand Key. They're trying to turn our residential community into another hotel alley like Clearwater Beach," resident Cynthia Remley said of this and other recent efforts to add hotel rooms to the condo-covered barrier island.

However, the other side argues that such concerns are overblown.

The Biltmore's owner, Los Angeles-based Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, wants to build a 38-room, Victorian-style "boutique hotel" with an adjoining 160-seat restaurant on the Cabana Club site, which the Biltmore has long owned.

Legg Mason says the new hotel will fit in with its surroundings and will be an improvement over the aging building that's there now. "It's beneficial for the community," said Martin Smith, the Biltmore's managing director.

Clearwater's Community Development Board unanimously okayed the project after a raucous hearing last year. City staffers had recommended that it be approved.

Neighbors in the surrounding high-rise condos object to the plan for a number of reasons, but mainly they fear that inadequate parking at the site would create traffic problems and send customers' cars spilling into their parking lots.

Alan Zimmet, an attorney for the Sand Key residents, spent Tuesday's hearing trying to make a case that the city didn't follow its own development code when it approved the hotel and restaurant with 56 parking spaces.

Legg Mason's lawyer, Thomas Reynolds, and two attorneys for the city made the opposite case.

Hearing officer Bob Meale of the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings will make a ruling within 45 days. After that, the losing side is expected to appeal to Pinellas Circuit Court.

Meanwhile, another controversial Sand Key zoning case is still being contested in court.

However, in the case of the Shoppes on Sand Key, the city government and Sand Key residents are on the same side. They're in a legal fight with the strip mall's owner.

The owner of the Shoppes wants the 3-acre site at 1261 Gulf Blvd. to be rezoned as "Tourist" under the city's development code, which could allow a building up to 100 feet tall to go there. Neighbors oppose this.

The city refused to rezone the land, but the property owner won an initial appeal in circuit court. Now it's the city's turn to appeal. A hearing is scheduled for April 8 in the 2nd District Court of Appeals in Tampa.

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4160.

A Sand Key citizens group is fighting City Hall and the owners of the Belleview Biltmore Resort.

The ongoing conflict continued Tuesday in a quasi-judicial hearing where the residents argued against the resort's plan to replace its aging Cabana Club restaurant on Sand Key with a six-floor beachfront hotel.

The city has approved this plan. Yet nearly 50 people from Sand Key with strong feelings about the case showed up at City Hall for an incredibly dry, highly technical, four-hour hearing on the issue.

"It's a declaration of war by the city on Sand Key. They're trying to turn our residential community into another hotel alley like Clearwater Beach," resident Cynthia Remley said of this and other recent efforts to add hotel rooms to the condo-covered barrier island.

However, the other side argues that such concerns are overblown.

The Biltmore's owner, Los Angeles-based Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, wants to build a 38-room, Victorian-style "boutique hotel" with an adjoining 160-seat restaurant on the Cabana Club site, which the Biltmore has long owned.

Legg Mason says the new hotel will fit in with its surroundings and will be an improvement over the aging building that's there now. "It's beneficial for the community," said Martin Smith, the Biltmore's managing director.

Clearwater's Community Development Board unanimously okayed the project after a raucous hearing last year. City staffers had recommended that it be approved.

Neighbors in the surrounding high-rise condos object to the plan for a number of reasons, but mainly they fear that inadequate parking at the site would create traffic problems and send customers' cars spilling into their parking lots.

Alan Zimmet, an attorney for the Sand Key residents, spent Tuesday's hearing trying to make a case that the city didn't follow its own development code when it approved the hotel and restaurant with 56 parking spaces.

Legg Mason's lawyer, Thomas Reynolds, and two attorneys for the city made the opposite case.

Hearing officer Bob Meale of the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings will make a ruling within 45 days. After that, the losing side is expected to appeal to Pinellas Circuit Court.

Meanwhile, another controversial Sand Key zoning case is still being contested in court.

However, in the case of the Shoppes on Sand Key, the city government and Sand Key residents are on the same side. They're in a legal fight with the strip mall's owner.

The owner of the Shoppes wants the 3-acre site at 1261 Gulf Blvd. to be rezoned as "Tourist" under the city's development code, which could allow a building up to 100 feet tall to go there. Neighbors oppose this.

The city refused to rezone the land, but the property owner won an initial appeal in circuit court. Now it's the city's turn to appeal. A hearing is scheduled for April 8 in the 2nd District Court of Appeals in Tampa.

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@sptimes.com  or (727) 445-4160.


Cabana Club decision now in hands of judge                           Belleair Bee   Wednesday, March 4, 2009

By LESTER R. DAILEY
 
CLEARWATER – In a March 3 hearing that began in a packed chamber and ended more than four hours later with the chamber nearly empty, Administrative Law Judge Bob Meale heard lawyers from both sides argue whether the city’s Community Development Board had erred in granting permission for the owners of the Cabana Club restaurant on Sand Key to build a 38-room hotel and a 165-seat restaurant on the site.

Meale, who had taken the case over from Judge Donald Alexander in a routine docket shuffling to equalize judges’ workloads just 24 hours earlier, hadn’t even had time to read the transcript of the CDB meeting at which the decision was made.

The Save Our Neighborhood group of nearby residents contends that the hotel, and especially the restaurant, will attract more cars than the small parcel can handle, and the overflow will spill over into the parking lots of nearby condominiums. But the ownership group, consisting of the Belleview Biltmore Hotel LLC and Legg Mason Real Estate Investors Inc., insists that the 56 parking spaces it is proposing are more than adequate, and can accommodate 67 cars by using valet parking if necessary.

The new restaurant was approved as an accessory use of the proposed 38-room hotel, which is defined as existing for the “comfort, convenience and use” of the hotel. But Alan Zimmet, the attorney for several neighbors, argued that it’s a case of the tail wagging the dog, and the restaurant will create more traffic than the hotel because people who are not staying at the hotel will go there to eat.

“What you have in this case is a restaurant that is 78 percent larger than is needed to serve the 38-room hotel,” Zimmet said. “It (the restaurant) is not subordinate to the 38-room hotel if most of the customers are going to come from off-site.”

Zimmet contended that the restaurant will actually be an accessory use of the ownership group’s sprawling Belleview Biltmore Hotel, six miles away in Belleair. To bolster that contention, he noted that the two hotels will pool their advertising and that Wayne Wells, the city staffer who recommended the approval of the Cabana Club’s application, had said that, if the Belleview Biltmore and the Cabana Club ever end up having different owners, the restaurant should be downsized to something “more in line with a 38-room hotel.”

“People may come from the Biltmore,” conceded Thomas Reynolds, attorney for the ownership group. “but that doesn’t make it an accessory use.”

“If the Belleview Biltmore goes away, why is this restaurant no longer an accessory use? It’s a primary use.” Zimmet asked.

“The question is whether that (new) hotel is a satellite of the Belleair hotel or is it a principal use of the land,” said Gina Grimes, a private attorney hired to represent the city’s CDB. “This is a full-staffed, 24-hour operation that is a stand-alone hotel.”

Reynolds told the judge that case law requires ambiguous land use laws to be construed in the manner most favorable to the property owner and gives city planning boards wide discretion in interpreting zoning regulations. Even if the CDB misconstrued a law, Reynolds said without admitting that that had actually happened, its decision should not be overturned unless it is “a departure from essential requirements of the law.”

“We have a battle of the experts,” added Clearwater Assistant City Attorney Leslie Dougall-Sides, and the CDB can’t be faulted for finding the hotel’s experts move credible than those of the opposition.

Zimmet disagreed, saying that finding the restaurant to be an accessory of the 38-room hotel is contrary to the city’s code. He asked the judge to overturn the CDB’s decision and deny the ownership group’s application. A decision is expected in 45 days.

Sand Key residents fight Biltmore plan   Tuesday March 3, 2009 St. Petersburg Times

 http://blogs.tampabay.com/breakingnews/2009/03/sand-key-reside.html

CLEARWATER -- A Sand Key citizens group took on the Clearwater government and the owners of the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa today, arguing against the Biltmore's plans to replace the resort's aging Cabana Club restaurant with a six-floor beachfront hotel.

About 50 Sand Key residents showed up at City Hall today for a dry, four-hour administrative hearing on the issue because they have strong feelings about the case.

The Biltmore's owners, Los Angeles-based Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, want to build a 38-room "boutique hotel" with an adjoining 160-seat restaurant on the Cabana Club site on Gulf Boulevard. Legg Mason says the new hotel will fit in with its surroundings, and there won't be a parking problem there.

The city's Community Development Board unanimously approved the project last year after city staffers recommended it.

Neighbors in the surrounding high-rise condos object to the plan. They fear that inadequate parking at the site would send cars spilling into their residential neighborhood. They filed an appeal.

"It's like a declaration of war by the city on Sand Key," resident Cynthia Remley said of the city's recent zoning decisions along the strip of barrier island just south of Clearwater Beach.

Lawyers from each side presented their cases today before a hearing officer, who will make a ruling within 45 days. After that, the losing side may appeal to Pinellas Circuit Court.

Mike Brassfield, Times Staff Writer


Yesteryear at the Belleview        Thursday, February 26, 2009  Clearwater Gazette

Photos/Text by Donna Malloy

Lobby Bar. This substantial counter was once the Registration Desk for arriving guests at the Belleview Hotel.

The guests arrived via train from points north. The year was 1897; the place the Belleview of Belleair Heights, Florida. Stationery from that time lists the Belleview along with its sister hotel the "Griswald" of New London, Connecticut.

Two years earlier, in the summer of 1895, 300 laborers descended upon Clearwater and began clearing the land of palmettos, oaks and pines under the direction of Henry Bradley Plant. At this time, Plant owned the Orange Belt Railroad and had purchased 1,000 acres of which would eventually become the location of the present day Belleview Biltmore Hotel. The railroad tycoon's goal was to build a 145 room hotel that combined travel by rail with an exclusive hotel that catered to the rich and famous.

Henry Bradley Plant, founder of the Plant System of railroads and steamboats, was born in Branford, Conn., the son of Betsey (Bradley) and Anderson Plant, a farmer in good circumstances on October 27, 1819.

Although his grandmother offered to send young Plant to Yale College, he was impatient to start his career and declined. At the age of 18, he was employed as a deck hand on a steamboat traveling between New Haven and New York. One of his many duties included the care of the express parcels. Finding this line of business in chaos, Plant seized the opportunity and effectively organized it. Not surprisingly, he was put in charge of the New York office and within one year, Adams Express Company promoted Plant to general superintendent. His territory was south of the Potomac and Ohio Rivers.

Fearing the confiscation of their Southern properties as the Civil War became imminent, the directors of Adams Express transferred their Southern properties to Plant. In 1861, Plant organized the Southern Express Company and became its first president. Acting as an agent for the Confederacy, his company collected tariffs and transferred funds during the war.

The end of the Civil War found the railroads of the South in ruin and bankrupt. Always seeing the glass half full, Plant again seized his opportunity. At foreclosure sales in 1879 and 1880, he purchased the Atlantic & Gulf Railroad as well as the Charleston & Savannah Railroad. He then began to build a transportation system along the southern Atlantic seaboard that within twenty years included 14 railway companies, several steamship lines and a number of important hotels, one of the them Belleview. By connecting numerous smaller railroads, Plant was able to provide continuous service across the state. One track led directly to the Belleview.

The train deposited its passengers and their luggage, mail and supplies at the south entrance to the hotel. The narrow double doors belied the grandeur that was to greet the guests as they entered the main lobby of the Belleview. What is now the Lobby Bar was once the Registration Desk. Here, as they signed the Guest Registry and were assigned a room, porters at the depot efficiently loaded their luggage onto a wooden cart. Once loaded, the cart road on the narrow tracks which terminated in the basement of the hotel, near the hidden staircase. The porters would then deliver the guests' luggage to their rooms and hang up their clothes, in plain sight but not to be seen. Each guest room was equipped with 3 incandescent lights, a fireplace with a polished cedar mantle and oak and cherry furniture.

Also downstairs was the private men's club, which included a barber shop, billiards, shoe shine service and a livery stable. The livery stable, which was connected to the hotel, remained in operation until 1950.

Guests had just enough time to freshen up after their long journey before "Tea Time" was announced. At the Tea House, the house orchestra daily serenaded their guests and "Tea Dancing" commenced.

If dancing was not at the top of your list of favorite activities, you could choose to golf, bike race, hunt, fish, horseback ride, relax on a yacht, skeet shoot or play tennis. The Belleview also featured a fully equipped gun club. In a letter dated December 20th, 1919, Room Clerk Frank W. Regan responds to Massachusetts' resident Mr. E.J. Noble's inquiry about golfing and hunting at the hotel:

"If you care for trap shooting, we suggest that you bring your gun," stated Regan.

Out of Sight. Guests at the Belleview never touched their luggage once they arrived at the hotel. Porters loaded their luggage onto a wooden crate that rolled by rail into the basement of the hotel and would then be carried to the guests' room.


Belleair Commission race reveals different economic strategies    Belleair Bee  Wednesday, February 25, 2009

By HARLAN WEIKLE
 
BELLEAIR – Two incumbents and a political newcomer will vie for two seats on the Belleair Town Commission in the Tuesday, March 10, election. Mayor Gary Katica is unopposed in his bid for another term in office.

Brad Ackerman, a newcomer to Belleair politics, starts from the position that he is first and foremost a financial manager.

“My transition from businessman to commissioner would be seamless,” he says, “and I would be a good steward of the peoples’ money.”

Ackerman believes that good management requires good communication skills.

“As the manager of a large financial team I have to be able to find common ground with all types of people and in all types of situations,” he said. Ackerman uses the example of the Belleview Biltmore project.

“The Biltmore is going to require expertise on oversight, that’s going to have to be the responsibility of the commission. The town has a legal fee of $41,000 for just one month in the Biltmore suit. We have to exercise strict financial management in all aspects of the town’s business.”

“Belleair has a millage rate of 4.56,” Ackerman continued, “That is twice what some other communities pay, which would be fine if we had great roads – we don’t.

“The town is looking at a $100,000 accounting software system, a $35,000 ‘visioning’ when we have a water system that we know is old, where do we get the money for that?” Ackerman asked. “We don’t have a diverse tax base in Belleair, which is why the Biltmore is so important and it will be closed for three years.”

Commissioner Stephen Fowler says he recognizes that Belleair faces some important issues, not the least of which is the town’s budget.

“We have to carefully apply spending restraints while continuing to provide the community with the services they want,” Fowler said. “Prioritization is the best way to accomplish that.”

Fowler pointed out that with the pending closing of the Belleview Biltmore for renovation, Belleair faces a loss of income for at least three years. “If the project receives historic preservation status, taxes would be reduced by the amount of their investment for 10 years.”

Fowler said he and the other commissioners are going to need to explore alternatives to the usual way of doing business. One idea that was recently suggested, according to Fowler, is providing services to other municipalities.

“In the past we talked about offering police services to neighboring Belleair Bluffs. The idea was rejected during initial discussions, but now may be the time to revive the idea,” Fowler said. “We could provide police protection and they (Belleair Bluffs) could provide fire protection.”

Asked what projects the town might consider delaying Fowler replied, “Undergrounding the transmission lines may have to be delayed.” As for the town’s water system, Fowler was quick to assert that there was no support for selling the system to the county.

Commissioner Stephanie Oddo says of her first term in office, “I’ve learned to be an effective member of the board.”

Oddo points to her support for the Biltmore project, her steadfast commitment to the buildup of Belleair’s police department and the work she did to maintain the town’s green spaces, particularly in the areas next to the golf course.

Having said that, Oddo was quick to point out that there is still much to be done in the community and she would use her new three-year term as commissioner to keep Belleair a “top notch” place to live.

Among those projects she would seek to press, Oddo said, “We have to work to improve our infrastructure. We are refurbishing our street lights now, we need that to continue and the town has a $2.5 million grant from Swiftmud toward the $5.5 million project to correct bluff erosion at the end of Bay Street.”

“All these projects are vital,” Oddo said. “But with the decrease in ad valorem taxes the town faces we have to be prepared to do the next round of projects, which will certainly be affected by the economy. It’s up to us to make the smart budget decisions.”

Oddo’s goal for her next term is “to keep up the town’s aesthetic. I’m excited about the future.”

Mayor Gary Katica, who is running unopposed, commended the community saying, “Belleair is fortunate to be the kind of community where people take an interest in their government and each other.”

Katica understands that Belleair like any other municipality faces hurdles but insists, “Because our town has some very bright people who are willing to volunteer their time and considerable effort to serve on various town boards we (the commission) benefit from their good advice,” he said. “It’s just a matter of taking things as they come.”

“The town has a five-year plan,” Katica said, “It’s now just a matter of being sensitive to the economy and listening to what our community says. If people care about something our town will always listen.”

Editorial                                        Belleair Bee  Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Speaking of ...

 
... Administrative Law Judge Donald Alexander March 3 will consider whether to overturn a decision by Clearwater’s Community Development Board approving plans for a 38-room hotel and restaurant at the site of the Cabana Club restaurant on Sand Key. The grassroots organization Save Our Neighborhood has garnered support from other Clearwater neighborhood groups for its legal appeal fund, hoping to derail the CDB-approved plans.

This misguided attempt to deny Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, owners of the Belleview Biltmore Resort and Cabana Club, its right as property owner to proceed with this plan for a first-class hotel and restaurant is a waste of time. Opponents harp on concerns over parking, though the parking plan has been deemed sufficient by city staff.

The Biltmore is mindful of being a good neighbor. The upscale Cabana Club hotel and restaurant will be lower than any other building on the west side of Sand Key, thus discrediting outrage over a “massive and encroaching” structure. Sand Key residents should welcome this project as a big improvement over the aging restaurant that exists on the site. Legg Mason should be allowed to proceed with its plan as approved by the city board that is duly charged with considering such development proposals on a case-by-case basis.

Court to hear arguments in Biltmore suit          Wednesday, February 4, 2009 Belleair Bee

By HARLAN WEIKLE
 
 
BELLEAIR – Just months before the Belleview Biltmore is scheduled to close for extensive renovations a court panel has agreed to hear oral arguments in a lawsuit which potentially could delay the project.

In September 2008 the Sixth Judicial Circuit Court accepted a Writ of Certiorari filed by Belleair residents Robert Swinehart, Fred Thomas and Scott Spencer alleging the Town Commission gave preference to Biltmore owners, Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, during a quasi judiciary hearing to determine the fate of several requests for variances to existing town codes.

The variances addressed a number of issues deemed key by Legg Mason to the successful, financial plan underlying LMREI’s restoration of the famous Victorian-era hotel and its spa, a project the developers estimate will cost $100 million. Among the variance requests: a new spa planned to be outside the hotel, facing a residential community near the property and a new multi-level hotel.

In their suit, the complainants suggest that the commission acted prejudicially in its conduct of the public hearings, granting more time to the petitioner’s arguments and was in fact pre-determined to grant the variances requests. The hearings, they allege, were tainted by the commission’s evident favoritism toward the applicant.

Town Attorney David Ottinger made the announcement following Tuesday evening’s special meeting and work session saying, “We’ve been in a holding pattern for 90 days, but now the court has granted a motion to hear oral arguments in this case.”

Ottinger said he did not yet know the date set for the hearings.

In a related matter, Ottinger told the commission that a case stemming from the controversy over citizen objections to LMREI’s planned construction of a hotel and restaurant at the Cabana Club site on Sand Key was set for a hearing March 3 at 9 a.m. in Clearwater City Hall.

Neighbors of the Cabana Club project maintain the restaurant with its 38-room hotel complex is too large for the proposed site and will cause massive parking congestion.

The hearings have been postponed twice before, once in December and then again last month.

BELLEAIR RESORT TO LAY OFF 300 BEFORE MAKEOVER

The Belleview Biltmore is to close in May for a $100 million renovation.
 

Thursday, January 29, 2009 St. Petersburg Times

By Lorri Helfand

Synopsis: The Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa in Belleair plans to lay off about 300 employees - virtually all of its staff - in early April, in preparation for the $100 million renovation of the landmark hotel, resort representatives say. The layoffs mesh with the owner's previously announced plans to close the hotel at the end of May, said Martin Smith, vice president and managing director of Belleview Biltmore Resort Ltd. The hotel's golf club will not close and its employees will be spared. So will security and accounting workers, Smith said. The owner plans to reopen the renovated hotel sometime in 2012, he said.

Full article:  The Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa is laying off 300 employees - virtually all of its staff - in early April. But the layoffs aren't tied to the lagging economy, hotel representatives say.

Instead, they're linked to previously announced plans to close the 112-year-old hotel at the end of May to prepare for the landmark's $100 million makeover, said Martin Smith, vice president and managing director of Belleview Biltmore Resort Ltd.

The layoffs, which include employees at the hotel's Cabana Grill & Bar on Sand Key, coincide with seasonal layoffs, which usually affect about 30 to 40 workers during the hotel's slower months.

"We're going to have to say goodbye to a lot of great people," Smith said.

Smith, who started meeting with workers this week to discuss the layoffs, said the resort is planning to host job fairs for the workers. And human resources staffers will work with employees to help them hone their interview and resume-writing skills, he said.

"I want them all to find jobs and take care of their families," Smith said.

The hotel's golf club will not close, and its employees will be spared. So will security and accounting workers, Smith said.

Meanwhile, renovations are in a holding pattern of sorts. A few residents have challenged Belleair leaders' actions related to variances requested by the owner, Los Angeles-based Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, which bought the resort for nearly $30.3 million.

The legal challenge filed last summer stems from neighbors' concerns about the location of the spa, across from condominiums. The neighbors allege town leaders showed favoritism toward the owner.

Last May, town leaders approved ambitious renovation and expansion plans for the historic resort. Plans include restoring the hotel's main building and ballrooms, building a one-story spa west of the hotel, demolishing the much-maligned pagoda entrance and replacing parking lots with underground garages.

The owner could begin renovating the hotel, with the exception of the spa, if it chooses to do so, said Town Manager Micah Maxwell. But Joseph Penner, managing director of Legg Mason, said his company is awaiting the results of the challenge before moving forward. He said it was necessary to prepare for the project even if the appeal wasn't resolved yet.

It's not clear when the project will break ground. But the resort is slated to reopen in 2012, Smith said.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or 445-4155.

The Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa is laying off 300 employees - virtually all of its staff - in early April. But the layoffs aren't tied to the lagging economy, hotel representatives say.

Instead, they're linked to previously announced plans to close the 112-year-old hotel at the end of May to prepare for the landmark's $100 million makeover, said Martin Smith, vice president and managing director of Belleview Biltmore Resort Ltd.

The layoffs, which include employees at the hotel's Cabana Grill & Bar on Sand Key, coincide with seasonal layoffs, which usually affect about 30 to 40 workers during the hotel's slower months.

"We're going to have to say goodbye to a lot of great people," Smith said.

Smith, who started meeting with workers this week to discuss the layoffs, said the resort is planning to host job fairs for the workers. And human resources staffers will work with employees to help them hone their interview and resume-writing skills, he said.

"I want them all to find jobs and take care of their families," Smith said.

The hotel's golf club will not close, and its employees will be spared. So will security and accounting workers, Smith said.

Meanwhile, renovations are in a holding pattern of sorts. A few residents have challenged Belleair leaders' actions related to variances requested by the owner, Los Angeles-based Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, which bought the resort for nearly $30.3 million.

The legal challenge filed last summer stems from neighbors' concerns about the location of the spa, across from condominiums. The neighbors allege town leaders showed favoritism toward the owner.

Last May, town leaders approved ambitious renovation and expansion plans for the historic resort. Plans include restoring the hotel's main building and ballrooms, building a one-story spa west of the hotel, demolishing the much-maligned pagoda entrance and replacing parking lots with underground garages.

The owner could begin renovating the hotel, with the exception of the spa, if it chooses to do so, said Town Manager Micah Maxwell. But Joseph Penner, managing director of Legg Mason, said his company is awaiting the results of the challenge before moving forward. He said it was necessary to prepare for the project even if the appeal wasn't resolved yet.

It's not clear when the project will break ground. But the resort is slated to reopen in 2012, Smith said.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or 445-4155.


http://www.clearwatergazette.com/20081204/biltmore.html   Clearwater Gazette, Thursday December 4, 2008

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Belleview Biltmore’s Tree Wins Award at Clearwater’s Festival of Trees

Belleview Biltmore’s nonprofit organization, Save the Biltmore Preservationists, created a Belleview Biltmore Hotel holiday Christmas tree for the 2008 Festival of Trees in Clearwater. This was their first entry. The Biltmore tree won a second place red ribbon in the seven-foot tree division for hand-crafted ornaments. The tree had 55 ornaments on it with photos depicting the historic journey of the Belleview Biltmore Hotel from 1896 when it was built to the 2012 proposed renovations by the new owner Legg Mason Real Estate Investors. The Biltmore tree took about 60 hours to complete including the unique, hand-crafted tree topper gazebo that illuminates three historic views of the hotel.

Next to the tree were displays of other Biltmore memorabilia, antique photos, furniture, a history of the hotel and some vintage apparel from different eras, which add to the theme of the tree.


Belleair Bee  Front Page, Thursday December 4, 2008

Biltmore Christmas

"The Belleview Biltmore Hotel 1896-Renovated 2012" Christmas tree, decorated by Save the Biltmore Preservationists and depicting the historic journey of the Biltmore, earned a second place ribbon at Clearwater's Festival of Trees. 


http://www.clearwatergazette.com/20081126/obama.html    Clearwater Gazette  Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Wouldn't the Belleview Biltmore Make a Great Winter White House?

By Renee Burrell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo courtesy of the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa


Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa staff had a photo op with Senator Barack Obama last September before he won the election

BELLEAIR - It's already white. . . A few presidents have already slept at the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa in the past and last September it seemed like old times when President Elect Barack Obama hunkered down there with his entourage and secret service agents while campaigning and to prepare for the Mississippi debate.

"Maybe those days will be back," said Martin Smith the Resort's Manager. "We hope to host many more presidents, vice presidents and presidential nominees in the future."

A spokesperson for the campaign told Smith that they chose the resort as a retreat for Obama's debate preparation because they liked the seclusion the 111-year-old Victorian hotel offered.

"One of the best things about our quiet resort is that it sits on 22 acres, so groups who want their people in attendance to not be distracted or leave the site find the Belleview Biltmore very appealing. It allows attendees to think about the subject at hand and not focus on the hustle and bustle that surrounds other hotels. We host many religious groups because of our tranquil setting and peaceful atmosphere."

Smith said Obama took in the grounds under the watchful eye of Secret Service. There was one minor instance where Obama's privacy was interrupted. Said Smith, "One morning he tried to work out in the exercise room, but people invaded his space, so the Belleair Country Club kindly let him use their facility."

Smith said when the President Elect had to shorten his stay after being called to the White House due to the Wall Street crisis; he stated that he'd enjoy coming back. "He commented on how beautiful the hotel is, calling it nice and relaxing and said he intends to come back…but that remains to be seen because of all that's happening in Washington."

The Obama campaign took over a wing and all four floors of the hotel while there. Obama's visit "Was great publicity for the hotel, Belleair, Clearwater, Pinellas County and Florida."

Obama left the hotel Thursday September 25 after broadcasting his address by satellite to the Clinton Global Initiative from the resort's Heritage Room.

According to Smith, if Obama does return, the chefs will have to stock up on broccoli.

"He's a big broccoli eater. He ordered it with every meal."

Barack-olli Obama? (No, that nickname wouldn't be prudent)


http://www.tampabay.com/news/humaninterest/article904607.ece  Sunday November 16, 2008

New life for historic pink house in Clearwater
By Eileen Schulte, Times Staff Writer

AFTER: Trina Sears with her historic pink house on Belleview Boulevard in Clearwater. The 1,459-square-foot house has been moved, renovated, severely damaged in a fire and then restored. Sears recently rented it out to a couple Lisa Hurston and Ed Becker, who are on the porch.
[JIM DAMASKE | Times]


Trina Sears with her historic pink house on Belleview Boulevard in Clearwater. The 1,459-square-foot house has been moved, renovated, severely damaged in a fire and then restored. Sears recently rented it out to a couple Lisa Hurston and Ed Becker, who are on the porch.

It's so adorable, like a big dollhouse.

Ol' Pinkie, as owner Trina Sears calls it, the house with the historic yet bumpy past, now has a single family living in it for the first time since the 1970s. Two weeks ago, Sears rented out the two-story bubble gum-colored structure to Lisa Hurston, 43, and her fiance, Ed Becker, 56, and his teenage son.

"I wouldn't rent it, wouldn't rent it,'' she said. "It had to be the right person.''

She agreed to buy the house more than three years ago for $1 and spent $120,000 to move it from its previous location on S Fort Harrison Avenue to a lot at 622 Belleview Blvd. After it was remodeled, the unthinkable happened. On the day she was to sign mortgage papers, the house went up in flames. The fire, caused by a faulty electrical system, essentially gutted the center of it.   "I remember the fire,'' said Amy Brannen, a neighbor. "I remember when the tub fell through. It was a horrible sound.'' The cast-iron bathtub, which had survived the fall, was later stolen.

After that, the city pushed hard to have it torn down. Nothing much had survived inside, except for an 1866 ironing board, which pulls down from a cabinet attached to a wall, wooden beams in the kitchen and most light fixtures. Visitors can still smell smoke near the sink. Sears fought to keep the bulldozers away and finally succeeded. Then she started restoring the house from scratch.

She installed several new windows and pine floors made of wood from old Southern barns she bought in Georgia. She also painted the walls. The process took two years. Sears also owns or co-owns three other old houses on Belleview Boulevard, where she is trying to create her own little historic area.

Rehabbing old homes is now Sears' life. Previously, she was a production coordinator for some widely know television series: WKRP in Cincinnati, 30-Something and Seinfeld, where she shared an office with Jerry Seinfeld.

After eight years in television, she moved to Clearwater to get away from the earthquakes and traffic of Los Angeles.  But Sears never watches TV. Instead, the history buff spends her time saving old things, such as the pink house which has had several incarnations.

Built by railroad tycoon Henry Plant in 1896, the carpenter Gothic structure, first located where the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa's golf course now stands, is thought to be the second-oldest house in Clearwater. The first person to occupy it was Louis Ducros, the first official Belleview Biltmore Hotel photographer. In the early 1900s, the house was moved to 1324 S Fort Harrison Ave., and years later Rocco Grella, an original member of John Philip Sousa's band, moved in.

In the 1970s, the house was bought by Kay Sloan and Jim Thornton, who turned it into antique furniture and crafts boutique called the Strawberry Walrus. It also has been a tea room.

"I went to South Ward Elementary and stopped by almost every day,'' Brannen said. "We used to sit in the parlor which is (now) Lisa's bedroom.'' It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, about the same year it was painted pink.  In 2004, Brent and Jill Heath of Clearwater bought the house for $10 and planned to have it moved to a tract on Clearwater-Largo Road to be a studio for Jill Heath's photography business. But the plans fell through and the couple later left the area. A short time later, Sears entered the picture.

The house is supposedly haunted, perhaps by its past occupants, Sears said.  Sears said the spirit or spirits open windows and enjoy throwing a closet rack on middle of the floor. One hired man quit abruptly because "the ghost threw his tools all over the place,'' Sears said. Hurston and Becker said they haven't seen anything unusual in the house so far.  "It's so peaceful,'' Becker said. "I love it at night. There's a serenity about it.''

Eileen Schulte can be reached at schulte@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4153.

FAST FACTS
Ol' Pinkie basics

• Built in 1896 by Henry Plant

• The house is 1,459 square feet

• It has two bedrooms and one and a half baths

• It burned in 2006 and took two years to resurrect.


http://www.tbnweekly.com/content_articles/100808_bee-03.txt  Belleair Bee Wednesday October 8, 2008

Anonymous person seeks to resolve Biltmore dispute  
By HARLAN WEIKLE

BELLEAIR – He is a developer who builds condominiums, he lives in Belleair and he’s determined to resolve issues that potentially threaten progress on the Belleview Biltmore restoration.

Town officials aren’t saying much other than they were asked not to reveal the identity of the man who is trying to bring a negotiated end to the legal dispute that erupted when the town granted code variances to Legg Mason Real Estate Investors for the Biltmore project.

Town Manager Micah Maxwell confirmed that the town had been approached by someone seeking to resolve the dispute but said, “He only wanted to ask some questions. He’s not working for the town in any way.”

During a protracted series of hearings brought before the Town Commission, some residents objected to several of the variance requests: reductions to parking, increased building heights and the construction of a new spa outside the main structure. It is the spa which lawyers for the complainants say will have the greatest negative impact on the community and it is the spa that developers insist is a must have for the success of the project.

A suit has been accepted by the court charging that unfair consideration was given to the developer during the quasi judicial hearing, namely that town officials were predisposed to favor the request and did not allow the complainants equal time to present their objections.

Recalling those hearings at Tuesday evening’s commission meeting, Mayor Gary Katica said, “There was nothing about the spa.”

Directing his comments to town attorney Davis Ottinger, Katica said for the record, “I know the issue was about the parking spaces and when their (referring to the complainants) expert witness was asked if he had ever done a parking study, his answer was no.”

Deputy Mayor Stephen R. Fowler interjected, “The only complaint was with the location of the spa.”

Katica continued, “Zimmitt, (referring to Attorney Alan Zimmitt who represents the complainant) was fumbling through his papers then, his so-called expert witness, dead in the water.”

The developer could hold the key to the legal imbroglio. Those suing the town say they could live with the spa were it to be relocated elsewhere on the property, away from residences west of the main hotel.

It could be presumed that is the issue now being quietly and anonymously negotiated between the residents and LMREI.

“The town can only await the outcome,” Katica said.
 


http://clearwatergazette.com/20081002/son.html   Clearwater Gazette, Thursday, October 2, 2008

Save Our Neighborhood Files Appeal Against City of Clearwater and the Belleview Biltmore, L.L.C.

Five disgruntled Sand Key residents and representatives of Save Our Neighborhood filed an appeal of the Community Development Board’s determination to approve the application of the Belleview Biltmore, LLC for the Cabana Club site. These residents filed the appeal because on September 16, 2008, the City’s Community Development Board (CDB) allegedly incorrectly approved all of the numerous and significant deviations to the Community Development Code requested by the Belleview Biltmore, LLC. Legg Mason, the purported owner of the Belleview Biltmore, wants to build a 38 room hotel/165 seat restaurant complex on less than one acre of land on Sand Key. SON’s appraiser testified that surrounding home values will decrease $8.35 million and affect 110 families by an average of $75,000 per home. In addition, the CDB allegedly incorrectly determined, according to the appeal, that the 165 seat restaurant would be an accessory use to the 38 room hotel in an attempt to avoid the city’s parking requirements.

Legg Mason wants to tear down the current Cabana Club Restaurant and build the hotel/restaurant complex where the current parking lot, swimming pool and restaurant that seats about 175 people, is located.

The last redevelopment on Sand Key occurred when the Utopia and Bella Rosa condominiums were built. Sand Key residents opposed the many deviations that were requested by that developer to build a 21-story high residential condo. The CDB approved the Code deviations but the residents won on appeal and the condominiums were built according to the Code and without deviations.

Joe Penner, Managing Director, Legg Mason has previously stated that “Legg Mason is fully committed to redeveloping the Cabana Club site with a new property which is consistent in size and scope to the surrounding area of Sand Key.”

Legg Mason had the support of all CDB members after lengthy hearings on the controversial project.

Nevertheless, it came as no surprise to Clearwater officials who supported the project and Legg Mason Management that a lawsuit contesting the CDB ruling would be made.

The matter now moves to the “appeal” level where all of the issues will be again presented.


http://www.tampabay.com/news/briefs/article833570.ece  St. Petersburg Times Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Neighborhood group fighting Biltmore plans

A Sand Key citizens' group is unhappy that a city board is allowing the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa to replace the resort's aging Cabana Club restaurant with a six-floor beachfront hotel. The group Save Our Neighborhood has filed an appeal of the Community Development Board's recent approval of the $14-million hotel project on Sand Key. The appeal will go to a hearing officer and then to a panel of judges, and could take more than a year to resolve. Many Sand Key residents oppose the plans for a 38-room hotel and 160-seat restaurant, saying it would be too much development for a small site with little parking.


http://www.tbnweekly.com/content_articles/092408_fpg-01.txt  Belleair Bee Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Locals get personal with Barack Obama
By CHARY SOUTHMAYD
 
PINELLAS COUNTY - What started out as an ordinary work week with summer coming to an end quickly turned as spectacular as fall colors for those who had the opportunity to meet Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Obama was in town for an announced public campaign rally at Knology Park in Dunedin Wednesday, but other details of his visit were a closely guarded secret until Tuesday.

With 15 minutes notice, the mid-day lunch staff at O’Keefe’s suddenly found themselves hosting Obama, along with his legion of Secret Service protectors and lots of media.

“We were in the middle of lunch rush. I noticed all these guys in suits walking around. When I asked if I could help them, I noticed one was wearing an earpiece in his ear,” said O’Keefe’s manager Danielle duQuesnay. “They were checking out exits and things. Then as soon as we said it was OK for him to come here, the place was mobbed with police and Secret Service.” Obama spent about an hour at O’Keefe’s, talking with staff and customers.

“His real personality came out,” duQuesnay said. “He was really friendly and spent time with each person, asking them their name and what they do. He didn’t talk about politics at all.”

Before heading out, Obama paid for a “Cheeseburger in Paradise” to go with no mayo and no onions.

Then it was off to the Belleview Biltmore in Belleair where Obama was “rumored” to be staying. What is confirmed is that the Secret Service blocked off an entire wing at the Biltmore and Obama has been coming and going since Tuesday, taking some time to relax and prepare for Friday’s first debate with John McCain.

“He talks to the staff and guests. He is really polite,” said Martin Smith, Belleview Biltmore’s managing director and vice president.

Smith notes that the Biltmore poses a bit of a challenge to Obama’s Secret Service entourage, with no less than 53 ways to get in and out of the historic resort hotel complete with its underground tunnel dating back to the Biltmore’s early days of rail transport for its winter residents.

“We are a secure, quiet location. There is no better place to relax,” said Smith.

Obama has taken time to view Legg Mason’s elaborate new design renderings for the Biltmore, which are displayed in the old art gallery, as he walks by, Smith said.

“This has been great for the staff really mind boggling for them and very good for the hotel,” Smith said. “He talks to everybody and we are all respectful to him, but he is just a regular gentleman like everyone else here.”

http://www.tampabay.com/news/localgovernment/article814274.ece  St. Petersburg Times, Wednesday, September 17, 2008

By Mike Brassfield

Hotel to replace Cabana Club on Sand Key

By Mike Brassfield, Times Staff Writer

CLEARWATER — After hearing nearly five hours of intense debate, a city board voted Tuesday to allow the new owners of the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa to redevelop the resort's aging Cabana Club restaurant on Sand Key, replacing it with a six-floor beachfront hotel.

The city's Community Development Board okayed the controversial $14-million project, despite vocal opposition from nearly 100 Sand Key residents, who packed into a chamber at City Hall.

Neighbors in the surrounding high-rise condos object to the plan, saying a 38-room hotel with an adjoining 160-seat restaurant would be too much for a small site with 56 parking spaces. They fear that inadequate parking there would send cars spilling over into their residential neighborhood.

But the Biltmore's owners, Los Angeles-based Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, say there won't be a parking problem because they'll be shuttling resort guests and staffers over to the restaurant from the Biltmore, 5 miles away in Belleair.

Board members heard impassioned pleas from neighbors, many of whom wore stickers reading "SON" for "Save Our Neighborhood." Both the developer and a coalition of Sand Key residents brought a lineup of lawyers and hired experts to make their respective cases.

"They are seeking to put 10 pounds of sugar into a 5-pound bag," said land use consultant Todd Pressman, arguing that Legg Mason wants to overbuild on the site. "We are pleading with you to keep south Sand Key the way it is. It is quiet. It is residential."

However, Legg Mason insisted that a modestly sized "boutique" hotel would fit in well with the surrounding area.

"Some would lead you to believe that we are building the Disney Grand Floridian on 1 acre of beachfront in Clearwater," said the project's architect, Richard Heisenbottle. "We are the shortest of all the buildings there that have been built on the west side of Gulf Boulevard."

City staffers sided with the developer and recommended that the plan be approved.

Members of the Community Development Board unanimously okayed the project.

Although some of them expressed reservations about the parking, they said they were confident that Legg Mason, which is investing roughly $100-million to restore the Biltmore and make it a four- or five-star resort, will make sure there are no parking issues at the Cabana Club site.

"It can be handled, and I'm sure they'll handle it appropriately," said board member Jordan Behar.

After the vote, the grumbling crowd headed toward the exits.

The board's decision is binding and doesn't need approval from the Clearwater City Council, although opponents could file an appeal with an administrative hearing judge.

Legg Mason hopes to begin construction by 2010.

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4160.

 


Note: Bernie F. Powell, an icon in the resort hotel business owning the Belleview Biltmore for 46 years and the quintessential philanthropist of Morton Plant Mease, died at his home in Belleair Shore on Aug. 21, 2008. He was 96. In 1990, Mr. Powell sold the Biltmore for $27.5-million.  He devoted his life to philanthropy. 


http://www.tampabay.com/news/obituaries/article798759.ece  by Lorri Helfand St. Petersburg Times Saturday, September 6, 2008 

Roger Neal, right, reminisces about his 23 years as Bernie Powell’s masseur. Powell’s grandson, Matthew Archangeli, standing, visits with other caregivers.

Roger Neal, right, reminisces about his 23 years as Bernie Powell’s masseur. Powell’s grandson, Matthew Archangeli, standing, visits with other caregivers.


CLEARWATER — Bernie Powell's legacy goes far beyond the historic hotel he restored and the millions he has contributed to the community and elsewhere.

Those who paid their respects to Mr. Powell, who died Aug. 21 at age 96, say he taught them lessons of generosity, faith and love.

More than 200 friends, family and representatives of charitable organizations attended his funeral service Friday morning at St. Cecelia Church in Clearwater.

The Catholic service was followed by an afternoon reception in the Tiffany Room at the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa, the hotel he owned for 44 years and re-established as one of Florida's grand resorts.

Through the $27.5-million sale of the hotel in 1990, Mr. Powell was able to devote his life to philanthropy.

"His devotion and faith were inspiring," said Monsignor Aiden Foynes, who led the service in Mr. Powell's honor.

Foynes said Mr. Powell once told him: "I have been blessed with some of this world's treasures. I know that God would want me to share with those who are in need."

While Mr. Powell valued helping others, he was primarily devoted to his family, said Mr. Powell's grandson, Matthew Archangeli. "His wife, Mary Ann, was the love of his life," said Archangeli, 43.

Mr. Powell spent many hours each day by her bedside, holding her hand and talking to her, Archangeli said.

Toward the end of the service, the sound system squealed for nearly a minute.

At the reception, Powell family caregivers, who huddled around a table in the Tiffany room, said they were convinced it was Mr. Powell getting in the last word.

"When the sound system went off, that was Bernie," said nurse Donna Murray, 59.

Most of the caregivers look after Mary Ann, 88, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's about nine years ago. They took care of Mr. Powell, too, as his health declined, they said.

Murray said Mr. Powell taught her and others a lot about life. First thing in the morning and last thing at night, Mr. Powell told Mary Ann he loved her, Murray said.

"You couldn't help but see the love and devotion he had for Mary Ann," she said. "He taught me to be a true partner to my husband."

Alberta Evans, a caregiver for the Powells, used to work as a dishwasher at the hotel in the 1960s.

"Christmastime he gave us $5," Evans said. "Back then, that was big money."

After she became Mr. Powell's caregiver a couple of years ago, the two had many spiritual conversations.

"We talked every night about the Bible and giving," Evans said. "He told me anytime you need anything just ask."

Mr. Powell made good on that promise. "When I had a flat tire, he wrote a check," she said. "When I had a death in the family, he made a donation."

Several at the reception described Mr. Powell as a consummate gentleman.

"He always had a pleasant word for me," said Roger Neal, Mr. Powell's personal masseur.

The man who did so much to help others didn't suffer, his grandson said.

Archangeli said his grandfather's health took a turn for the worse several months ago after he caught a cold.

But he died in peace at his Belleair Shore home.

"He was looking out over the beautiful gulf and simply took one breath and not another," Archangeli said.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or 445-4155.


Friends and family remember Powell

"He used to call me if he ever saw an injured pelican. He didn't want to see any creature in trouble."

Ralph Heath, founder of the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary


"If I didn't call him every two weeks he would call me to make sure I was feeling well. He was always thinking about the other person."

George Mallory, 87, fellow philanthropist


"When he came to the house, he always played a little poker and he always made sure that you won." (Powell usually put in five bucks.)

Kevin Morse, 56, nephew

"He had quite a passion for growing roses. Even though he had a lot of education he was a man of the earth."

Roger Neal, Powell's personal masseur for 23 years


http://www.tampabay.com/news/obituaries/article781640.ece    St. Petersburg Times  Monday, August 25, 2008

Belleview Biltmore's former owner Bernie Powell kept giving back
By Stephanie Hayes, Times Staff Writer


BELLEAIR SHORE — Tuesdays, Bernie Powell had a standing appointment with his friend, Carroll Cheek — the ultimate power lunch.

They hit Bob Heilman's Beachcomber. They'd talk about finance, charities, latest projects. They'd collaborate, deciding where to donate, who needed their help.

Mr. Powell was polite and wry. When they puttered off in Cheek's Jaguar, he'd laugh — what were two old guys doing in a fancy car with the top down?

"He was just a fine owl to me," Cheek said. "He was my buddy. We had the same feeling about giving back to the community. He and I both felt that if we happened to accumulate a couple dollars, whatever we had, we were custodians of it. It wasn't something that belonged to us."

• • •

Bernie Powell, philanthropist and former owner of the Belleview Biltmore Hotel, died Thursday at home in Belleair Shore. He was 96.

Mr. Powell was born in Detroit. He graduated from law school at age 22 and went on to open his own firm.

In 1946, he and a partner bought the Biltmore, a run-down Victorian hotel that housed soldiers in training during World War II. It was dilapidated and crumbling. A cab driver wished him luck, calling the place the "biggest white elephant on the west coast of Florida."

Mr. Powell just saw hope.

"There is something about that hotel that has charm," he told the St. Petersburg Times in 2005. "I felt it right away."

He transformed the Biltmore into a glamorous destination. He wintered there with his family.

"We had a wonderful time growing up at the hotel," said his daughter, Kathy Strong. "My sisters and my brother and I were able to run wild and use it as a giant playhouse."

Her father was a celebrity on the grounds. Dapper and charming. Family dinners took hours because he would get up to greet guests who came by his table. He remembered all their names.

He was an astute businessman and a tough negotiator. He made a point to listen to advice, even if he had no plan to take it.

"He was the kind of person who was easy to get along with," said his friend and lawyer, Roger Larson. "Even the people he negotiated with. He did not steamroll anybody."

His sense of humor was self-deprecating. He loved to tell stories, speak in exotic accents and make Catholic jokes to priests from his Catholic church.

He didn't curse. When he got angry — really angry — he said "Holy birds!"

"When he said that, I knew he was frustrated," Larson said.

In 1981, tragedy struck the family. Christy Powell Higgins, his daughter, died at 35 of breast cancer. It devastated Mr. Powell.

"She was so sweet and so good and so pretty," he told the Times.

He began donating to Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater, first by the thousand.

"It was a way for him to deal with the pain that he was feeling and a very positive way of giving back to the community," said Holly Duncan, president of the Morton Plant Mease Foundation. "I think he really felt the healing power of giving."

It was only the tip.

• • •

In 1990, Mr. Powell sold the hotel for $27.5-million. He devoted his life to philanthropy.

His daughter had formed a support group before she died. To continue her work, Mr. Powell donated money to establish the Powell Cancer Center, a Morton Plant treatment and counseling facility that opened in 1995. At the time, his gift was the biggest ever from a living donor.

The next year, he and Cheek donated funds to create the Cheek-Powell Heart and Vascular Pavilion at the hospital. And when Mr. Powell realized nurses needed care for their kids, he and his wife, Mary Ann, donated $1.65-million for the Mary Ann and Bernard Powell Child Care and Learning Center.

They loved to visit.

"They would sit in the rocking chairs and rock the little children," said Philip Beauchamp, Morton Plant Mease Health Care CEO.

At home, it was the same with his great-grandchildren.

"The children loved them and would crawl all over their wheelchairs," said Strong, 67.

Mr. Powell's newest great-grandson, Alexander, was born an hour before he died.

• • •

Mr. Powell had a favorite saying: "He who gives while he lives always knows where it goes."

In all, his donations to the hospital foundation totaled about $10-million, Duncan said. That's not counting his other charitable causes — Salvation Army, Ruth Eckerd Hall, Hospice of the Florida Suncoast, and his church, to name a few.

He wanted causes to be maintained after he was gone. So he set up a foundation.

His donations won't stop for years.

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at shayes@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8857.

Bernie Powell

Born: May 24, 1912

Died: Aug. 21, 2008

Survivors: Wife of 34 years, Mary Ann Forster Powell; children, Kathy Powell Strong, Susan Powell Travis, Bernard Christopher Powell,, Hawaii; grandchildren, Jordan and Gabriel Higgins, Matthew and Jeffrey Archangeli, Elizabeth Archangeli Post, Laura Gemignani; great-grandchildren, Nicolai, Leo, Oliver, Madeline, Gabriel and Alexander.

Services: Visitation from 6-8 p.m. Sept. 4 at will be at Sylvan Abbey, 2860 Sunset Point Road, Clearwater. Mass at 10:30 a.m. Sept. 5 at St. St. Cecelia's Catholic Church, 820 Jasmine Way, Clearwater.

>>Biography

Bernie Powell

Born: May 24, 1912

Died: Aug. 21, 2008

Survivors: Wife of 34 years, Mary Ann Forster Powell; children, Kathy Powell Strong, Susan Powell Travis, Bernard Christopher Powell; grandchildren, Jordan and Gabriel Higgins, Matthew and Jeffrey Archangeli, Elizabeth Archangeli Post, Laura Gemignani; great-grandchildren, Nicolai, Leo, Oliver, Madeline, Gabriel and Alexander.

Services: Visitation from 6-8 p.m. Sept. 4 will be at Sylvan Abbey, 2860 Sunset Point Road, Clearwater. Mass at 10:30 a.m. Sept. 5 at St. Cecelia's Catholic Church, 820 Jasmine Way, Clearwater.


http://www.tbnweekly.com/content_articles/082708_bee-01.txt  Wednesday, Belleair Bee August 27, 2008

Obituary
Powell remembered for charitable legacy
Bernard F. Powell is remembered for his philanthropic generosity.
BELLEAIR SHORE – Bernard F. Powell, an icon in the resort hotel business with the Belleview Biltmore and the quintessential philanthropist of Morton Plant Mease, died at his home in Belleair Shore on Aug. 21, 2008. He was 96.

Powell graduated from the University of Detroit Law School at age 22 and joined the renowned Alex J. Groesbeck law firm. He was the youngest attorney ever to argue a case in the U.S. Supreme Court.

He attended the University of Detroit Jesuit High School lettering in ice hockey and golf, the University of Notre Dame and the University of Detroit.

In 1946, Powell joined prominent Realtor Roger Stevens in purchasing the Belleview Biltmore Hotel, dubbed “The biggest white elephant on the West Coast of Florida.”

Dilapidated from occupation by U.S. military forces during the war, it was renovated to a world renowned 4 Star Mobile Award resort. The addition of the Donald Ross golf courses and the gulfside Cabana Club complemented the magnificent hotel. For decades, the resort was a favorite of international figures such as the Duke of Windsor, American presidents and distinguished captains of industry and their families. Powell also was a partner in the prestigious Brazilian Court Hotel in Palm Beach.

Bernie and Mary Ann Powell are the largest benefactors in the history of Morton Plant Mease Foundation, they are affectionately called the Patriarch and Matriarch of Morton Plant Hospital. In 1991, in memory of his daughter Christie’s battle with breast cancer, he gave $1 million for the Powell Cancer Center on the Morton Plant campus and its Cancer Patient Support Services programming. In 1996, he made a multimillion-dollar commitment to the Cheek-Powell Heart and Vascular Center of that same campus. In 2004, in response to a growing need for child care for nurses on the hospital campus, Bernie made a gift to establish the Mary Ann and Bernard F. Powell Child Care Center and Learning Center at Morton Plant.

Morton Plant Mease CEO Philip Beauchamp remembered Bernie by saying, “His foresight with the Cheek-Powell Pavilion in bringing advances in cardiac care well ahead of our industry, his compassion with the Powell Cancer Center bringing an expert team with a caring touch, and his spirit in the creation of the Powell Child Care Center for our team members’ children were all part of his grand vision for Morton Plant.”

Powell was a member of St. Cecelia’s Catholic Church, Carlouel Yacht Club and Belleair Country Club. He was an Emeritus member of the Board of Directors of the Morton Plant Mease Foundation.

In 1993, Bernie and Mary Ann received the Morton Plant Mease Foundation’s Golden Flame Award in recognition of their philanthropic support. They also received the Philanthropy Award from the University of Detroit Jesuit High School. Powell was honored by the Clearwater Regional Chamber as its first Lifetime Achievement Mr. Clearwater Award. As his dear friend and fellow benefactor Carroll Cheek said, “His contributions have come in the form of time and personal involvement as well as financial to a degree that has been more than commendable – it has been sacrificial.”

In addition to Morton Plant Mease, in the Greater Clearwater community, Mr. Powell’s philanthropy touched the Salvation Army and its Mallory-Powell Social Services Center, Ruth Eckerd Hall, Abilities, UPARC, Chi Chi Rodriguez Youth Foundation, Eckerd Family Youth Alternatives, Neighborly Care Network, Covenant House Florida, Hospice of the Florida Suncoast and the Kimberly Home in addition to both St. Brendan and St. Cecelia Catholic parishes. Outside of the Tampa Bay area, his charitable giving impacted the Caring House at Duke Cancer Center, Northern Michigan Hospital Foundation, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Boysville of Michigan and the Hospice of Little Traverse. His investment in educational institutions included the University of Detroit Jesuit High School, University of Detroit Mercy College and Randolph–Macon Women’s College.

Powell was preceded in death by his parents, Robert M. Powell and Anna Mae Dillon Powell; his sisters Katherine Powell Morse and Nora Mae Peabody; his brother, Robert Powell; and his daughter, Christy Powell Higgins. He is survived by his beloved wife of 34 years, Mary Ann Forster Powell, daughters Kathy Powell Strong of Belleair and Susan Powell Travis of California; son, Bernard Christopher Powell of Maui, Hawaii; grandchildren Jordan and Gabriel Higgins, Matthew Archangeli, Jeffrey Archangeli and Elizabeth Archangeli Post, and Laura Gemignani and great-grandchildren, Nicolai, Leo, Oliver, Madeline, Gabriel and Alexander.

Visitation will be at Sylvan-Abbey on Thursday, Sept. 4, 6 to 8 p.m. Funeral Mass will be held at St. Cecelia’s Catholic Church on Friday, Sept. 5, 10:30 a.m.

http://www.clearwatergazette.com/20080828/powell.html  Thursday Clearwater Gazette August 28, 2008

 

BELLEAIR SHORES - Bernard F. Powell, died at his home in Belleair Shores on Thursday, August 21, 2008. He was 96. Visitation will be at Sylvan-Abbey in the evening on Thursday, September 4th from 6 to 8 p.m. A funeral mass will be held Friday, September 5th at 10:30 a.m. at St. St. Cecelia’s Catholic Church, Friday, 820 Jasmine Way, Clearwater.

Powell was preceded in death by his parents, Robert M. Powell and Anna Mae Dillon Powell; his sisters Katherine Powell Morse and Nora Mae Peabody; his brother, Robert Powell; and his daughter, Christy Powell Higgins. He is survived by his wife Mary Ann Forster Powell, two daughters Kathy Powell Strong of Belleair and Susan Powell Travis of California; one son, Bernard Christopher Powell of Maui, Hawaii; grandchildren Jordan and Gabriel Higgins, Matthew Archangeli, Jeffrey Archangeli and Elizabeth Archangeli Post, and Laura Gemignani and great-grandchildren, Nicolai, Leo, Oliver, Madeline, Gabriel and Alexander.

Powell was a graduate of Detroit Law School and passed the Michigan Bar at age 22. He was an Associate in three time Governor Alex Groesbeck's law firm and the youngest attorney ever to argue a case in the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1946 he and his sister, Nora Mae Peabody, and another investor, Broadway producer, Roger Stevens, bought the Belleview Biltmore Hotel in Belleair that had been used by the Army during World War II for $500,000. Powell eventually became the sole owner. He renovated the structure and achieved 4 Star Mobile Award Resort status. In 1990, Powell sold the hotel for 27.5 million.

His memberships and affiliations within the community included, St. Cecelia’s Catholic Church, Carlouel Yacht Club and Belleair Country Club. He was an Emeritus member of the Board of Directors of the Morton Plant Mease Foundation.

Holly Duncan, president of the Morton Plant Mease Foundation said, "Bernie and Mary Ann Powell are the largest Benefactors in the history of Morton Plant Mease Foundation. They are affectionately called the “Patriarch and Matriarch” of Morton Plant Hospital. In 1991, in memory of his daughter Christie’s battle with breast cancer, Bernie gave a million dollars for the Powell Cancer Center on the Morton Plant campus and its Cancer Patient Support Services (CaPSS) programming. In 1996, he made a multi-million dollar commitment to the Cheek-Powell Heart and Vascular Center of that same campus. In 2004, in response to a growing need for childcare for nurses on the hospital campus, Bernie made a gift to establish the Mary Ann and Bernard F. Powell Child Care Center and Learning Center at Morton Plant."

Mr. Powell was the first recipient of the Clearwater Regional Chamber's Lifetime Achievement Mr. Clearwater Award.

In 1993 for their philanthropic support, Powell and his wife Mary Ann received the Morton Plant Mease Foundation’s Golden Flame Award and also the Philanthropy Award from the University of Detroit Jesuit High School.

Powell’s philanthropy extended far beyond Morton Plant Mease. He helped fund the Salvation Army and its Mallory-Powell Social Services Center, and has generously donated to: Ruth Eckerd Hall, Abilities, UPARC, the Chi Chi Rodriguez Youth Foundation, Eckerd Family Youth Alternatives, Neighborly Care Network, Covenant House Florida, Hospice of the Florida Suncoast and the Kimberly Home in addition to both St. Brendan and St Cecelia Catholic parishes.

In his native Michigan, his charitable giving benefitted: the Caring House at Duke Cancer Center, Northern Michigan Hospital Foundation, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Boysville of Michigan and the Hospice of Little Traverse. His investment in educational institutions included the University of Detroit Jesuit High School, University of Detroit Mercy College and Randolph–Macon Women’s College.

Powell's generosity to the community will continue for many years to come as he and his wife have provided for continuous gifts to be made to area charities ad infinitum through their Powell Foundation.


http://www.tbnweekly.com/content_articles/082008_bee-02.txt   Belleair Bee  Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Biltmore lawsuit remains in limbo
By HARLAN WEIKLE
 
 
BELLEAIR – With no court date set to hear arguments in the lawsuit brought by three town residents alleging that town officials unfairly favored Legg Mason’s variance requests for the Belleview Biltmore Resort renovation, it is possible those involved might agree to negotiate.

Asked on the progress of the pending suit during a recent Town Commission meeting, Town Attorney David Ottinger said, “I’ve asked their attorney what would resolve this issue; we haven’t heard back.”

In a phone interview Tuesday, Alan Zimmet, the counsel for complainants Scott Spencer, Robert Swinehart and Fred Thomas, acknowledged that negotiations were pending, but would not reveal his clients’ response.

The complainants have alleged that their quality of life would be affected by the close proximity of their homes to the Biltmore’s proposed spa, with its outdoor deck to be open for events until 11 p.m.

Ottinger said earlier this week that the three-judge panel assigned to the hearing have not as yet indicated a date for review of the Writ of Certiorari, a judgment whether the commission’s quasi judicial hearing of the variance requests qualifies for review by a higher court.

Ottinger said the town’s hearings were conducted with absolute care and with proper notifications to all concerned.

“If the main point of contention is over the location of the spa and relocating the spa is not an option then we, the town, will have to proceed with the defense,” Ottinger said.

Ottinger said he would attempt to reach the higher court later this week for a determination, adding, “My guess, we’re not going to resolve this out of court.”

Ultimately, the decision whether to negotiate is the owner’s decision, Ottinger said. The Biltmore owners are represented by attorney Tom Reynolds. Spokesperson Amy McGuire said that given they had not yet heard an opinion from the Appeals Court judges, they would not be able to comment at this time.

http://www.clearwatergazette.com/20080821/cdb.html   Clearwater Gazette   Thursday, August 21, 2008

Clearwater Planning Commission Postpones Review of Cabana Club Project

Preliminary city staff report recommends approval of site code deviations

By Bill Lopez

SAND KEY - The Clearwater Planning Commission meeting scheduled for Tuesday, August 19 for review of the Cabaña Club project on Sand Key was postponed until September 16. But a staff report was released indicating the proposed code deviations requested by the developer be granted by the commission.

The Cabana Club project is a proposed 38-room high end hotel resort at 1590 Gulf Boulevard in the Sand Key area of Clearwater to be operated in conjunction with the $125 million refurbishment of the Belleair Biltmore Hotel. The Cabana Club portion of the project is budgeted at $25 million and will take about 16 months to complete.

Several building code deviations requested by developers Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, Inc. have been reviewed by the Clearwater Planning Department. Residents of Sand Key and local associations have communicated objections to these code deviations and the project in general to the Clearwater Planning Commission, which has the responsibility of overseeing building codes for such projects. They object to the code deviations and feel the property is too commercial for the area.

Nevertheless, the city staff report drafted by Clearwater City Planner Wayne Wells, AICP, and released for the meeting recommends approval with several conditions including project approved by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection concerning construction of the beach cabanas.

With respect to parking, the report indicates peak parking demand would occur at 9 p.m. on a weekend (Saturday) with a need for 38 parking spaces and states that the planned 56 parking spaces would adequately support the parking demand at the Cabana Club given the assumptions reviewed.

In part the report states, "… the Planning Department recommends APPROVAL of the Flexible Development application to permit a 38-unit overnight accommodation use with a 125-seat accessory restaurant in the Commercial (C) District with a reduction to the required lot width from 200 to 88.41 feet; a reduction to the front (east) setback from 25 to five feet (to pavement); a reduction to the side (north) setback from 10 to zero feet (to building); a reduction to the rear (west) setback from the Coastal Construction Control Line (CCCL) from 20 to zero feet; to allow proposed temporary cabanas up to 25 feet west of the CCCL and an increase to building height from 25 to 67 feet, as a Comprehensive Infill Redevelopment Project, under the provisions of Section 2-704.C; and a reduction to the front (east) perimeter buffer from 15 to five feet (to pavement), a reduction to the side (north) perimeter buffer from 10 to zero feet (to building and pavement) and a reduction to the width of interior landscape islands from eight to 4.6 feet inside curbing, as a Comprehensive Landscape Program, under the provisions of Section 3-1202.G, with the following conditions…"

The complete report is available from the Clearwater City Planning Department.


http://www.tampabay.com/opinion/letters/article775670.ece    St. Petersburg Times  Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Letters to the editor

Parking would doom new club

We are homesteaded residents of the Isle of Sand Key, directly east of the Cabana Club, which Legg Mason is proposing to redevelop.

One of our main concerns with Legg Mason's plans to build a hotel and restaurant at this site and on the existing parking lot is the lack of adequate parking that currently exists. Parking is already a problem with just the restaurant. We have personally witnessed the cars being double-parked and exit lanes being blocked in the parking lot where the valet has to move one car to get another one out, and also know of cars being parked illegally at the local tennis courts on the island as well as in our parking lot at the Isle of Sand Key.

Legg Mason just snubs its nose at this problem and seems to have no issue with repeatedly paying tickets for the illegal parking. If this is the kind of neighbor Legg Mason is today, then how can they look at us with a straight face and tell us they are only going to provide eight more parking spaces than what currently exists?

They try to tell us that they are providing more parking than is needed by a 38-room hotel, but this ignores the fact that their plans include a 165-seat restaurant that will be open to the public, and that guests from the 425-room restored Belleview Biltmore Hotel will want to drive here for the beach or for dinner.

To make matters worse, where will the employees and managers of this hotel/restaurant park their vehicles? Do they think we believe all these people will be ferried over in some "water taxi" or shuttled over in a bus? If they can sell the city Planning Department on that one, the city should hire them to solve the parking problem on Clearwater Beach!

Better yet, the mayor may want their advice on mass transit solutions for the entire city.

Michael & Ardith Shipley, Clearwater

Re: Plans for the Cabana Club on Sand Key.

Legg Mason can do better

Before the Clearwater Community Development Board is an opportunity to set a new trend in governing. Turn away from environmentally destructive building practices of the past, to the future — protecting what few resources we have left, unlike other cement jungles most people try to escape from.

As I look at the empty condos and hotel rooms (with constantly running air-conditioning), I just wonder what kind of profit developer Legg Mason thinks they will get from the Cabana Club. Without ample parking, not much repeat business, I'd guess.

Modifying the building restrictions is no answer either. It sets a dangerous precedent for the future. We may not be as lucky, in the years to come, to have a board that actually listens to the people, and this appears to be opening the door for unbridled development.

I have the greatest respect and admiration for what Legg Mason is doing with the Belleview Biltmore Hotel. Saving a national historic treasure is no small task. We, as a community, owe them a debt of gratitude.

In so doing, might we suggest to Legg Mason that they modify their building plans for the Cabana Club on Sand Key to something more in line with the natural landscape — a "real Florida" theme? Small, quaint, lots of lush (low maintenance) Florida vegetation everywhere. Something unique that people will want to visit and pay more for.

Is it better they have 150 rooms with half of them empty, or 50 always full ones?

Given Legg Mason's noble and creative track record, I'm sure they can come up with something truly different, within planning guidelines, and that will make them more money than the current proposal.

More and more architectural plans are now taking the environment into consideration. And since this environment is the primary reason for Clearwater's success, shouldn't we?

Thank you for listening. It is really appreciated.

Lillian Johnson, Clearwater


http://www.clearwatergazette.com/20080814/cdb.html    Clearwater Gazette,  Thursday, August 14, 2008

Clearwater Planning Commission to rule on Cabana Club Project

Sand Key residents fight developer requests for code deviations…
Commission meeting set for August 19

By Bill Lopez

Beach side view of the proposed Cabana Club on Sand Key.

Sand Key -- When developers Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, Inc. purchased the Biltmore properties in 2007, they envisioned a 4-Star destination resort with access to a world class beach.

That access would come about through construction of the Cabaña Club beach resort on approximately one acre of land at 1590 Gulf Boulevard in the Sand Key area of Clearwater. A pleasant 1.5 mile ferry ride from the main Biltmore hotel across the Intracoastal Water Way to Sand Key would take guests to the Cabana Club's well manicured sandy beach on the Gulf of Mexico. Beachside cabanas made of light frames and canvas would line the beach front for the enjoyment of Biltmore and Cabana Club guests.

Local residents however, don't appreciate the project and claim the area is not meant for commercial development. Moreover, they contend that construction plans violate building codes and will impair ocean views for nearby residents while creating parking and other problems.

An active coalition of residents and local associations have communicated their objections to the Clearwater Planning Commission, which has the responsibility of overseeing building codes for such projects.

The issue comes to a critical juncture next Tuesday, August 19, at 1:30 p.m. when the Planning Commission will consider several code deviation requests and review opposition to the project by Sand Key residents. Clearwater City Planner Wayne Wells said the commission must go by the code as written and also look to any precedents that exist in the city that would have a bearing on the matter.

A staff report with recommendations is expected to be available by August 15 to allow commissioners time to review it before the meeting on the 19th.

The developers propose a reduction in lot width to 88 feet where 200 feet is the present standard as well as a reduction in the front set back along Gulf Boulevard to five feet for the parking area where the standard is 25 feet. An increase in allowable height of 25 feet to 67 feet is also being requested. Buildings in the area surpass the 25 foot code and two properties at 1350 and 1370 Gulf Boulevard have received variances to 80 feet within the past three years.

Wells indicated the board may approve or deny the deviations as submitted or impose certain conditions that would have to be met or delay the decision to a future date. One condition that is already understood is the requirement that the cabaña portion of the project be approved by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

With only six floors and 38 rooms, the project is considered a boutique in the world of modern resorts. Biltmore restoration Architect Richard Heisenbottle unveiled plans for its development last month at a meeting inside the historic Biltmore that is slated for renovation pending litigation over the project.

A law suit by residents who live near the Biltmore filed with the Appellate Division of the 6th Judicial Court in Florida alleges that space configurations of the new Biltmore plan do not conform with codes and that their appeals were not given sufficient hearings at a city code meeting (in the Town of Belleair). They also take issue with what they assert will be a parking problem in the neighborhood as a result of the renovation plans.

Heisenbottle indicated the Cabana Club portion of the entire $125 million renovation would cost about $25 million and take about 16 months to complete while the entire plan for the hotel renovation and new construction would take about 31 months.


http://www.tbnweekly.com/content_articles/081308_cit-01.txt   TBN Weekly  Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The historical pink house is on its third life
By ALEXANDRA CALDWELL
 
 
[Image]
Photo by ALEXANDRA CALDWELL
Trina Shears sits on the porch of the historical Henry Plant house in Clearwater. Shears saved the house twice, first from demolition and then she restored it after a fire.
CLEARWATER – The little pink house was destined to become a parking lot.

But history-lover Trina Shears decided to save the second-oldest house in Clearwater. Shears of Clearwater, bought the house from the city and spent the next year arranging to move it from 1342 S. Fort Harrison Ave. to 622 Belleview Blvd., Clearwater. In the summer of 2006, the house rode down the street on a flatbed truck to its new home.

But in July 2006, an electrical fire gutted the Victorian house.

“I was just finishing it up, doing the odds and ends and fixing up the foundation,” Shears said. “In fact, I was getting my mortgage that day, and then at 2 o’clock in the morning, ‘Your house burned down.’ ”

The fire started in the center of the house, Shears said, and went straight up. The claw-foot bathtub crashed down from the second floor during the fire, and smoke damaged the 100-year-old wood.

After a long battle with the city, she said, and two years of hard work, the pink house is restored.

Henry Plant, the Clearwater railroad tycoon, built the pink house around 1896, said Mike Sanders, Clearwater historian. It has unique Carpenter Gothic architecture, gingerbread, double hung windows and multiple gables.

Clearwater’s first photographer, Louis Ducro, was the home’s first owner, Sanders said. Ducro was the staff photographer for the Belleview Biltmore Hotel, which Plant also built.

Another notable owner was Rocco Grella, who was one of the original members of the John Philip Sousa marching band, Sanders said. Grella also was a band instructor at Clearwater High School, he said, and held symphony concerts for the town in his back yard.

Sanders said old houses like the Henry Plant house bring a community to life.

“I think it gives you a sense of who you are, and once you lose your history, you lose your identity,” Sanders said. “You have the sameness that most any other city would have, so I think all those pieces of history combine to give us character and identity.”

Shears agrees. Old buildings give people a sense of community, she said, and a sense of responsibility to care for them. So after the fire, she began the painstaking process of restoring the house.

Shears removed pieces of the house to clean them by hand, she said. She polished the metal window hardware, spray painted light fixtures, and scrubbed every surface to get rid of the smoke smell. She stained all the wood to hide the smoke stains and searched the country to replace the ruined wood.

“The flooring was replaced with hard pine that I got from barns in Georgia, like the old stuff, because you can’t get hard pine anymore. You can only re-cover it,” Shears said.

She milled the lumber for the outdoor siding then sand blasted it to bring out the grain and match the old wood.

A claw-footed bathtub replaced the one that fell through the floor. Period furniture accent the rooms. And a fresh coat of pink paint brightens its exterior. It was hard work, Shears said, but it was important to save the pink house.

“I think it gives hope that you can take on a battle; you don’t have to take the easy way out,” Shears said. “People can say, yes, we do have a historical house. People always knew it as the pink house, and after it survived the fire, it had to be pink.”

http://www.clearwatergazette.com/20080807/smith.html   Clearwater Gazette   Thursday, August 7, 2008

Letter sent to residents of Sand Key

I am writing to you on behalf of Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, LLC, the owner of the Cabana Club on Sand Key. Simultaneously with the purchase of the Cabana Club in June, 2007, Legg Mason also purchased the historic Belleview Biltmore Hotel and Golf Club in the Town of Belleair with the goal of restoring the properties to a four-five star resort hotel.

As the Managing Director of the Belleview Biltmore, I have recently become aware that misinformation is being circulated about our proposed new hotel at the Cabana Club site. I would like to provide you with the true facts about this project so that you can make an informed decision.

  1. Use of the Beach: Legg Mason is NOT “taking 25’ of the public beach and using it for the hotel’s use” as some have stated. No portion of this project is being constructed on the public beach. It will be totally contained within our property. This fact can be confirmed by reviewing the site plan drawings and application on file with the City of Clearwater.

    Moreover, public access across the hotel property is required by an existing public access easement that runs next to the seawall for the entire beachfront width of the site. Legg Mason is committed to maintaining this public access across its property for all beach visitors. The guests of the hotel will enjoy the public beach just as other residents of Sand Key enjoy the beach.

     

  2. Building Location: The hotel building, pool, deck and parking area are located completely on the portion of the property which is zoned Commercial. The proposed hotel is located a minimum of 22 feet east of the existing seawall and does not extend any further toward the beach than the adjacent condominiums (Dan’s Island and Cabana Club Condominium). Between the hotel building and the seawall, Legg Mason proposes to install grass, pavers and removable canvas cabanas for shade protection for the hotel guests. There are no permanent habitable structures located west of the Commercial zoning line or on the public beach.
  3. Hotel Use: The property’s existing Commercial zoning allows hotel use along with more intensive commercial businesses such as retail sales, gas stations, nightclubs, liquor stores or even a used car lot. Of these uses, we believe our modest 38- room boutique hotel and restaurant to be the most compatible with the surrounding condominium community.
  4. Height: The proposed hotel is NOT “100 feet tall” or a “10-story high restaurant/ hotel complex.” The proposed boutique hotel is 67 feet high, (6 stories over one story of parking), which is lower than all of the adjoining properties and significantly lower than all Sand Key condominiums and the Sheraton Sand Key Hotel that front on the Gulf of Mexico.
  5. Parking: The hotel site proposes to contain 56 parking spaces which exceeds the City code requirement of 38 spaces as well as exceeds the actual parking demand for a hotel of this size.
  6. Setbacks: The Hotel’s existing restaurant and banquet facility were constructed simultaneously with the Cabana Club Condominium and by the same owner as the Biltmore Hotel as one project. For this reason, there has never been a setback between the Cabana Club Condominium and the existing restaurant. The proposed redevelopment plan maintains the same general restaurant location as exists today thereby minimizing any adverse impact on Cabana Club residents. However, the main hotel portion of the structure is setback 31 feet from the north property line on the east end and 47 feet from the north property line on the west end, substantially exceeding the 10’ setback required by code.

    Elsewhere, along Gulf Boulevard, our plan maintains the existing pavement setback that is consistent with both adjoining developments. Along the Coastal Construction line on the beach side, we propose a similar setback to all of the other developments along the Gulf of Mexico.

     

  7. Dock: In our application, we have deleted all references to use of the existing Biltmore Hotel dock on the east side of Gulf Boulevard so the dock is no longer an issue in the pending application. Due to community input and concerns, we are evaluating other options available to us at this time. Once we have completed our analysis, we will again publicly address this issue.

Our complete application including architectural, civil and landscape plans are on file with the City of Clearwater Planning Department and they clearly show the specifics of the plan as described above. We urge you to confirm the facts about the project with the City staff and by personally reviewing the plans at the City office. We believe that if you will take the time to review our proposed plan, you will find this project to be a welcome addition to the community.

After reviewing this information, should you have any further questions, we would be happy to speak with you. Please contact Cyndi Tarapani, Planning Consultant, Florida Design Consultants, via e-mail ctarapani@fldesign.com or by telephone 727-849-7588.

Thank you for your interest in our project.

- Martin Smith, Managing Director, Belleview Biltmore Resort


http://www.clearwatergazette.com/20080807/katica.html    Clearwater Gazette  Thursday August 7, 2008

Belleair Mayor Gary Katica Revisits Republic of Korea and His Past

By Renee Burrell

 

Instead of waiting to be drafted, Katica quit high school, joined the Air Force, tested well, and received training as a Combat Air Traffic Controller. July 23rd marked the 56th year anniversary of his induction date in 1952

Belleair's Mayor Gary Katica is not reluctant to talk about his Air Force service as an air traffic controller in the Korean War. In fact, the subject comes up often lately. He and his wife of 47 years, Mary, recently returned from a Far East trip to China and to South Korea, where the Republic of Korea honored him and other war veterans for combating the communist North Koreans from 1950-1953.

Each year, since 1975, the South Korean Government offers an expense-free tour to veterans of the 22 United Nation Allies. Yang Kim, Minister of Patriots and Veterans Affairs for the Republic of Korea said in his welcome message to Katica's group, "We ask you to look back at the past that you participated in and see the differences and freedoms that you have given us…Your honor, courage and commitment will never be forgotten."

To show their gratitude, the government throws a massive reception for the visiting veterans. Myung-Bak Lee, the nation's president was the keynote speaker and a special ceremony was held during the event to present Katica and the other vets with medals. Katica tried to explain the enormity of the event. "They held the reception in a huge indoor arena. Eight to ten thousand South Koreans came to honor us. The Minister spoke and thanked us and the crowds roared. When it was over, we got up and exited to their applause. It was unbelievable. The South Koreans were all terrific and treated us like heroes from the time we got off of the plane."

Katica said he never thought of himself as a 'hero'.

Stops of interest during the tour included the village of Panmunjeom, where after two years of peace talks, the armistice was signed in July, 1953. A stop in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the dividing line just north of the 38th parallel where north and south soldiers stand guarding each side was intense. Said Katica, "That was the most hostile environment I've ever been in. Everybody's on pins and needles. We were warned not to make any gestures or point. A week after we left, a South Korean girl was killed trying to get across to visit her family."

Katica noted that, from his 6'5" height, the South Korean guards at the DMZ were surprisingly tall too, unlike their enemies who were short but whose uniforms include tall hats.

The tour also included sites around Seoul. "It's amazing what the South Koreans have done. Seoul was leveled. The whole country was torn apart. I was astounded at what a metropolis it's become. The sacrifice was almost worth it."

As a Combat Air Traffic Controller 18 miles south of the 38th parallel in Chin Chon (K46) and later in winter at Osan (K55), Katica guided hundreds of pilots to safety but sadly remembers the dozen that he couldn't help. "I heard their last words."

Katica's favorite assignment was being stationed in Tampa at MacDill Strategic Air Command under General Curtis LeMay. He was also able to spend time with his favorite uncle who lived in the city.

A letter of commendation came from then Clearwater Police Chief, George T. McClamma, and resulted in a promotion to sergeant for Katica, then 21, after performing an act of heroism off base on Clearwater Beach.

On May 29, 1955 he heard cries for help from two people in the water. According to an article from his Elmhurst Long Island hometown newspaper: "He dived in and rescued Mr. and Mrs. Warren Hudson of Lakeland, who had waded too far from shore while fishing and had been swept into deep water by a strong current. Neither of the Hudsons could swim, and Katica had to give Mrs. Hutton artificial respiration for 10 minutes before she regained consciousness."

On the brave rescue, Katica says a different Belleair Mayor tops that. In one of the most striking "It's such a small world" stories, Katica relayed how he was invited to attend the Federal Aviation Association Academy of in Oklahoma City and graduated as an Airways Operations Specialist assigned to the New York Center of Air Traffic Control. "We had all been briefed that TWA's Super G Constellation, under certain conditions, could develop ice in the fuel system. And to just, 'be aware'."

Katica was assigned a swing shift in Ocean one night in February 1957. "At around 9 p.m. I got a May Day. . . The pilot said he had engine failure--of all four engines! I immediately jumped to my sector and saw he was up 22 thousand feet, 200 miles east of Boston. . .A couple of heart thumping minutes passed and then the pilot said number 3 started, then number 2, then number 1."

Katica said he asked the pilot his intentions. The pilot said he'd see what his crew wanted to do and came back saying they decided to continue on to their Paris destination. "I had always considered that pilot the bravest man in the world," stated Katica.

Years passed after the incident. College at CW Post Long Island University and a basketball scholarship. His wedding to Mary in 1961. Two kids, Harry and Irene. Seventeen years in real estate on Long Island at Port Jefferson, where he was elected Police Commissioner. A job with Cadillac. Vacations at their summer home in Clearwater and finally after a family vote, the decision to move to Florida permanently. A job with Dimmit Cadillac in Clearwater. And in 1984 settling into a house in Belleair, serving in the civic association and the zoning board and meeting the bravest man he ever knew; the TWA pilot from the 1957 May Day alert, former Belleair Mayor, Jack Donlan.

Katica said he asked Jack what he did. Jack said he was a pilot for TWA and Katica launched into his harrowing experience with a Super G Constellation back in '57. Katica said he was stunned when Donlan said he was that pilot. "We have relived it! Talk about a one in a million chance."


http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/sptimes/access/1526413541.html?dids=1526413541:1526413541&FMT=FT&FMTS=ABS:FT&date=Aug+6%2C+2008&author=Anonymous&pub=St.+Petersburg+Times&edition=&startpage=2&desc=MENTALLY+ILL+NEED+MORE+ATTENTION

Re: Hotel delay rests on 3 litigious men- July 23, letter   Wednesday, July 23, 2008  St. Petersburg Times

Foes shouldn't doom landmark

My hope is that the residents of Belleair and everyone else who appreciates the history behind the Belleview Biltmore Hotel will stand together once again to restore it to its original glory.

What a shame it would be to lose this historic landmark because of three rotten apples. These people are showing us all that they have more dollars than sense.

Joann Friel, Belleair


http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/sptimes/access/1528563771.html?dids=1528563771:1528563771&FMT=FT&FMTS=ABS:FT&date=Aug+10%2C+2008&author=Anonymous&pub=St.+Petersburg+Times&edition=&startpage=2&desc=ANIMALS+DESERVE+EMERGENCY+WORK

Let work begin on the Biltmore

I have absolutely no objections to the zoning variances necessary to complete the redevelopment of the Belleview Biltmore hotel and the restaurant at the Cabana Club. I believe it will be an economic boost for the area.

It is amazing to me that tax dollars are spent to evaluate what the area needs and when the evaluation comes back and says the area needs more hotel rooms to add to the tax base, some people are narrow minded enough to oppose what the area needs most.

Please allow the building to begin!

Byron Dougherty, Indian Rocks Beach


http://www.tampabay.com/opinion/letters/article733868.ece   St. Petersburg Times  Wednesday July 23, 2008.

Three litigious men stand behind hotel delay


Hotel delay rests on 3 litigious men

A nuisance lawsuit by three men of Belleair has changed everything for the long-awaited renovation of the 111-year-old Belleview Biltmore hotel and for those of us who live in the community around the hotel.

When the hotel closes down in May of next year, instead of beginning the renovation process as planned, the owners will have no choice but to board up the old structure and wait until this lawsuit against the town laboriously wends its way through the court system.

The lawsuit was brought by three men: Fred Thomas, who became wealthy from his chain of pool supply stores called Pinch-A-Penny; Scott Spencer of Spencer International Investments (an investment firm started by his father, James Spencer); and Bob Swinehart.

When the hotel is closed down, the other 559 households of the homeowners association will face yet another hurricane season with the hotel, the largest wooden structure in North America, in disrepair and the possibility of a flying lumber yard in the event of high winds or a major hurricane. Besides the safety issues, residents will face declining property values in the shadow of the boarded-up old hotel with ugly blue tarps on the roof and exposed to the ravages of nature like weather, rats and roaches.

One only needs to look up the history of the Vinoy in downtown St. Petersburg to see what happens to boarded-up buildings. It sat for 11 years before it was finally rescued and restored.

And the town of Belleair will have to raise tax rates because of the lawsuit costs and decreased contributions to local taxes. (Not much can be collected from a boarded-up old hotel and declining assessments of the property around it.) And delayed for a very long time will be the town's ability to help preserve the historical heritage of a hotel which existed way before the town.

Mr. Thomas and Mr. Spencer make part of their very good living off the residents of Belleair. Yet they are hurting those very residents. What to do? If you are one of those clients or customers, ask them to drop their lawsuit. Appeal to them to think of the welfare of the community. If this doesn't work, maybe you should vote with your dollars, and take your business elsewhere.

If you are one of the homeowners in the Belleview Biltmore Homeowners Association, appeal to Tom duPont, the president of the association, to require that these three men step down from the board.

What a shame that three litigious men can so negatively affect a whole community. But Mr. Thomas is no stranger to the newspapers. Look through the online archives of the St. Petersburg Times regarding Mr. Thomas and his history.

I would like to think that maybe there is still hope, that maybe these men can listen to reason — if not for themselves, then for their own children and the next generation that will inherit the community.

Sandy Hutton, Belleair

-----------

http://www.tampabay.com/opinion/letters/article735601.ece

Re: Hotel delay rests on three litigious men | letter, July 23

If litigators win, community loses

I fully agree with Sandy Hutton's letter. I have lived for 20 years just outside the gates of the Belleview Biltmore hotel, and in the town of Belleair close to 30 years. The town and the community truly came together to support saving the hotel, and I am terribly disappointed in the short-term thinking of these three gentlemen.

Citizens of the town need to understand that delaying this project will negatively impact the quality of life for Belleair residents and will drive down property values.

I question whether these three gentlemen really have the best interests of the community in mind or whether this is simply about their own personal interests. They seem to have failed to consider the consequences of their actions. Those who do business with these gentlemen must question this serious lack of judgment.

I also believe that if this project falls through, we know where to place the blame. We will need to speak with our pocketbooks and stop doing business with them.

If the buyer does not go forward with the restoration, leaving the hotel to further deteriorate, shame on us for not holding these men accountable now.

Long-term residents are fully aware of how one of these gentlemen has attempted to stop or impede progress in other local communities.

If they win, we lose.

If we win, as history has shown, one of these gentlemen will probably move on to another community and stir things up there.

Cathy Craig-Myers, Belleair

 


http://www.tampabay.com/opinion/letters/article657178.ece   St. Petersburg Times, Thursday July 3, 2008

Get involved, save Pinellas' history

The historic 1897 Victorian-style Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa was saved from demolition because of widespread Tampa Bay community support both inside and outside of Belleair, Belleair commissioner support and G. Michael Harris finding buyer Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, which will return the "White Queen of the Gulf" to its original splendor.

Unfortunately, three historic Pinellas County properties have been demolished over the past two years, another will be partially demolished and one other building's fate is in question. History once demolished can never be recreated.

In February 2008 Pinellas County established a countywide historic preservation program and declared historic preservation as public policy. Pinellas County can slow demolition of historic buildings once a historic preservation ordinance is passed. However, people need to be aware that this depends upon the acceptance of the Pinellas preservation ordinance by each individual city, in a timely manner.

Citizens need to contact their representatives to ensure their cities agree to historic preservation. Otherwise, more of Pinellas County's history will fall under the wrecking ball of development.

If one of your valuable historic structures is under threat of demolition in your city, contact local preservation societies, speak out at city commission meetings, and if necessary, start a grass roots effort and organize a nonprofit organization with a Web site to try to save a building from demolition.

We encourage Tampa Bay residents to further participate in saving our valuable history.

Diane Hein, president, Save the Biltmore Preservationists, (www.SaveTheBiltmore.com), Clearwater


http://www.tbnweekly.com/pubs/belleair_bee/content_articles/070208_bee-05.txt  Belleair Bee  Thursday Wed. July 2, 2008

Cabana Club to be discussed on Tuesday July 8

BELLEAIR – Legg Mason Real Estate Investors will host a presentation of its plans for the Cabana Club at the Belleview Biltmore Tuesday, July 8, at 6 p.m.

The Cabana Club, located on Sand Key, is part of LMREI’s restoration plan for the Biltmore properties. The site plan, which has been submitted to the city of Clearwater’s Community Development Board, calls for a 38-room Victorian-style hotel and restaurant, with van and boat service to and from the Belleview Biltmore Hotel. An airport shuttle also is planned.

LMREI intends for the Cabana Club, like the Biltmore, to be a LEED certified “green building.”

Refreshments will be served at the presentation. The Belleview Biltmore is at 25 Belleview Blvd.

Call 539-7790.


http://tbnweekly.com/content_articles/062508_bee-01.txt   Belleair Bee Thursday June 26, 2008

Residents challenge Biltmore decisions

[Image]
Rendering courtesy of LEGG MASON
Three Belleair residents are challenging approval of the Belleview Biltmore site plan and all seven variances, including placement of the spa outside of the hotel, as depicted at the west end of the property.
BELLEAIR – Three Belleair residents who live close to the Belleview Biltmore Resort are appealing the Town Commission’s approval of the site plan for the hotel renovation and seven variances granted.

A Petition for Writ of Certiorari, which seeks court review of the commission decision, was filed with the Appellate Division of the Sixth Judicial Circuit Court June 19 on behalf of Scott Spencer, Robert Swinehart and Fred Thomas.

The legal action alleges that the commission failed to adhere to procedural due process at the May 20 quasi-judicial hearing by limiting the petitioners’ testimony to 17 minutes, while allowing Legg Mason representatives more than one hour to present their case.

The suit also claims there was not competent substantial evidence to support granting the variance allowing the proposed new spa to be located outside of the hotel and approval of a 7-foot increase to the spa height, which exceeds that allowed by town code.

Spencer, Swinehart and Thomas all live within 75 feet of the Biltmore. They are represented by attorney Alan Zimmet. Reached at his office June 23, Zimmet said an appellate judge will review the petition and if it is deemed sufficient, an order to show cause would be issued to attorneys. If ultimately headed to court arguments, the case could take nine months to one year to resolve, Zimmet estimated.

Also reached at his office Monday, Belleair Town Attorney David Ottinger agreed that due to court dockets and priorities, resolution “could take a long time.”

Zimmet said his clients are additionally concerned about insufficient parking in the site plan and worry that guests’ cars will clog the surrounding residential roadways.

Regarding the alleged failure to afford due process, the petition claims the commission’s May 20 quasi-judicial hearing “was tainted by the Mayor’s clear favoritism for the applicant” and was “wrought with unequal treatment.”

“The law provides for this sort of review,” said Ottinger. “Everyone has the right to seek review if they feel a decision was not made properly.”

Joe Penner, managing director of Legg Mason, said the appeal has not dimmed the hopes of the restoration team.

“After making great strides and having such tremendous community support, we are obviously perplexed and disappointed with the appeal,” said Penner in a press release. “We continue to be optimistic and excited about restoration of the Biltmore. With great optimism, we look forward to the commission’s approval of our site plan being affirmed by the court.”

The petition does not challenge the variances granted for the golf course facilities on Indian Rocks Road.

http://blogs.tampabay.com/baybuzz/2008/06/thomas-opposes.html  St. Petersburg Times Friday, June 20, 2008

Thomas opposes another project

Once again Fred Thomas, the Pinch-a-Penny founder and former Clearwater city commissioner, is opposing a big-time development project.

This time it’s the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa's $100-million rehab, which the Belleair Town Commission approved May 20. Alan Zimmet, a Clearwater lawyer who is also the Largo city attorney, filed an appeal this week in Pinellas Circuit Court to overturn the decision.

In his 34-page petition, Zimmet said commissioners violated town code when it signed off on the developer’s plans to build a spa taller than code allows just west of the hotel. He also says the code requires that the spa is built in the hotel, not separate from it.

Thomas' main beef (there are plenty more cited in the petition): noise and traffic (Thomas lives nearby).

Thomas several years ago successfully thwarted one of Clearwater’s massive revitalization plans along the downtown waterfront.

-- Mike Donila, Times Staff Writer

 

Gosh, given his concerns about noise and traffic...maybe he could help with the dumb idea of a waterfront ballpark in downtown St. Pete.
Posted by: gwo | June 20, 2008 at 10:19 AM

What a joke. Thomas has regularly thwarted building codes: his home on Clearwater Beach, he made it taller than code and dared the city to make him change it. He bullied and blackmailed Largo into allowing his business to have dangerous chemicals near their planned towncenter development. Now he's using Largo's attorney on this legal action?That sounds pretty fishy. Come on Times - get busy and investigate. Unless Thomas has you in his pocket, too
Posted by: k_jengurl | June 20, 2008 at 10:33 AM

Maybe all the citzens can throw in and pay to move him to his own island, that way we can all enjoy some improvements. Wasn't he the one who allegedly lead the fight against the revitalization of downtown Clearwater? If it is so bad here move already.
Posted by: bob | June 20, 2008 at 11:38 AM

Fred Thomas is insane, and that's an understatement. Nobody, and I mean nobody likes this buffoon.
Posted by: sara | June 21, 2008 at 10:24 PM

Hotel Online Special Report    June 25, 2008

Nobody Asked Me, But… No. 41

Hotel Developers Take Note

By Stanley Turkel, MHS, ISHC
June 2008
1. A Landmark Hotel is Saved - The final Belleview Biltmore renovation plans proposed by the new owner, Legg Mason were unanimously approved (with some minor changes) by Bellaire town officials on May 20, 2008. The project will include replacing the Japanese pagoda-like entrance to more of its original Victorian look; a new East wing separate hotel will be three stories instead of four but extended by 30 feet wide; more meeting, convention and ballroom space; a new poolside café, a new spa and a new underground parking garage. Congratulations to Diane Hein and all the "Save-the-Biltmore" preservationists.



Rendering of Restored Belleview Biltmore Resort
25 Belleview Boulevard, Clearwater, Florida 33756
http://www.belleviewbiltmore.com/restoration

2. Hotel Developers Take Note - There is a section of a major United States city which has more than 1.5 million residents. According to the AAA 2008 tour book, there is only one hotel that is recommended. I'm talking about the borough of the Bronx in New York City (my hometown). It happens to be the borough of universities and parks. It is the home of Yankee Stadium, Fordham University, Manhattan College, the Bronx Zoo and the Bronx Botanical Gardens. The Bronx is home to three of New York City's most elite private schools: Fieldston, Horace Mann and Riverdale Country; as well the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, a division of Yeshiva University. The lone hotel in the AAA guide is a clean and well appointed 45-room Howard Johnson Motor Lodge. By itself, the Bronx would be the fifth largest city in the United States.

Stanley Turkel, MHS, ISHC operates his hotel consulting office as a sole practitioner specializing in franchising issues, asset management and litigation support services.  Turkel's clients are hotel owners and franchisees, investors and lending institutions.  Turkel serves on the Board of Advisors and lectures at the NYU Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management.  He is a member of the prestigious International Society of Hospitality Consultants.  His provocative articles on various hotels subjects have been published in the Cornell Quarterly, Lodging Hospitality, Hotel Interactive, Hotel Online, AAHOA Lodging Business, etc.


http://www.tbnweekly.com/content_articles/061808_bee-02.txt   Thursday, June 18, 2008

Make no mistake; the Biltmore is in Belleair

BELLEAIR – Five minutes into Tuesday night’s Town Commission meeting, Legg Mason Real Estate Investors officials had their answer.

The final impediment to their planned $100 million restoration of the historic Belleview Biltmore Resort had been removed. The variances which they insisted were necessary to make the restoration a viable economic undertaking were granted.

There were a handful of concessions made on both sides. The Biltmore owners will pay Belleair $15,000 to be used to construct a sidewalk along the north side of the Biltmore Golf Club on Poinsettia Road to the Pinellas Trail – an area long considered unsafe for pedestrians.

Legg Mason also agreed to limit hours of use for the new spa to between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

But it didn’t end there. In what has become almost a hallmark of any discussion regarding the Biltmore over the past few months there is always one more “but” and Tuesday evening was no exception.

Commissioner Stephanie Oddo, even as she prepared to state the motion to approve, holding a copy of the blueprints aloft, said smiling, “Just one thing. I noticed it says on these plans that the Belleview Biltmore is in Clearwater, here in the address. It’s not, it’s definitely in Belleair, legally I mean, it’s in the town of Belleair.”

Lead architect for the restoration project Richard Heisenbottle replied, as he dialed his cell phone, “You’re absolutely right and rest assured before you can pass this resolution somebody in my office will be correcting that.”

The variances were approved 4-0. Commissioner Stephen Fowler was absent.

Cabana Club plans submitted

In a related move, the Clearwater Development Review Committee will consider a plan first submitted May 1 by LMREI, then revised and resubmitted June 11 for the refurbishment of the Cabana Club on Sand Key.

Originally built in the 1970s, the Cabana Club was purchased by LMREI as part of that group’s development plans to coincide with the restoration of the Belleview Biltmore property.

Now known as the Belleview Biltmore Cabana Club, plans call for a 38-room Victorian-style boutique hotel with ground level parking, new restaurant and extensive landscaping.

The beachfront Cabana Club facility, which includes a restaurant and pool, has been available to guests of the Biltmore since 2002. Future plans call for transportation to and from the Cabana Club site by both van and boat launch from the main hotel. Additionally, an airport shuttle will be provided to transport guests directly to the hotel.


Editorial                Belleair Bee    Article published on Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Wisdom of compromise

While it is true that you cannot make all of the people happy all of the time, in the case of the Belleview Biltmore, a willingness to give a little made it possible to please most of them.

The latest chapter in the storied history of the White Queen of the Gulf could be entitled “Success through compromise.”

Initially, it wasn’t entirely evident at the marathon 7 1/2-hour May 20 Town Commission meeting that 3 a.m. would usher in a compromise over which nearly everyone could get a good night’s sleep.

As the quasi-judicial session proceeded, with the Town Commissioners acting as judges as lawyers cross-examined witnesses, there was a contentious air in the room. That’s nothing new in Belleair, where residents make no bones about what they think is best for their beautiful town.

A few years ago, they enthusiastically read the riot act to a potential Biltmore ownership group that came to town armed with a nifty little plan to give Belleair a Disney Celebration-esque appearance. That developer ultimately departed with its tail between its legs, having learned that the town folk of Belleair can rally into a formidable army of one.

It’s also true that this time around not everyone embraced exactly what the new Biltmore ownership, Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, was proposing in renovating its unique, but tarnished jewel to 4- or 5-star status.

Neighboring Belleair Country Club members were concerned that the height of the Biltmore’s new East Annex would spoil their view, so Legg Mason agreed to come down to 50 feet. Legg Mason obliged a citizen whose home is situated very close to the new spa, by agreeing to eliminate some parking spaces, thus giving the affected homeowner a bit more breathing room.

The entrance to the spa’s underground parking had been relocated earlier to solve neighboring condo concerns. Spa hours were reduced. And, Legg Mason stepped up to the plate by agreeing to give the town $15,000 for construction of a long-needed sidewalk along Poinsettia Drive next to its golf club. The sidewalk will be linked to the Pinellas Trail.

The sentimental value of the historic Belleview Biltmore Resort notwithstanding, the property contributes many thousands of tax dollars every year. Town Clerk Donna Carlen notes that it comes in handy, in light of Amendment One revenue lost.

Legg Mason is even going to put in new toilets that use less water en route to obtaining environmentally-friendly LEED certification – glamour and green will coexist in one fabulous package.

Legg Mason has demonstrated a patient willingness to address community concerns with its plan for the future look of the Belleview Biltmore. Belleair, in return, has put out the welcome mat.

It’s now up to Legg Mason to prove that it’s worthy of the town’s warm embrace.


Biltmore variance approvals at the ready     Belleair Bee   Wednesday, June 4, 2008

http://www.tbnweekly.com/pubs/belleair_bee/content_articles/060408_bee-03.txt

 

BELLEAIR – The Town Commission Tuesday evening moved back its schedule for the vote expected to approve two variances to the city’s code requested by the owners of the Belleview Biltmore Resort.

Legg Mason Real Estate Investors LLC and the town had hammered out a compromise to the variances, which the owners said they needed in order to make the restoration of the hotel economically viable.

The requested variances would, among other things, allow the owners to exceed the town’s current height limit for new construction and add a spa to the project that would be outside the traditional boundaries of the historic property.

Opponents, claiming that financial gain was not a legal ground for granting such variances to city building code, had sought to limit the project to just restoration and preservation and not allow for expansion.

Reached at his office Wednesday morning, Town Attorney David Ottinger said, “The vote, which was simply to memorialize the agreement reached between the parties during the public hearings, was put back in order to have enough time to ensure that the ordinances language accurately reflected the details of the agreement.”


http://www.tbnweekly.com/content_articles/052108_bee-01.txt   Wednesday Belleair Bee May 21, 2008

Biltmore will continue to make history

Compromise results in unanimous variance approvals
 
By HARLAN WEIKLE and CHARY SOUTHMAYD
 
Article published on Wednesday, May 21, 2008
[Image]
Photo by HARLAN WEIKLE
Presiding over the marathon Town Commission meeting regarding the Belleview Biltmore are, from left, Town Manager Micah Maxwell, Mayor Gary Katica and Town Attorney David Ottinger.
BELLEAIR – It took nearly eight hours, stretching into the wee hours of the morning.

When the dust finally settled on a town commission meeting that began at 7:30 Tuesday evening, the town of Belleair and the owners of the Belleview Biltmore had a deal based on the time-honored principle that good fences make good neighbors; not physical fences made of wood or stone, but rather fences built of proportion, proximity and perception.

The centerpiece of Belleair’s face to the world is the historic, Victorian-styled Belleview Biltmore Resort. Constructed more than a century ago by millionaire hotelier Henry Plant and now the last fading memory of a lost, simpler time, the venerable “White Queen of the Gulf” needs an extensive makeover.

Legg Mason Real Estate Investors is a believer in the hotel’s potential – to the tune of $100 million. All LMREI had to do Tuesday was convince members of the Town Commission to tweak their code of ordinances here and there.

LMREI told the commission that it needed a variance to the building height limits of 32 feet in order to raise the roof of the proposed new East Annex to be built where the staff quarters once stood. Those quarters built in 1914, according to former Mayor Connie Mudano, were razed in 1992. The new East Wing would soar 60 feet, by lead architect Richard Heisenbottle’s studied design, and seemed to members of the adjacent Belleair Country Club more like an obstruction on the skyline than a pleasant adjunct to the historical architecture. Here, compromise was needed.

In addition, the new owners said they needed accessory accouterments off the main property, a spa in the residential section across the road from the historic hotel nestled beneath eight-story condos and alongside a 1930s single family home; and a new poolside café.

“Because where else would a poolside café be,” Heisenbottle quipped, “other than by the pool.”

To be a true contender for 5-star status, the developers said they needed to decrease the overall number and individual size of parking spaces from the mandated 2,075 spaces each measuring 9-feet by 20-feet to less than 650 spaces measuring 9-feet by 18-feet and increase the greenery by planting into the rights of way surrounding the Belleview Biltmore Golf Club at Poinsettia Road and Indian Rocks Road.

When all was said and done, seven variance requests were granted unanimously with some measure of compromise on all sides. The East Wing height reduces to 50 feet and lengthens 30 feet; in the process losing some 23 rooms.

The spa and poolside café plans were approved but with hours of operation for the spa limited to 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

The town maintains full easements along Poinsettia Road bordering the golf club and, at the suggestion of Commissioner Karla Rettstatt, retains control over the construction of a sidewalk linking that section east to the Pinellas Trail. Legg Mason agreed to grant the town $15,000 cash, which will enable the town to build the extension during reconstruction work at the golf club.

At 2 a.m. Wednesday, the general consensus seemed to include another proposition that good neighbors can be found wherever fence mending and compromise prevail.

“We are delighted with the outcome and we are pleased that the commission has come together to restore the grand old Biltmore,” Heisenbottle said. “We have a full year ahead and a lot to accomplish to get the construction documents done. We are confident this will ultimately be a four or five star resort.”

Heisenbottle said there have been preliminary discussions with major hotel operators who have a proven track record with historic hotels. He chose not to elaborate, for now.

A sleepy, but pleased Mayor Gary Katica reflected Wednesday morning on the successful outcome of the marathon session.

“This was a defining moment for the town of Belleair,” Katica told the Belleair Bee. “I was proud of how the commission handled itself. We wanted compromise on some things and I have to hand it to Legg Mason, they were very sensitive to the needs of the people. There was tremendous interest in this among the residents of Belleair – everyone was trying to save their grandparent.” 

The Biltmore is scheduled to close for the extensive renovation in May of next year.


http://www.tampabay.com/opinion/columns/article523352.ece

Biltmore battle may not be over

By Diane Steinle and Editor of Editorials, North Pinellas
In print: Sunday, May 25, 2008

When the 111-year-old Belleview Biltmore Hotel was being modified by a clueless Japanese owner, when its roof tiles were blowing off, when the paint was peeling and window screens falling out of the battered window frames, when there was a proposal to tear it down, people who love this piece of Pinellas history were desperate for a savior to arrive.

You wouldn't have sensed either desperation or gratitude if you had been in the room Tuesday when the Belleair Town Commission conducted a hearing on the site plan and variance requests of Legg Mason Real Estate Investors Inc., the company that purchased the hotel last year and wants to restore it.

Instead, you would have seen a procession of well-suited lawyers and experts pick the plans apart on behalf of clients who oppose the plans or some portion of them. You would have seen a defensive development team trying to hold on to its temper. And you would have heard an audience that grumbled and booed and exhibited a foul mood all evening.

The headline on a St. Petersburg Times story about the meeting aptly described it as A Biltmore battle royal.

There are several reasons why the vibe in the room was less than celebratory.

First, the Legg Mason plan is extremely complex, and complicated development plans have a way of making people both grumpy and suspicious.

Second, Legg Mason doesn't just want to restore the existing hotel, though that would be complicated enough because the hotel is one of the largest wood structures in the world and on the National Register of Historic Places. Legg Mason also plans a lot of new construction to transform the property into a four- or five-star resort that will attract lots more tourists. That's bound to stir emotions, especially in a town with a population of less than 5,000.

Legg Mason aims to restore the existing hotel; add on a new ballroom, lobby and kitchen facilities; build a hotel annex east of the main hotel; build a new day spa; put all parking under ground; build a poolside cafe and wedding gazebo; renovate and add to the hotel's golf club; build a new entrance road and bridge; and add lush landscaping and walking trails.

Some opponents think that's just too much. They would prefer to just have the old hotel restored. Legg Mason argues that the hotel property must meet the standards of today's discriminating resort guests to survive.

To accomplish all this, Legg Mason asked Belleair for seven variances from town code requirements. Some, such as reducing the length of parking spaces by 2 feet or making a couple of buildings a few feet taller than codes allow, raised little concern.

But two of the variance requests drew well-funded opponents. Legg Mason's request to make the new hotel annex 60 feet tall rather than the allowed 32 feet irritated the neighboring Belleair Country Club, which would have its view disrupted by the tall structure. The club hired local land use attorney Ed Armstrong to argue against the variance.

Legg Mason also wanted a huge variance from the code requirements for parking. Belleair's code calls for 2,075 spaces. The developer wanted to provide only 635, claiming Belleair's code is out of whack for resorts. Fred Thomas, a wealthy businessman who lives in a condo alongside the old hotel, predicted major parking problems and hired local attorney Alan Zimmet to fight the variance.

Armstrong and Zimmet methodically questioned and cross examined Legg Mason officials, their architect and their parking consultant, arguing that Legg Mason had not met the standards for the variances. The questions were pointed, and soon the audience was booing the lawyers and even shouting out, "This isn't a courtroom!"

That brings us to the third likely reason for the negative tone Tuesday night: Many in the audience didn't seem to understand that the proceeding was a quasi-judicial hearing, and state and local law require that such hearings be conducted according to strict rules of evidence and procedure, much like in a courtroom. Deviation from those rules can result in decisions being overturned.

It might have helped reduce the audience crankiness factor if the mayor or city attorney had taken time at the beginning of the meeting to educate the audience about quasi-judicial hearings, but at times both the mayor and attorney seemed uncertain of the proper procedures themselves — a common problem in small towns that don't often deal with such complicated projects.

As the evening wore on, frustration mixed with exhaustion, people snapped at each other, the bottled water ran out, and the metal folding chairs got harder. Finally, the Belleair Country Club compromised with Legg Mason: The hotel annex will be 50 feet tall, not 60. With the clock clicking past 2:30 a.m., the Town Commission approved all the variance requests, including the one for parking, but the victors were too exhausted to do anything other than stagger home.

That's okay. The celebration is best left for later anyway. The economy is struggling, the credit markets are tough, gas prices are high, tourism is flagging, and someone could still appeal the commission's variance decisions. Legg Mason may be the savior we were waiting for, but we shouldn't breathe easy until the construction is under way.

Diane Steinle's e-mail address is dsteinle@sptimes.com.


Long night settles Biltmore's future  St. Petersburg Times Thursday, May 22, 2008

It took seven hours of bickering, but at 3 a.m. Wednesday the Belleair Town Commission unanimously approved the $100 million expansion of the history Belleview Biltmore Resort and Spa.

What they approved:  The resort's new owner got virtually everything it sought except a 60 foot height on one new building.  Less Mason Real Estate Investors, which bought the hotel in June for $30.30 million had sought to build the annex and a spa taller than the town's code allows.

The project will replace the pagoda entrance with something more in keeping with the rest of the resort.  It will create more ballroom, banquet, meeting sand convention space.

The Victorian style 820,000 square foot main hotel will have 260 rooms.  A seven hour meeting:  More than 170 people packing the the meeting.  Insults were hurled, some in whispers, others in jeers and boos.

QUOTEABLE:    "You can compare this to an antique Victorian teapot that's missing its handle and spout.  You can take this beautiful teapot and polish it up and add back the handle and the spout and make it wonderful. Or you can throw it in the garbage and buy one from China."  Martin Smith, hotel manager


http://www.tampabay.com/news/localgovernment/article518472.ece  St. Petersburg Times Thursday, May 22, 2008 

Belleair officials okay Biltmore upgrades in often-heated, seven-hour meeting

By Mike Donilia

 

  

BELLEAIR — Beautiful hotel. Ugly meeting.

The testimony was often heated, sometimes accusatory and went on for seven hours.

But at 3 a.m. Wednesday, the Belleair Town Commission unanimously approved an ambitious expansion of the historic Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa.

The resort's new owner got virtually everything it sought except a 60-foot height on one new building. Instead, the height of that 153-room annex will be limited to 50 feet.

Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, which bought the hotel last June for $30.3-million, had sought to build the annex and a spa taller than the town's code allows. It also wanted fewer parking spaces than the code requires.

In return, Legg Mason promised to restore the rundown, leaky hotel to its majestic status as the "White Queen of the Gulf."

The $100-million project will replace the current pagoda entrance with something more in keeping architecturally with the rest of the resort. It also will create more ballroom, banquet, meeting and convention space.

When finished, the Victorian-style, 820,000-square-foot main hotel will have 260 rooms. The campus will include a two-floor underground parking garage. Landscaping and walking trails will replace the existing parking lots.

As planned, the resort will close for renovations next May and reopen in January 2012.

The resort needs the makeover "for its future sustainability and health," said Joseph Penner, managing director Legg Mason.

But early Wednesday morning, no one left Town Hall unscathed.

• • •

With more than 170 people packing the meeting, insults were hurled left and right, some in whispers, others in jeers and boisterous boos.

Commissioners' political careers were threatened, journalists were accused of spinning the facts and one woman loudly made sure town leaders knew it was 2:30 a.m.

Two leading opponents of Legg Mason's plans were the Belleair Country Club and Fred Thomas, the Pinch-a-Penny founder and former Clearwater city commissioner.

Both hired well-connected attorneys — Ed Armstrong for the country club and Alan Zimmet for Thomas.

The country club argued that a 60-foot-tall annex would "diminish the value of the club's property and the enjoyment of the members," said James McArthur, president of the club's board.

Zimmet contended for Thomas, who lives in a condo across the street from the planned spa, that having fewer parking spaces at the resort would force spa visitors to park on neighborhood streets.

Armstrong and Zimmet spent hours rebutting witnesses' testimony and challenging their credibility.

They hammered away at the idea that the commission could not legally approve a variance from code requirements "based on the financial gain" of the hotel's operation.

And the main reason Legg Mason needed these variances was to make money, they contended.

Legg Mason representatives acknowledged that a competitive resort must have a spa, an annex and more lush landscaping. They said they needed the extra height so that new buildings matched the main hotel. And they needed fewer parking spaces so they would have more room for the greenery.

"You can compare this to an antique Victorian teapot that's missing its handle and spout," said hotel manager Martin Smith.

"You can take this beautiful teapot and polish it up and add back the handle and the spout and make it wonderful," he said. "Or you can throw it in the garbage and buy one from China."

Delivered in his colonial British accent, Smith's witty remarks drew applause.

But resort supporters booed Armstrong's attacks on the Biltmore's plan.

At one point, Armstrong successfully cited an obscure provision of the town code to get commissioners to disregard all of Legg Mason's expert testimony.

Especially sharp was his questioning of the resort's top architect, Richard Heisenbottle of Coral Gables. Here's a paraphrase of one of their exchanges:

Armstrong: Do you agree that the financial gain or loss can't be a justification for granting a variance to the code?

Heisenbottle: I can't make a legal opinion.

Armstrong (handing over a page from the town's code): Then just read it.

Zimmet likewise took a few shots at the architect, questioning why he didn't know that similar resorts — with fewer parking spaces — were having parking problems.

"This was not meant to be an exhaustive study," Heisenbottle said. "The rest of the world gets away with 300 and 400 spaces and we're going a step further."

"There may (still) be parking problems," Zimmet said.

Heisenbottle got in a few zingers of his own, getting the opponents' experts to admit they spent nowhere near the time Legg Mason did studying the property, the landscape and just where amenities should be placed.

And supporters of the resort complained that opponents had their own agendas.

Thomas, they said, was throwing his money around to thwart another revitalization effort.

The country club, they accused, feared that the resort's own 18-hole golf course could put it out of business. (Not true, said McArthur, the club board's president.)

• • •

As the clock ticked into early Wednesday, the once-packed audience dwindled and the sides compromised.

Somewhat.

McArthur agreed to the hotel's proposal to build a 50-foot-tall hotel annex rather than a 60-foot-tall one.

Commissioner Stephen Fowler said the developer needed the extra space and height. Losing the green space, and possibly one of the cottages on the property, "would be criminal," he said.

After the meeting, Zimmet said Thomas "didn't get what he wanted" on parking. He didn't know yet whether Thomas, who declined comment, would challenge the commission's decision.

By the time it was over, the 30 or so residents left were mostly happy and tired supporters.

>>At a glance

What the commission approved

The Belleair Town Commission early Wednesday signed off on six of seven variances requested by Legg Mason Real Estate Investors and compromised on the seventh. Commissioners agreed to:

• A 50-foot-tall hotel annex. The developer asked for 60 feet. The code allows 32. (This means the developer now gets 153 rooms in the annex instead of 176.)

• A spa 39.08 feet tall.

• A poolside cafe 40.33 feet tall.

• Not require the spa and cafe to be attached to the Biltmore. The town has a rule that any "accessory" has to be in the main hotel.

• Reduce the required length of parking spaces from 20 to 18 feet

• Reduce the parking normally required for such a project from 2,075 to 635 spaces. (The hotel can also use 238 spaces from its golf course and another 125 from a contract it has with Morton Plant Hospital).

Comments by readers:

   
by Lynn May 22, 2008 10:47 AM
Was present for whole meeting. Country club caused more ill will than necessary with their lawyer, Ed Armstrong, who treated hearing like a court room trial, instead of quasi legal environment it was. Even club members found it offensive!
by Jay May 22, 2008 10:47 AM
Fred Thomas is a jerk ! 1st he had to bully Clearwater into the Harborview Center,then he had a "house" in Largo for his homestead exemption, now he's in Belleair. He has lawyers for everything. Just leave Belleair alone Fred Thomas and go away !!!
by Basher May 23, 2008 3:15 PM
The gay resort is a terrific idea. Lets turn it gay, have a big grand opening (no pun intended) THEN bring in the wrecking ball. Bada bing, two problems solved.
by steve May 23, 2008 3:06 PM
Fred Thomas is a well known A**, anything that he opposes, people should rally around and be for it. He has a proven record of self-bravado and not one inch of care for the city or people.
by Judy Justice May 23, 2008 2:55 PM
Reality check: Let whoever buys it do what they want, within reason. Preservationists are full of it, they like to tell private property owners how to live. If you want to protect it: Buy it. Otherwise butt out. Thank you, have a nice day.
by Murph May 23, 2008 2:55 PM
What happened to the idea of turning it into a gay resort? Since the Suncoast Inn got shut down in St. Pete this area needs a nice gay friendly place. With the beautiful architecture I say go gay resort, you'll never go back!
by Diane May 23, 2008 10:41 AM
We applaud the passing of the renovation plans. Our nonprofit organization Save the Biltmore Preservationists has been involved since 2004 to save all four wings of the hotel. We're happy for this victory! Memberships at http//www.SaveTheBiltmore.com
by Bob the Builder May 23, 2008 10:36 AM
Look, nobody appreciates good construction more than me but I gotta tell you: It's time to drive a wrecking ball through this place. Its not so much old and charming as just old. Tear it down and build a nice new Walmart, thats my suggestion.
by Sharon May 23, 2008 7:59 AM
Resident's don't want anyone to tear it down or fix it up. What is the scoop. Bunch of snobby residents who bought their homes for a couple hundred grand in the 90's and now think that they are rich socialites. Nuevo Riche is what they really are!
by Kara May 22, 2008 11:17 AM
I think it is rather funny. Belleaire wanted to hold on to this rat trap to keep the "riff raff" from invading their upscale town. Now they don't want to put the money out to fix it. Tight but snooty.
by Lynn May 22, 2008 10:47 AM
Was present for whole meeting.Country club caused more ill will than necessary with their lawyer, Ed Armstrong, who treated hearing like a court room trial, instead of quasi legal environment it was. Even club members found it offensive!
by Jay May 22, 2008 10:47 AM
Fred Thomas is a jerk ! 1st he had to bully Clearwater into the Harborview Center,then he had a "house" in Largo for his homestead exemption,now he's in Belleair. He has lawyers for everything. Just leave Belleair alone Fred Thomas and go away !!!

 


http://www.tbnweekly.com/content_articles/052108_bee-01.txt   Wednesday Belleair Bee May 21, 2008

Biltmore will continue to make history

Compromise results in unanimous variance approvals
 
By HARLAN WEIKLE and CHARY SOUTHMAYD
 
Article published on Wednesday, May 21, 2008
[Image]
Photo by HARLAN WEIKLE
Presiding over the marathon Town Commission meeting regarding the Belleview Biltmore are, from left, Town Manager Micah Maxwell, Mayor Gary Katica and Town Attorney David Ottinger.
BELLEAIR – It took nearly eight hours, stretching into the wee hours of the morning.

When the dust finally settled on a town commission meeting that began at 7:30 Tuesday evening, the town of Belleair and the owners of the Belleview Biltmore had a deal based on the time-honored principle that good fences make good neighbors; not physical fences made of wood or stone, but rather fences built of proportion, proximity and perception.

The centerpiece of Belleair’s face to the world is the historic, Victorian-styled Belleview Biltmore Resort. Constructed more than a century ago by millionaire hotelier Henry Plant and now the last fading memory of a lost, simpler time, the venerable “White Queen of the Gulf” needs an extensive makeover.

Legg Mason Real Estate Investors is a believer in the hotel’s potential – to the tune of $100 million. All LMREI had to do Tuesday was convince members of the Town Commission to tweak their code of ordinances here and there.

LMREI told the commission that it needed a variance to the building height limits of 32 feet in order to raise the roof of the proposed new East Annex to be built where the staff quarters once stood. Those quarters built in 1914, according to former Mayor Connie Mudano, were razed in 1992. The new East Wing would soar 60 feet, by lead architect Richard Heisenbottle’s studied design, and seemed to members of the adjacent Belleair Country Club more like an obstruction on the skyline than a pleasant adjunct to the historical architecture. Here, compromise was needed.

In addition, the new owners said they needed accessory accouterments off the main property, a spa in the residential section across the road from the historic hotel nestled beneath eight-story condos and alongside a 1930s single family home; and a new poolside café.

“Because where else would a poolside café be,” Heisenbottle quipped, “other than by the pool.”

To be a true contender for 5-star status, the developers said they needed to decrease the overall number and individual size of parking spaces from the mandated 2,075 spaces each measuring 9-feet by 20-feet to less than 650 spaces measuring 9-feet by 18-feet and increase the greenery by planting into the rights of way surrounding the Belleview Biltmore Golf Club at Poinsettia Road and Indian Rocks Road.

When all was said and done, seven variance requests were granted unanimously with some measure of compromise on all sides. The East Wing height reduces to 50 feet and lengthens 30 feet; in the process losing some 23 rooms.

The spa and poolside café plans were approved but with hours of operation for the spa limited to 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

The town maintains full easements along Poinsettia Road bordering the golf club and, at the suggestion of Commissioner Karla Rettstatt, retains control over the construction of a sidewalk linking that section east to the Pinellas Trail. Legg Mason agreed to grant the town $15,000 cash, which will enable the town to build the extension during reconstruction work at the golf club.

At 2 a.m. Wednesday, the general consensus seemed to include another proposition that good neighbors can be found wherever fence mending and compromise prevail.

“We are delighted with the outcome and we are pleased that the commission has come together to restore the grand old Biltmore,” Heisenbottle said. “We have a full year ahead and a lot to accomplish to get the construction documents done. We are confident this will ultimately be a four or five star resort.”

Heisenbottle said there have been preliminary discussions with major hotel operators who have a proven track record with historic hotels. He chose not to elaborate, for now.

A sleepy, but pleased Mayor Gary Katica reflected Wednesday morning on the successful outcome of the marathon session.

“This was a defining moment for the town of Belleair,” Katica told the Belleair Bee. “I was proud of how the commission handled itself. We wanted compromise on some things and I have to hand it to Legg Mason, they were very sensitive to the needs of the people. There was tremendous interest in this among the residents of Belleair – everyone was trying to save their grandparent.”

The Biltmore is scheduled to close for the extensive renovation in May of next year.

http://www.tbnweekly.com/content_articles/051408_bee-01.txt   Belleair Bee Thursday May 15, 2008

Plans for Biltmore clear major hurdle
By HARLAN WEIKLE
 
[Image]
Photo by HARLAN WEIKLE
Sally Spencer demonstrates the proximity of the Belleview Biltmore’s proposed new spa to her family’s backyard and home, as P&Z board members look on.
BELLEAIR – How tall, how wide and how close were some of the decisions the town’s seven-member Planning and Zoning Board had to grapple with for six hours Monday night before a capacity audience at Town Hall.

In the end, the news was good for those planning the future of the historic Belleview Biltmore.

Architects, lawyers, consultants and Legg Mason’s managing director Joseph Penner attended the P&Z meeting with a list of variances they said were critical to their plans to turn the aging hotel once again into a luxuriant Victorian destination worthy of the international traveler.

Included on their wish list is a height increase of 28 feet over existing code from 32 to 60 feet for a proposed East Wing; a 7-foot height increase for the proposed new spa, and a soaring turret rising to 40 feet crowning the new Poolside Café that chief architect Richard Heisenbottle called, “the classic Victorian element.”

Also requested was a reduction of the code-mandated size of a parking space from 9-by-20 feet to 9-by-18; a magic number that allows the hotel to add approximately 10 percent more parking in the same area; parking that some say is critical to the successful operation of the resort, which had already asked to reduce the overall number of parking spaces at the Belleview Biltmore Golf Club from 274 to 244.

Project planners say the resort has more than sufficient parking capacity proposed at 658 spaces. If you follow their peak load calculations, for a wedding party over the weekend when everyone is winding down their nuptial celebrations, a total number of cars parked at 9 p.m. on a Saturday night, 560. Beyond that throw in valet parking and the number of spaces increases to more than 1,000. Current code calls for a total of 2,075 spaces on the entire property.

“Critical in all this is our desire to create green open spaces for lawns and gardens, worthy of other great resorts such as the Breakers Palm Beach and Boca Raton Resort,” said Heisenbottle. After viewing the developer’s 20-minute slide presentation, several speakers rose to voice their individual concerns or support for the proposed variance requests.

Prominently, the homeowner’s association board, represented by Tom DuPont, gave its general support to the project, which DuPont described as, “No longer a restoration project but a development project.” The association, DuPont said, favored the spire on top of the Poolside Café, but split on the spa unless it was moved to the hotel side of the street and out of the residential district.

Referring to Heisenbottle’s comparisons to The Breakers Palm Beach and Boca Raton Resort DuPont drew a round of applause when he said, “The developers need to stop applying everywhere standards to the Belleview Biltmore and start applying Belleair standards.”

The homeowners called on the board to reject outright the East Wing, agreeing with Belleair Country Club members who said the new 60-foot structure was unnecessary for the success of the resort. They maintain that the East Wing would dominate the open skyline view from the golf course and take away from the enjoyment of the club by its members.

But perhaps the most compelling testimony of the evening was a silent, construction demonstration by 9-year-old Sally Spencer, who erected a miniature building block version of the proposed new spa, which would sit just 33 feet from the back corner of her family’s home, a 1930s vintage house purchased in 1992. As onlookers watched, the youngster placed a single block inches from the four-high stack of blocks towering over what represented her backyard.

Her father, Scott Spencer, described to the audience how he felt when he realized the planning documents had failed to show his home as it would sit in the shadow of the 45,000-square-foot, 40-foot high building, which enclosed the spa as well as the parking spaces and a pool deck.

“Our home was just a green space on their plan, no structure there at all. It’s almost like they wanted to mislead the public by exaggerating the open space.”

In the end, Legg Mason representatives Penner and Heisenbottle agreed to a compromise by offering to reduce the spa footprint by eliminating four parking spaces, which moves the proposed building 9-feet farther south of the Spencer home.

Asked later if he was satisfied with the outcome Spencer said, “It’s a work in progress, the P&Z sets the tone for the final decision by the commission. I need to sleep on it. This was a decision in the final hour, but I’m happy all the same that our case was heard and we’ll be there for the commission hearing.”

The board voted on seven variance requests, passing the requests for height increases, parking space size reductions, reducing the number of parking spaces and permitting off site use of the spa location but reducing its length by nine feet.

“We see this as a positive next step toward restoring the white queen of the gulf to her historic beauty,” said Joe Penner, managing director of Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, afterward.

In addition, the board altered the developers request to intrude green space into the rights of way on three sides of the golf club on Indian Rocks Road, Poinsettia and Gulfview.

The plan they wanted would use the town’s right of way to add plant/tree screening for the parking area, yet maintain adequate parking. At the urging of some residents the board denied the request along Poinsettia and removed a row of parking, thus allowing for the possible future addition of a stretch of sidewalk along that lane where none exists now.

The Planning and Zoning Board recommendations will now go to the Town Commission for final determination at its meeting Tuesday, May 20, at 7:30 p.m.

Developers seek Belleair approval on Biltmore renovations.

http://www.tampabay.com/news/localgovernment/article495951.ece   St. Petersburg Times Friday May 9, 2008

By Mike Donila, Times Staff Writer

A rendering of the new Belleview Biltmore Hotel and Resort.

A rendering of the new Belleview Biltmore Hotel and Resort.

In the next few weeks, the small town of Belleair will find out what one of its biggest destination points could look like.

The Belleview Biltmore, bought last year by a California-based developer, needs a lot of work. But after saving the historic landmark from the wrecking ball, builders hope they can get a little help from town leaders to move things along.

And so far, it appears they've got support from at least two of the town's top officials.

"I sure hope things work out," said Mayor Gary Katica, who said he couldn't discuss the plan in detail because the Town Commission's quasi judicial hearings limit what he can say publicly.

"The planners have gone through and looked at the plan and it seems pretty reasonable to our planning department, so we're hopeful," City Manager Micah Maxwell said.

After paying $30.3-million in June for the site, Los Angeles-based Legg Mason Real Estate Investors said they are prepared to turn it into a four- or five-star resort.

To do that, they will need Belleair planners and commissioners to agree to a few things that the town's building code doesn't typically allow.

First, they need to build a little higher. Then they want to eliminate some parking spaces. Finally, they'd like to add a few additional key accessories that aren't part of the actual hotel.

The Belleair Planning and Zoning Board on Monday will make recommendations to the plan, which then goes to the Town Commission the following week. Both meetings are expected to draw big crowds because of the building's significance. Although there are opponents — some say the buildings will be too high — it appears a majority of the town's 4,100 residents support it, the mayor said.

Here's a look at what the developer needs to move forward:

Height: The developer wants to build a 60-foot-tall east wing hotel annex that will include 176 rooms. The code allows for 32 feet, but Legg Mason officials say they need five stories. Plus, they say, it would be roughly the same size as the Biltmore. They also need an extra 7 feet in height for the 20,000-square-foot spa they want to build on the west side of the hotel where the tennis courts are now. Finally, the builder wants about 9 feet extra for a pool-side cafe, which they say is needed to match the architecture of the Biltmore.

Parking: Legg Mason also wants to reduce the parking space length from the town code mandate of 20 feet to 18 feet. Additionally, they want a break from the minimum 2,075 parking spaces that such a project needs, according to the code. They're looking to build roughly 650 spaces, most of them underground. Developers argue that more spaces aren't needed because people won't use all the facilities at one time. If they do, then the resort's nearby golf course parking lot could be used for valet parking in the evening, boosting the total spaces to 907. Land where parking is currently located will be landscaped to create a "park-like area to make the place feel special," said Cyndi Tarapani, vice president for Planning Florida Design Consultants, which is working with Legg Mason.

Miscellaneous: The town has a rule that any "accessory" has to be in the main hotel. However, the developer doesn't want to attach the spa and pool-side cafe to the Biltmore. The hotel currently has a cafe next to the pool, but the developer wants to replace it.

Some of the builder's other plans for the $100-million project include creating a 13,000-square-foot ballroom and adding more banquet, meeting room and convention space. The spa plans to include 13 treatment rooms, a fitness center, salon and aerobics room.

The main 820,000-square-foot hotel will be painted white, have a green roof and feature a Victorian-style spread with 274 rooms. The 22-acre site will feature a two-floor underground parking garage and landscaping and walking trails will replace the parking lots.

The developer also plans to demolish the pagoda entrance and build an entrance consistent with the architecture of the rest of the resort.

In all, the plans are in stark contrast to several years ago when then-potential buyer DeBartolo Development planned to raze the hotel to build 180 condos.

If approved, the resort would close next May and reopen in January 2012.

>>Fast Facts

Belleview Biltmore Resort and Spa

Where: 25 Belleview Blvd.

Significance: In 2005, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named the Biltmore one of America's 11 most endangered historic places.

What's going on: Los Angeles-based Legg Mason Real Estate Investors plan to rehab the old building, once a stopping place for celebrities and famous athletes.

Some key features: A new lobby, entrance, ballroom wedding gazebo. A new pool will be flanked by cabanas, and tennis lovers will get new courts.

Cost: $100-million


http://www.clearwatergazette.com/20080508/legg.html   Clearwater Gazette  Thursday May 8, 2008

Hotel Owners Legg Mason to Hear From and Address Town Board and Council Regarding Variances

by Renee Burrell

BELLEAIR - The Town of Belleair Planning and Zoning Board will review the site plans and requests for variances submitted by the Belleview Biltmore Resort's current property owners, Legg Mason, on Monday May 12. The Belleair Town Council's regularly scheduled meeting will be held Tuesday, May 20.

The Planning and Zoning Board is a quasi-judicial body and members will make recommendations to the Town Council concerning variance requests needed to assist in renovating the hotel into a historical tourist destination with all of the luxury and conveniences expected of a five star resort.

Representatives from Legg Mason will give the Board a presentation at the meeting. Joseph Penner, Legg Mason Managing Director said, "We are thankful for all the positive support we have received within the community and we urge all of you who are interested to attend and speak out at the Town meetings in May."

Unlike previous owners, Legg Mason intends to invest millions of dollars into the 111- year- old hotel national registered as a Historic Place, with a historically sensitive and environmentally minded renovation plus usher the often called "White Queen of the Gulf" into the future with construction of a new "East Wing," two levels of subterranean parking, and a new, more grand and fitting entrance with lushly landscaped grounds. A few of the improvements to the resort call for needed variance approval:

  1. An increase in height from 32 feet to 60 feet for a new "East Wing" which will be shorter in length and have a smaller footprint than the staff quarters previously on the same site.
  2. An increase in height from 32 feet to 39.08 feet for a new spa structure.
  3. An increase of height from 32 feet to 40.33 for a new poolside café structure.
  4. Reduction in the dimension of parking spaces from 9 feet by 20 feet to 9 feet by 18 feet which is consistent with modern parking standards, and the cities of Clearwater, Dunedin, Largo and Tampa.
  5. Reduction in the number of required parking spaces from the Town of Belleair code of approximately 2075 spaces to 643 spaces. The parking proposed by Legg Mason is in excess of the suggested number of spaces determined by the parking demand study (Haas, April, 2008). It is consistent with municipal codes of cities that have other commercial developments. Specifically, Clearwater, Orlando, Tampa and St. Petersburg all take into consideration the "internal capture" of existing guests utilizing the hotel amenities, where the Bellaire code does not.
  6. Permit an accessory spa use to be located outside the primary structure within a separate building.
  7. Permit an accessory Poolside Café use to be located outside the primary structure of the main building. Historically, the Poolside Café has been a separate structure from the main hotel for many years.

The Resort's Golf Club will also be improved and current architectural plans call for the Town Council to approve three variances:

  1. Reduction in the dimension of parking spaces from 9 feet by 20 feet to 9 feet by 18 feet.
  2. Reduction in the number of parking spaces from approximately 274 spaces to 244 spaces.
  3. To reduce the landscape buffer requirement as follows; A. Along the west (front parking lot line) along Indian Rocks Road from landscape standard B to 5 feet on the subject site with an additional 5 feet within the right of way. The two 5 foot landscape strips will be located on either side of a sidewalk. Standard B requires between a 10 and 25 foot buffer; and B. Along the north and south front property line along Poinsettia and Althea roads, respectively, from landscape standard A to 0 feet on the subject site with 10 feet within the right of way. Standard A requires between 10 and 20 foot buffer.

According to Penner, "…the last twelve months have been a positive experience working together with; the citizens, the homeowners/condominium associations, the Belleair Country Club, the staff and the Town Council. The Association and the Country Club have provided great insight and ideas during the numerous meetings we've had the last several months. We continue to appreciate their efforts toward this project."

Belleair Country Club President James McArthur said he appreciates the perseverance and cooperative effort of Legg Mason and their team. "They continue to work with the community and the Club's leadership to resolve any outstanding issues."

Fast Facts about Belleair's Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa:

Fast Facts About the Hotel's Nationally Renowned New Owners, Legg Mason:


http://www.tbnweekly.com/content_articles/041608_bee-01.txt   Belleair Bee Thursday April 17, 2008

Biltmore owners to present site plan. [Image]

 




 

Artist rendering courtesy of LEGG MASON
A rendering depicts Legg Mason’s proposal for the new 174-room East Wing of the Belleview Biltmore Resort.

BELLEAIR – The town’s planning and zoning board will review Legg Mason’s Belleview Biltmore site plan on Monday, May 12, at 5:30 p.m. The public is invited to comment.

The plans include a complete restoration of the existing hotel, a new 174-room East Wing, two levels of subterranean parking, and a new grand entrance with landscaped grounds. The current plans will require the town to grant several variances, which include:

• A height variance for the East Wing, which will be approximately 15-feet greater in height than the old “dormitory” building, but will be shorter in length and have a smaller footprint than the old building.

• A reduction in the size of the parking spaces from 9-feet wide, 20-feet long to 9-feet wide, 18-feet long.

• A reduction in the overall parking calculated by the town code from 2,075 spaces to 643 spaces. The parking proposed by Legg Mason is in excess of the suggested number of spaces determined by the parking consultant’s study. Legg Mason maintains that it is consistent with municipal codes of cities that have other commercial developments.

• A variance to allow the new Spa and Poolside Grill to be outside the main hotel building.

• A height variance for the Poolside Grill building from 32 feet to 40.3 feet.

• A height variance for the spa building from 32 feet to 39.08 feet. While the spa building is only one story, Legg Mason said the slope of the land and the method chosen by the town to calculate the average height necessitates this variance.

In addition, there are three variances requested for the Belleview Biltmore Golf Club, two of which relate to the number of parking spaces and their size. The third relates to the request by Legg Mason to put buffer zone landscaping within the public right of way.

On May 12, the planning and zoning board will hear a presentation from Legg Mason, as well as comments from the public and then make a recommendation to the Town Commission regarding the site plan. Legg Mason will present the plan for approval to the commission at its Tuesday, May 20 meeting.

In a press release, Joseph Penner, managing director for Legg Mason, said, “The last 12 months have been challenging, but a positive experience working together with the citizens, the staff and the town. The project is large and complex, and has required the input of many specialized consultants who have been part of a large team assembled for this task. Balancing the needs and desires of the town and its residents with the physical limitations of the property and economic considerations has been a daunting job, but I believe we have succeeded.”

The Biltmore was purchased by Legg Mason in June of last year.

The renovation cost is estimated to be in excess of $100 million, with the projected grand reopening set for January 2012, in time for the hotel’s 115th anniversary.


Belleair adopts revised budget meeting schedule   Belleair Bee Wednesday, April 16, 2008

By HARLAN WEIKLE
 

BELLEAIR – It could be a record for the shortest meeting ever. Anyone who blinked, might have missed the whole thing.

The Town Commission’s Tuesday meeting was called to order at 7:30 p.m. and adjourned six minutes later at 7:36.

In that six minutes came unanimous approval to invoke the town’s mowing ordinance enforcement resolution against a delinquent property owner at 349 Barbara Circle; and the commission agreed to continue two variance requests on behalf of the owners of the Belleview Biltmore, to the scheduled Monday, May 12, meeting of the planning and zoning board.

Two adjustments were then made to the 2008-2009 budget calendar in deference to laws prohibiting such municipal hearing running opposite scheduled county or school board meetings. Set for Tuesday, Aug. 26, the tentative budget and millage rate hearing is moved to Wednesday, Sept. 3, at 5:30 p.m. The town’s final budget and millage rate adoption scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 9, is likewise advanced to Wednesday, Sept. 17, at 7:30 p.m.


3D Scanning: High Density Laser Scanning Helps Preserve a Historical Florida Landmark

Professional Surveyor Magazine - February 2008
Professional Surveyor Magazine - February 2008
Rob Duranczyk, PS

 

This summer, land surveyors joined an impressive list of visitors to the historic Belleview Biltmore Hotel in Belleair, Florida. The famous West Florida landmark, constructed in 1897, has hosted U.S. presidents, business tycoons, and celebrities throughout its history. The 440,000-square-foot Victorian style hotel, purportedly the world's largest occupied wooden structure, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. In 2004, the hotel's 110-year existence was threatened with the possibility of demolition. Public opposition to destruction of the local landmark generated much attention, and in 2005 the National Trust for Historic Preservation placed the hotel at number 11 on its list of most endangered historical places.

Preservation of historic buildings is gaining in popularity among private citizen groups nationwide and is quickly becoming a priority for municipalities and local government agencies across the country (for an article on preserving religious sites in Hawaii with laser scanning see the November 2007 issue of this magazine). The current owner of the Biltmore Hotel, Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, called upon the professional services of a licensed architect—R.J. Heisenbottle Architects— to provide expertise in historical restoration and renovation with the intent to begin the restoration process to improve the hotel's Victorian theme and return the landmark to its former stately appearance for future guests and visitors to enjoy.

The initial project challenge: obtaining the accurate records or as-built data required to support an architectural renovation of this magnitude can be difficult and extremely time consuming. For example, columns, beams, and roof trusses in classical structures seldom have consistent dimensions, and record construction documents rarely exist with sufficient details to aid the architect during the renovation design process. Today, architects often team with professional land surveyors who use conventional techniques for collecting as-built data on restoration projects. The process requires countless hours of painstaking hand measurements and creation of detailed sketches using steel tapes, total stations, and more recently GPS. Photogrammetry has also played an active role in the data collection and detail recording processes. These processes are almost always time consuming and may be cost-prohibitive to gather the quantity of information at a level of detail that is desired or necessary to produce a useful set of architectural plans.

Scanning the Exterior

As a business licensed to practice land surveying in Florida, Wade Trim, Inc. was contacted by R.J. Heisenbottle Architects to collect record information for the exterior of the structure using high density laser scanning (HDLS). For projects of this nature and complexity, HDLS has been used as an excellent alternative to conventional surveying techniques that provides highly accurate and comprehensive data.

While standing on the resort grounds next to the hotel preparing Wade Trim's mission plan, I considered the challenges of providing sufficient data coverage of the project to be obvious: the structure is a four-story building with heights up to 65 feet, the main hotel wings stretch over 600 feet from north to south and 600 feet from east to west, and existing landscaping obscures portions of the hotel. Three cottages that are separate from the main structure also were added into the project. All of these factors needed to be addressed while trying to keep a tight schedule and remain inconspicuous to the current clientele.

Beginning the field scanning process, Wade Trim's survey field crew established unobtrusive control around the hotel to orient the project. Then multiple locations around the hotel's entire exterior were selected for the HDLS to collect as-built data quickly, remotely, and safely, eliminating the need to climb the hotel's steep roofs and gabled dormers to perform hand measurements. While the laser scanner collected data from each scan position, the field crew recorded additional physical measurements of specific features to ensure quality control and data integrity.

When the scanning of the exterior was complete, the data collected from each laser scan location was combined and registered into one single digital file. Moving forward, the point data can be readily manipulated using various software applications to generate any required cross-sections, elevation views, plan view, or 3D models to aid the surveyor and architect with producing accurate as-built plans and renovation designs. Millions of individual data points are collected during the HDLS process, and the resultant digital file, which may be several gigabytes in size, can be broken down into more manageable sections of the project such as individual wings of the hotel.

The techniques employed using the laser scanner allowed the survey field crew to record the physical shape and location of the many ornate and inaccessible features on the exterior of the Belleview Biltmore Hotel more effectively and efficiently than conventional surveying methods allow. The resulting quantity of record information with such a high quality detail, used in conjunction with 3D modeling capabilities, provided the architect the necessary tools and information to begin an accurate graphical depiction of the landmark.

Scanning the Interior

The use of laser scanning for the collection of record data was not limited to the exterior of the hotel; HDLS was also put to the test to collect record information for the interior of the building. Minimizing disturbances to hotel guests was critical, as the hotel remained open during the scanning process. Interior scanning was performed from dusk to the early morning hours when guests were least likely to be disturbed by our presence. Although minimal lighting was available during these late hours, no special lighting was needed for the scanner to operate.

Establishing control for the project also posed a unique challenge. No permanent marks were allowed to be established upon the antique hardwood flooring or carpeting. Existing nails used to secure the flooring were used when we found them in convenient locations, or we placed non-marring strips of tape where necessary each evening and removed them again each morning. This allowed the crews to extend the control network precisely into the hotel's interior rooms to capture the level of detail that was desired.

Six interior locations were the focus of the interior scanning project. The first two sites were the hotel's Tiffany Room with its full Tiffany glass ceiling and chandeliers and the Starlight Ballroom with its stage, projector room, and decadent ante room. Next were the Palm Grill Terrace restaurant and West Veranda lounge, both popular evening sites for the guests. Lastly, the original portion of the hotel known as the Carriage Porch required scanning. The most unique project area however, was the 500-foot-long hallway lined with alcoves, doorways, stain glass windows, eclectic shops, and a hardwood floor (that had seen over 100 years worth of foot traffic) that connected all of these areas. This hallway was considered the key element that could add an additional unplanned benefit to the project.

Combined, all of the exterior and interior recorded point data will allow R.J. Heisenbottle Architects to submit the entire project as a digital 3D point cloud along with the proposed plans for any historical restoration plans to the National Register of Historic Places. Point data gathered from laser scanning takes this restoration project to the next level by providing the ability to create 3D "virtual tours" and "fly-bys."

The End of the Restoration Effort's Beginning

By combining an unusual multidiscipline team of professionals, the first phase of restoring the Belleview Biltmore Hotel has been completed with much success. Unique and challenging opportunities were presented to all parties involved with the high density laser scanning process, but Wade Trim specifically embraced and successfully used new, cutting-edge technologies in order to collect vital data that will serve as the basis for the historic hotel's restoration for years to come.

About the Author

Rob Duranczyk, PS, manages and coordinates laser scanning services for architectural, engineering, and industrial projects for Wade Trim, Inc., a national engineering and land surveying consulting firm with 19 offices located in eight states. He can be reached in the Tampa, Florida, office at 888.499.9624 or rduranczyk@wadetrim.com.


http://www.sptimes.com/2008/02/07/Northpinellas/Cabana_Club_may_have_.shtml  St. Petersburg Times February 7, 2008

Cabana Club may have date with wrecking ball

A Victorian-style hotel would take its place on Sand Key.

By JOSE CARDENAS, Times Staff Writer
Published February 7, 2008

photo

The Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa's owner wants to build this hotel on Sand Key where the existing Cabana Club stands.

CLEARWATER - The new owner of the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa has filed plans to tear down the resort's beach club on Sand Key.

Gone would be the existing Cabana Club and its two restaurants.

In its place would be a six-floor, Victorian-style boutique hotel with 38 rooms and a new restaurant.

Legg Mason Real Estate Investors bought the Cabana Club in June along with the Belleview Biltmore across Clearwater Harbor in Belleair.

The Los Angeles company filed redevelopment plans for the Cabana Club on Friday with the city of Clearwater. It had already filed plans with the town of Belleair to renovate the main resort.

Clearwater officials could approve the plans as early as April 15. Representatives of Legg Mason said the combined construction cost for both projects could be $150-million. Work could start as early as 2009.

The company, which paid nearly $30.3-million for the historic landmark, hopes guests of the eventually restored Biltmore will have the option to boat across the water and stay at the Cabana Club hotel on the Gulf of Mexico.

"The cabana project is an enhancement to the overall historic preservation that begins in Belleair," said George Rahdert, the St. Petersburg attorney who represents the company. Rahdert also represents the St. Petersburg Times.

"It will allow guests to enjoy our beaches," he said.

The 110-year-old Biltmore is one of Pinellas County's most significant historic structures.

Among other things, Legg Mason aims to make ample restorations to the lobby, the spa, parking lot, ball and dining rooms. The number of rooms would go from 244 to 435.

Across the water, other work at the Cabana Club would include tearing down two restaurants and replacing them with one. The hotel would have cabanas on the western side of the hotel.

Legg Mason promises a "first-class" hotel.

Some Sand Key residents have historically opposed additional development on their island. Though not all neighbors have signed off on the Cabana Club plans, some say the project is acceptable.

"Quite frankly, the new plans have taken into account an awful lot of the issues that we had in mind that initially would not be to our pleasing," said George Mitrovich, president of the Cabana Club Condominium Association.

Though the condo association members' homes are next to the Cabana Club, Mitrovich said the proposed new building will not block the property owners' views of the water.

James Warner, a Realtor and Sand Key resident, said the low density of 38 units should satisfy some critics.

"The issue is going to be view alteration," he said. People "were very vocal the last time. They don't want that building there."

Project architect Richard Heisenbottle said Legg Mason is asking for a variance that would allow six floors.

But even with the variance, he pointed out, the hotel would be shorter than the buildings nearby.

Still, it's not possible to completely address the concerns of people to the east of the hotel whose views would be blocked, Heisenbottle said.

But he added that Legg Mason has made modifications to the plans. They included putting additional space between the hotel and the buildings to the north and south to allow for better views in between.

Others have complained of potential noise when the guests from the Biltmore arrive at the Cabana Club by boat.

To address that, Heisenbottle said, Legg Mason is exploring switching to a different boat slip farther away.

"We are committed to try to work with the neighbors as much as we can and to mitigate the impact of our project," he said.

Jose Cardenas can be reached at jcardenas@sptimes.com or 727 445-4224.

Cabana Club redevelopment

- Six-floor, Victorian-style hotel

- 38 rooms

- New restaurant

- Transportation between the new hotel and the main Belleview Biltmore resort by both van and boat


http://www.tbnweekly.com/content_articles/011608_bee-01.txt   Belleair Bee January 16, 2008

Preservation Task Force sees Biltmore plans.
By HARLAN WEIKLE

[Image]

Rendering courtesy of RICHARD HEISENBOTTLE
Plans for the Magnolia Cottage and two other cottages on the Biltmore property are envisioned as luxury bed and breakfast additions to the resort.


BELLEAIR – Architect Richard Heisenbottle presented plans for the restoration of the Belleview Biltmore Hotel to the county’s Preservation Task Force on Jan. 9.

Heisenbottle, who is spearheading the design project, had previously made a similar public presentation to the gathering of Belleair residents and town officials. During last Thursday’s meeting, some new details of the proposed restoration were revealed.

Using a slide presentation, Heisenbottle detailed the major components of the restoration project, which is estimated to cost $100 million. Notably, some of the most dramatic changes to the historic resort will be the ones that aren’t seen: service tunnels, loading docks and underground parking for nearly 700 cars, which will open space surrounding the resort to new use such as event lawns for receptions, outdoor weddings or simple romantic strolls through Victorian gardens.

Two levels of underground parking will be 20 feet below a sod- and shrub-covered expanse of lawn dotted by containerized trees. The entire structure will be covered with a foot of soil and a drainage system. Like “Alice in Wonderland, cars will disappear down a rabbit hole; a bit of, “Disney magic” as Heisenbottle called it.

Another “Disneyesque” aspect of the project will include lots of tunnels, which the architect says is a necessary component of any world class resort. Service tunnels will lead from the new two-story central prep kitchen to smaller kitchens serving the several dining venues envisioned for the project. Out-of-sight, out-of-mind, these tunnels, some of which already exist, will rise by elevator directly into the smaller kitchens.

“Thus ensuring that no guest will ever be confronted by a food cart,” Heisenbottle said.

Likewise, the exterior service areas, which now wrap unceremoniously around the perimeter of the hotel, are to be replaced by a single, modern service area replete with loading docks and mechanical facilities, all of which will be hidden behind 6-to-8 foot landscaped garden walls.

The ballrooms, too, will receive special treatment. The Tiffany and Candlelight ballrooms will be restored to their original grace and the Starlight Ballroom will have its original window walls revealed; walls, which are now covered by interior secondary walls.

A new architecturally sensitive hotel annex will add additional rooms needed to accommodate conventions, and a new one story spa will rise over underground parking space. Facing the west side of the hotel this structure almost “residential” in character Heisenbottle said, “will not interfere with anyone’s view,” referring to the neighboring condominium buildings bordering the site.

Lastly, the architect revealed their intentions to restore the three cottages on the property – the Magnolia, Palm and Sunset. The three cottages are envisioned as small, luxury bed and breakfast additions to the resort. These three cottages, which are not part of the historic registration, will be restored with all the same attention to detail and historical reference as the main resort. In fact, Heisenbottle said the Biltmore’s new owners would consider applying for the historic registration of these cottages as the project developed.
 


http://www.sptimes.com/2008/01/16/Northpinellas/Today_s_Letters__Focu.shtml   St. Petersburg Times January 16, 2008

Today's Letters: Focus on bigger picture, not parking spaces
By LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

Go slowly on Biltmore okays editorial, Jan. 9

It is with great pleasure that I accepted the proposal of Legg Mason Real Estate Investors to become the architect of this grand project. The Belleview Biltmore has been, and will continue to be, a property of national prominence and historical value, and Legg Mason has demonstrated the correct vision for the restoration of the property.

We have spent an enormous amount of time listening to the input of many experts, local citizens and the town leaders. It has been a large undertaking, and I believe that we have succeeded in our goal to balance the property's historical aspects, secure its market potential and functionality, and carefully protect the context of its neighborhood and residents. The future for the hotel and its surroundings is very positive.

Our proposed entrance enhancements will greatly benefit all property owners, including the Belleair Country Club. This includes having adequate and convenient guest parking. Unfortunately, the Belleair zoning code requiring 2,000 spaces is excessive and would make the project unfeasible. If this project were to be constructed in Clearwater, St. Petersburg or Tampa, parking requirements would range from 442 to 490 parking spaces.

We did engage parking consultants Timothy Haahs & Associates to assess the project's true parking demand based upon industry standards for similar resort hotels. Taking into account such factors as hotel occupancy, captive market and peak hours, they told us we have a peak demand of 553 cars and recommended a garage with a self-parking capacity of 560. (Currently there are 172 parking spaces on site)

We have chosen to exceed this recommendation and have proposed a garage with capacity for 652 cars. There will also be a valet parking capacity of 768 cars, plus overflow parking for more than 251 cars available at the golf club.

We have been extremely pleased with all the positive feedback we have received from the community, and we realize that a project of this scope and size will certainly be scrutinized by all. We are dedicated to the functionality of the property, as well as to the context of the neighborhood surrounding it. I believe that Legg Mason Real Estate Investors Inc. has assembled the best team possible, and I urge all to continue to focus on the bigger picture of saving and restoring this national treasure.

Richard J. Heisenbottle, Coral Gables


http://www.tampabaysun.com/TBS_Jan_10_08-LOW-RES.pdf

Tampa Bay Sun Newspaper January 10, 2008

Redevelopment Plan Filed for the Belleview Biltmore

By Carrie Henderson

After three long years of fighting to save the historic Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa, formal plans for its redevelopment were filed with the town of Belleair.

Originally built in 1896/97 by railroad tycoon Henry B. Plant, the 820,000-square-foot hotel is the largest occupied wood frame structure in the state, and is constructed of native Florida pine wood. The property consists of 160 acres, including swimming pools, a beach club, restaurant, and an 18-hole golf course.

Located at 25 Belleview Boulevard, this "grand dame" overlooks the Clearwater Harbor. Throughout history it has welcomed presidents, royalty, movie stars and sports icons.

Fondly known as "The White Queen of the Gulf," the 111-year-old landmark was first threatened to be demolished back in November 2004 by its owner. A developer wanted to purchase the land after the hotel was destroyed. A week later a web site was launched, http://www.savethebiltmore.com, and a community outcry ensued.

A small group of residents and community supporters started to work towards saving the hotel through emails, letters and petitions. In 2005 the National Trust listed the hotel as one of the "11 Most Endangered Historic Places."

In the spring of 2005, the town decided to hire a preservation attorney after it had been determined that the Comprehensive Plan of Belleair had been written to help save and preserve the hotel. The attorney wrote a preservation ordinance, and it was completed in September 2005.

After pressure from Save the Biltmore Preservationists, a nonprofit organization, there was an amendment passed to save the public interior as well as the exterior, which is standard for most preservation ordinances. The interior areas contain wood molding, wainscoting, original Tiffany glass, heart of pine wood and more.

Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, a Los-Angeles-based subsidiary of Legg Mason asset management firm, announced in March 2007 plans to buy and restore the hotel site with hopes of transforming it into a five-star resort.

Joseph Penner, the managing director of Legg Mason, said he is hopeful that the city process is smooth and swift so they can move forward with the redevelopment plans.

"We have literally dozens of meetings with our neighbors and other members of the community, as well as our state and local government officials, and have to the fullest extent possible incorporated their recommendations," said Penner in a press release.

Diane Hein, President of Save the Biltmore Preservationists, said the nonprofit group applauds the new renovation plans.

"We are very excited that the new owners will be renovating the entire hotel to restore it to its former glory, reminiscent up to the 1940s era," she said.

Renovation and restoration plans to return the Biltmore to its former glory days include:

Renditions by architect R. J. Heisenbottle


 
http://www.tbnweekly.com/content_articles/010908_bee-03.txt   Belleair Bee  January 9, 2008

Fire department ready to protect citizens, Biltmore

BELLEAIR – Few people will ever experience it. Even fewer will ever lose their businesses or homes to this frightening phenomenon, but the specter of fire is a visceral fear that affects all equally.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, between 1997 and 2006, an average of 3,760 Americans lost their lives and another 20,010 were injured annually as the result of fire.

Tuesday night, newly appointed Largo fire Chief Michael Wallace came to Belleair with some statistics of his own and the town, home to the Belleview Biltmore, which is Florida’s largest wooden structure, was listening.

Wallace grew up in Largo and has now returned to head the fire department. He directs among other units, the operations of Engine 43 which responds to fire emergencies, EMS and advanced life support – all part of a tightly woven and unique system of manpower and equipment called perpetual automatic aid.

The system, Wallace explained, allows any fireman on the street the ability to call for assistance without regard to municipal boundaries or political jurisdiction.

“In a matter of minutes I can call in as much manpower as needed simply by using the radio; and that represents a lot of firefighting capability,” Wallace said.

There are 17 departments in the county, with 68 stations from St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs manned in three shifts by some 900 professional firefighters. The stations are strategically situated, separated by not more than a mile-and-a-half, which accounts for a response time that averages four minutes from first alarm to insertion, explained Wallace.

“Our goal is to arrive before the dispatcher is finished recording the call,” he said.

Addressing the pending closure and restoration of the historic Belleview Biltmore, Wallace said the department recently completed a close inspection of the structure and is satisfied that the owners have met the safety requirements called for by the National Fire Codes.

“In fact they have been very proactive in achieving this condition,” he said.

When demolition and restoration begins, the resort will be closed, said Wallace, at which time another set of code requirements for vacant structures will be in effect. Smoke detectors, variable heat sensors, the sprinkler system and remote alarm monitoring will then take over as the first line of fire defense for the landmark structure.

If a fire occurs, the chief explained, they can bring in as much firefighting power to the site as required, including a fully charged water line that surrounds the structure. In addition, he said, they have the ability to tap into the integrated water supply from nearby Morton Plant Hospital.

“No one has ever died in a fire in a sprinkler-equipped building,” Wallace said. “The best piece of advice we can give homeowners is that a sprinkler in the kitchen and one in every bedroom saves lives.”

It can cost as little as $200 per sprinkler to retrofit a home, he added.

Candidate qualifying

Two seats on the Town Commission are up for election this March. Commissioners Karla Rettstatt and Tom Shelly have both qualified to seek re-election to their respective seats. There are no declared candidates opposing either. The period for qualifying ends Friday, Jan. 11.

 


http://www.sptimes.com/2008/01/09/Northpinellas/Today_s_Letters__Cond.shtml   Letters to the Editor

St. Petersburg Times  Wednesday January 9, 2008

Today's Letters: Condo residents foresee problems


Re: Biltmore owner listens, tweaks, moves forward, story, Dec. 30

This article regarding the renovation of the Belleview Biltmore hotel included a rendering of the spa, which the developer plans to build on the site presently occupied by the hotel's tennis courts. Although there is much in the developer's plans for the hotel's renovation that meets the residents' approval, there is great concern regarding the spa.

The rendering shows a view from Belleview Boulevard of a one-story building with a dormer roof. The view the surrounding condominium buildings have is of an 80-car garage with the spa on top. Belleview Boulevard is on a ridge, and the ground to the west of the boulevard slopes sharply down to the water.

The rendering gives a false impression, in that it does not show measurements, elevations of the surrounding terrain, or indicate the other existing buildings at the site. The old hotel is immediately across Belleview Boulevard from the spa. South Garden VIII, an eight-story condominium with 62 units, is less than 100 feet south of the garage/spa just on the other side of a service road. The units on the north side of building VIII will be looking into the garage, the side of the spa or down on the roof of a large building, rather than on the present tennis courts surrounded by trees and flowering bushes.

Of particular concern is the developer's plan to locate the entrance and exit to the garage onto the service road. The headlights of cars exiting the garage at night will shine directly into the units across the service road, and the exhaust fumes and noise will be equally objectionable.

The service road is a major exit from VIII's garage and an emergency exit for South Garden VI. It is also used by trucks, moving vans, city trash vehicles, etc. The road terminates at a marina and the hotel's docks.

There is a sharp drop in elevation from the corner of Belleview Boulevard to the proposed entrance-exit of the garage less than 100 feet away. This presents a real danger to cars exiting the garage from cars coming down the hill.

The developer plans to put a restaurant in the hotel immediately across the boulevard from the spa, using the 80-car garage for patron parking. One can envision a line of cars extending down the hill from Belleview Boulevard to the garage entrance. Building VIII has owners' cars parked on the south side of the service road, and this will leave just one car width to handle traffic on the service road.

These concerns of our residents, together with a petition and photographs, have been presented to Belleair commissioners and copies given to the hotel. It is the hope of the residents that the developer will make the changes in the plans that we feel are needed.

Ralph J. Hoey, president, South Garden VIII



Re: Biltmore owner listens, tweaks, moves forward, story, Dec. 30

Guardhouse plan needs a tweak

The present location of the Biltmore guardhouse accomplishes little in providing full security to the private residents of the complex, since the public must access the Belleview Biltmore Hotel and the Belleair Country Club via the same entry point. Providing appropriate security measures for Biltmore Estates is impossible with the public and private access flowing through this singular control point.

If the Biltmore Estates are to enjoy the full security they seek, the guardhouse must be located on Belleview Boulevard at a point before the first condominium (Bayshore II) and beyond the entrance road to the hotel and country club. Such a location would render the Estates a totally private and fully secure site, while allowing unencumbered access to the public areas of the complex.

With the additional traffic that can be anticipated after the hotel renovations, there is no reason to have a security checkpoint in the current location when most of the visitors are accessing the public facilities. There are a few private homes along Belleview Boulevard that would be outside the secured area, but truth be known, they have never had full security. No resident of the Estates enjoys full security and won't until the guard shack is relocated to the aforementioned location.

In your article, you mention that project architect Richard J. Heisenbottle plans to move the guard shack slightly west to allow up to five cars to line up without obstructing access to nearby homes. With all due respect to Mr. Heisenbottle, a busy day at the resort often results in cars lined up all the way across the bridge and beyond. The guard shack has always been a bottleneck to public access in the current location and it wouldn't be if relocated.

To provide security for parking at the resort and country club would simply require the installation of a guard shack at some point on the entrance road to those facilities.

M. Van Natten, Largo
 


http://www.sptimes.com/2008/01/08/news_pf/Northpinellas/Belleview_Biltmore_ne.shtml

Belleview Biltmore needs thorough study

A Times Editorial
Published January 8, 2008

Belleair town officials and neighbors of the historic Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa have been delighted so far by the openness and flexibility of the hotel's apparent savior, Legg Mason Real Estate Investors.

Their delight should not prevent officials from putting Legg Mason through the wringer, if necessary, to make sure there are no regrets after this $100-million project is completed.

Town officials owe that kind of scrutiny to the community.

Consider, for example, the developer's parking plans.

Belleair's code normally would require almost 2,000 parking spaces for the renovated and expanded Belleview Biltmore property. However, Legg Mason wants to build only about 650. Their theory is that 2,000 spaces aren't needed because people will not use all the facilities - the hotel, the spa, the ballroom, restaurants, etc. - at one time. On special occasions when the 650 spaces aren't enough, the nearby golf course parking lot could be used for valet parking in the evening, the project architect said, boosting the total spaces to 907.

That is still less than half the parking the code requires, and that is no small variance. If Belleair's parking code is based on accepted standards of usage for facilities that will be on the Belleview Biltmore grounds, the town could create enormous problems for the surrounding community by allowing such a reduction in parking.

Local residents also are raising concerns about the placement of the hotel guard station, the height of the new spa building, and the positioning of parking garage entrances and exits.

Legg Mason has promised to retain the Belleview Biltmore's historic ambience and preserve its position on the National Register of Historic Places. The developer has met repeatedly with residents, town officials and others who care about the future of this Pinellas County landmark, and has modified the plans to satisfy concerns raised in those meetings.

Legg Mason and its architect have promised to be sensitive and to communicate openly throughout the several years it will take to complete the project after plans finally are approved.

No doubt, they are eager to get the ball rolling. However, Belleair town officials need to spend a lot of time studying every aspect of the project, particularly the requests for variances from town codes, to make sure they understand all the potential impacts and have heard the community's concerns.


http://www.sptimes.com/2007/12/30/Northpinellas/Biltmore_owner_listen.shtml   St. Petersburg Times

Sunday December 30, 2007

photo

A rendering shows the new spa, one story instead of two, in response to the concerns of some neighbors that views of the Intracoastal would be blocked.

Biltmore owner listens, tweaks, moves forward

The efforts and promised investment fuel faith that the hotel will be saved.

By LORRI HELFAND, Times Staff Writer
Published December 30, 2007

BELLEAIR - The new owner of the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa is moving forward with what it describes as a $100-million makeover of the 111-year-old landmark.

But unlike some previous hotel suitors, this owner reached out to the community for feedback before completing its plans.

"That's what sets this owner head and shoulders above what everyone else has done in the past," said Deputy Mayor Stephen Fowler.

Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, which paid $30.3-million for the hotel in June, this month filed site plan and variance applications with the town of Belleair to redevelop the hotel site.

Before doing so, Legg Mason and its architectural firm held about a dozen meetings with local and state officials, neighbors and other members of the community and made tweaks in response to what they heard.

"We tried to respond to all of the suggestions that have been made by the community," project architect Richard J. Heisenbottle said.

They listened, Mayor Gary Katica said.

"They were very sensitive to the needs of the people," he said.

Key concerns

In Belleair, a mostly upscale enclave of 4,200 people, residents value both history and green space. About a quarter of the town, which spans 2 square miles, consists of open space.

Increased traffic was one of the key concerns of residents, said Town Manager Micah Maxwell.

In response, Legg Mason proposes a left-turn lane in front of the hotel to prevent traffic backups from delaying nearby residents. And the hotel guardhouse would be moved slightly west to allow up to five cars to line up without obstructing access to nearby homes, Heisenbottle said.

Other neighbors were concerned that a new spa on the west side of the building, overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway, would obstruct their view, Heisenbottle said.

So Legg Mason scrapped its plans for a two-story spa and now proposes a one-story, 18,900-square-foot structure.

The owner also has discussed covering the building with a fabric-like screen during much of the construction, Fowler said, so the project wouldn't be an eyesore to nearby residents.

Joe Penner, managing director for Legg Mason of Los Angeles, has estimated renovation costs at more than $100-million. The hotel could be closed for up to two years during construction, which is slated to begin mid 2009 and end in 2011.

Legg Mason also plans to seek LEED certification for the resort. The acronym stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a designation from the U.S. Green Building Council for projects that meet environmentally responsible standards.

In turn, town listens

Town leaders also have been sensitive to the owner's concerns as it redevelops the property.

Last month, town commissioners voted to adjust building fees without passing on big hikes to large projects like the Biltmore. Instead of paying $2-million in permit fees, the Biltmore's owner will likely pay closer to $350,000, Maxwell said.

Because the project involves major redevelopment, Legg Mason must comply with current codes.

The owner's variance application includes a request to build a structure 60 feet tall. The town's code limits buildings in the district to 32 feet. The current hotel is more than 55 feet tall.

The request also asks for about 650 parking spaces. Plans show the hotel has 172 now. Normally, the code would require the redeveloped property to provide nearly 2,000 spaces to go with the additional hotel rooms, restaurants, the spa and ballrooms.

Heisenbottle said the hotel would not need that many spaces because patrons would use the variety of facilities at different times.

On special occasions, the hotel's golf course parking on Indian Rocks Road could be used for evening valet parking, providing a total of 907 spaces, he said.

Town engineering consultant TBE Group will review the applications. They should go before the Planning and Zoning Board and the Town Commission in March, Maxwell said.

Cheers, not boos

In September, Penner and Heisenbottle presented plans to residents and preservationists at the Town Hall, drawing cheers and applause at times.

It was a stark contrast to two years earlier. Residents and preservationists booed and hissed when DeBartolo Development shared its plan to raze most of the hotel to build 180 condos and a village like Disney's Celebration on the hotel's golf course.

Viewing the presentation back then "was like watching your kid in a grammar school play screw up," Katica said.

The new owner plans to preserve the golf course.

For years, the fate of the Belleview Biltmore, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, had been in doubt. Twice since 2004 the hotel was threatened with demolition.

In 2005, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named the Biltmore one of America's 11 most endangered historic places.

Legg Mason's efforts and its investment have given Katica faith that the hotel will be saved this time.

"They're spending a lot of money on these plans," Katica said. "I guess I'm believing it's for real."

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or 445-4155.

Proposed changes

-Demolish pagoda entrance and build new entrance consistent with the architecture of the rest of the resort.

-Demolish current spa. Build 9,200-square-foot ballroom in its place.

-Build a one-story, 18,900-square-foot spa on west side of the property.

-Landscape grounds and replace parking lots with underground parking garages that have about 650 spaces.

-Restore hotel's main 256-room building as well as five ballrooms and meeting rooms.

-Build new five-story, 174-room hotel annex on the east side of the property.

-Restore three Victorian cottages, two to provide 12 additional hotel rooms and the third to serve as site for meetings and conferences.

-Refurbish Pelican Golf Club on Indian Rocks Road.


http://www.tbnweekly.com/pubs/belleair_bee/content_articles/122607_bee-01.txt  Belleair Bee December 26, 2007

Belleview Biltmore application filed

[Image]

Rendering courtesy of lmrei

An architect’s rendering depicts the planned look of the redeveloped Belleview Biltmore Resort.

BELLEAIR – Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, Inc. filed a formal application with the town of Belleair for the redevelopment of the historic Belleview Biltmore Hotel site.

Joseph Penner, the managing director of Legg Mason, said that he is extremely pleased that the formal process for final approval of the redevelopment is now under way.

“We have had literally dozens of meetings with our neighbors and other members of the community, as well as our state and local government officials, and have to the fullest extent possible incorporated their recommendations. This plan is truly a community effort and product,” said Penner in a press release.

He further commented that an extraordinary amount of thought and effort had gone into the plans, and that the project is one of which the community will be proud.

“We look forward to working with the town of Belleair and the local residents to restore a truly magnificent historic treasure,” said Richard J. Heisenbottle, FAIA, the project architect.

The following proposed improvements to the Belleview Biltmore Hotel site are included in the plans submitted to Belleair:

• A new landscaped grand entrance to the main hotel

• A fully restored 256 room main hotel structure with five ballrooms, meeting rooms, restaurants and retail shops

• A new, but architecturally consistent, 174-room annex hotel adjacent to the main hotel structure

• Three restored Victorian cottages

• A new 1-story spa facility with underground parking

• Elegantly landscaped grounds and the elimination of surface parking through the construction of underground parking garages

• Removal of the existing pagoda structure at the current front entrance to the main hotel

• A refurbished clubhouse and improved landscaping and parking at the Pelican Golf Club.

The project will be LEED certified.


http://www.sptimes.com/2007/12/02/Northpinellas/Many_shades_of_green_.shtml   St. Petersburg Times   December 2, 2007

Many shades of green abound in North Pinellas
By Times Staff Writer

The "green" movement is showing up in north Pinellas County in a big way. Take, for example, the recent announcement that the developers restoring the 110-year-old Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa to its former grandeur intend to spend the extra time and money to make it a "green" building.

At a news conference Nov. 19 featuring Gov. Charlie Crist, Legg Mason Real Estate Investors of Los Angeles said that the firm will seek a special designation, called LEED certification, awarded for projects that meet a rigorous set of environmental standards. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification is awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council.

"This resort will be reborn as a modern, energy-efficient, LEED-certified, green building," said Joe Penner, managing director for Legg Mason.

Legg Mason bought the historic Belleview Biltmore property in June for more than $30-million and expects to invest more than $100-million in the renovations. Legg Mason has said the enormous wood structure, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, will be renovated in a way that preserves its historic roots - no easy task for a building that size. The announcement that Legg Mason also intends to satisfy an exacting list of environmental standards to get green certification is just another indication of the firm's ambitious, spare-no-expense approach to the project.

Pinellas County government is already winning awards for its green efforts, and Dunedin also has ambitions when it comes to going green. The city has built a certified green building, the new Dunedin Community Center, and now has hired a "sustainability coordinator" to help the city change its approaches on everything from recycling to how it powers city vehicles. Thanks to the efforts of sustainability coordinator Valerie Lane, Dunedin employees are asked to turn off lights and unplug electronic equipment and consider riding their bikes to work. She's also seeking certification as a green city government through a laborious documentation process and is planning to work with local schools.

Largo city government has not plunged into the green movement with as much fervor as Dunedin, but the city's recycling coordinator recently visited the statewide Efest at a green master-planned community in Sarasota, where a number of speakers educated attendees on the trend toward green living. Another city employee attended a conference in Baltimore that focused on protecting and increasing the tree cover in neighborhoods.

Daily, our understanding of the destructive impact of the human footprint on the Earth increases. All individuals, businesses and governments should be finding ways to "go green."

Your voice counts


Belleview Biltmore halls are decked out for the holidays   Belleair Bee  December 5, 2007

[Image]
Sisters Diane Partridge, left, and Marilee Friedman help with tree trimming in the reception lobby of the Belleview Biltmore Resort.

BELLEAIR – More than 100 volunteers turned out for the Deck the Halls party at the Belleview Biltmore Resort and Spa on Nov. 18.

The volunteers hung thousands of ornaments, hundreds of feet of garland and ribbons, decorated seven large trees and were well on their way to building 32 10-foot wooden soldiers.

Over the past two weeks, Colleen Rogers hand painted the soldiers faces while other volunteers returned to help with finishing touches throughout the hotel.

Hotel staff added 12 trees in the main hallway, one for each decade of the hotel’s 110 years of operation. The 12th is for the decade ahead and the one many believe will be the most historic ever.

The community is encouraged to visit the Belleview over the holidays to view the decorations and join in the holiday festivities.


http://www.clearwatergazette.com/20071129/biltmore.html   Clearwater Gazette, Thursday, November 29, 2007

Hoteliers Offer Another Reason to Support the Biltmore

Photo/text by Renee Burrell

(l to r) Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa Vice President and Manager Martin Smith, Belleview Biltmore Golf Club Director of Membership Amy Spencer, and Golf Club General Manager Chuck Eade

Out of towners see the Belleview Biltmore Resort as a quaint get away. Locals see it as a beloved landmark and community friendly venue, akin to a country club, but without the dues and rules. Now conservation minded travelers and area residents will have another reason to support the hotel. Aside from offering prestigious lodging and dining, spa services, sports and nightlife, the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa will be joining countless others in the hospitality industry riding "The Green Wave".

Owners Legg Mason Investments (LMI) of Los Angeles announced November 19 at a press conference and reception their plan to achieve the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. The U.S. Green Building Council is a nonprofit coalition of building industry leaders headquartered in Washington D.C. Upon certification, the resort can be designated by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection as a "green lodging".

The LEED Green Building Rating System is the accepted national standard that promotes building design and construction practices that reduce negative environmental impacts.

LEED can be granted for attaining different levels--Certified, Silver, Gold, or Platinum. The level of certification depends upon the number of credits a building or renovation project garners in five green design categories including, sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources and indoor environmental quality.

According to Joseph Penner, LMI Director, the intent is for the resort to utilize water efficient landscape designs, energy efficient equipment and construction methods, reusable materials, ventilation improvements and various other enhancements.

"The achievement of LEED certification is an important step in the life of this magnificent historic property. The new design includes underground parking and sculptured gardens which will help restore the property to its grandeur, while creating a modern energy efficient destination resort."


http://www.tbnweekly.com/content_articles/112107_bee-02.txt   Belleair Bee Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Belleair basks in glory of special visit

BELLEAIR – Following Monday’s visit to the Belleview Biltmore by Gov. Charlie Crist, the atmosphere at Tuesday night’s Town Commission meeting was ebullient, filled with mutual praise for as well as thanks to all parties involved in the lengthy struggle to secure the sale, restoration and now the planned “greening” of the Biltmore.

Two agenda items specifically targeted at the promotion of the partnership between the town and the private investors planning the restoration of the Biltmore – one an amendment to a town ordinance changing the fee structure for development permits and a second proposing a tax exemption for historic properties – both scheduled for final reading at the meeting, were continued until Dec. 4. The reason, according to Town Manager Micah Maxwell, is that sufficient time for public advertising had not been allowed prior to the final reading.

Legg Mason’s Joseph Penner, who attended the meeting to hear the details of the two ordinances, acknowledged the delay and underscored his appreciation for the town’s efforts in lowering the permit fees potentially saving LMREI nearly $1.65 million in fees.

“I hope the ordinance will pass December 4th as it is written,” Penner said.

Of the second proposed ordinance Penner said, “Regarding the town’s decision not to include commercial property in the forthcoming law, I don’t really understand it but I would like to say that the tax credit package at the federal level, which we depend on as an integral part of the financing of our property is a complex process. We’ve hired a group out of Washington who specialize in that sort of thing to consult and advise us on the best way to enact those tax credit policies that we will be doing on the property.”

Penner told the commission that the first year or so, the commercial potential of the tax savings would not be there.

“I don’t think it’s even physically possible to get the construction permits between now and the end of ’08,” he said.

Mayor Gary Katica acknowledged Penner and the other partners of Legg Mason Real Estate Investors for the reception attended by Crist Monday.

“I want to personally thank you and everybody at Legg Mason for a fabulous day yesterday; it was a classic event and I’m sure I speak for my fellow commissioners and the citizens of Belleair when I say thank you so much,” Katica said.

Penner, who was to return to California for the holiday replied, “We appreciate all the support you guys have given us. We’ll be back soon.”

In an interesting concurrence of theme, the commission also passed a resolution endorsing the Florida Green Building Coalition and its “Green City” initiative, which is aimed at improving the long term quality of the environment by exercising alternative solutions for energy efficiency among participating Florida municipalities. The resolution passed 4-0; Commissioner Stephanie Oddo was absent.


http://www.tbnweekly.com/content_articles/112107_bee-01.txt     Belleair Bee, Wednesday November 21, 2007

Crist gives thumbs up to Biltmore plans

[Image]

Gov. Charlie Crist, left, chats with Joe Penner, managing director of Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, during a visit Monday to the Belleview Biltmore Resort.

Photo by CHARY SOUTHMAYD

From left to right:  Commissioner Steve Fowler, Mayor Gary Katica, Commissioners Stephanie Oddo, Karla Rhettstatt, Tom Shelly

BELLEAIR – The Belleview Biltmore Resort is no longer one of the nation’s 11 most endangered historic sites, and the unique structure made entirely of native Florida pine will have a decidedly “green” future.

Gov. Charlie Crist Monday shared in the celebration with Biltmore supporters, historic preservationists and a gathering of elected officials on the scenic back porch, which was the original entrance of the hotel Henry B. Plant built in 1896.

Invited to the event by Amy Spencer, director of membership at the Belleview Biltmore Golf Club and a personal friend, Crist praised efforts by the Biltmore’s new owners, Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, to seek LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, while also protecting its historic integrity.

“What you’re doing, Joe, is exactly the right thing,” Crist told Joe Penner, LMREI’s managing director, “preserving the Biltmore for future generations to enjoy.”

Noting that Florida is vulnerable to the effects of dramatic climate change, the governor emphasized the importance of protecting the state’s natural beauty, which plays a crucial role in its most valuable economic asset – the tourism industry.

“My focus is on Florida,” Crist said. “The Belleview Biltmore is a fixture in this community and its preservation is crucial to our cultural legacy. It’s our duty to take care of national historic sites.”

Asked if he had ever stayed at the Biltmore, Crist replied, “You mean overnight? No, but I’ve been here on many occasions.”

Looking typically tanned and dapper in a blue business suit, the governor warmly greeted several Belleair citizens, members of the town commission and county representatives in attendance with handshakes and hugs.

With the Biltmore lingering under threat of demolition for the past few years, John Hildreth of the National Trust for Historic Preservation announced that the Biltmore will be removed from the trust’s Most Endangered Places list, where it was placed in 2005, and will serve as what he called “a national model” for others.

“We celebrate the change in status of the Belleview Biltmore,” said Hildreth. “The Biltmore is now in the hands of people who want to do the right thing … though it took a circuitous route to get to this point.”

In his remarks, Penner vowed that once the Biltmore’s $100-million restorative makeover is complete, it will retain its elegance and grandeur.

By implementing water-efficient landscaping, energy-efficient equipment and other environmentally-friendly enhancements to achieve LEED certification, Penner said the Biltmore’s operational costs will go down in the long run.

Penner estimates that LMREI will file its site application plan with the town of Belleair in the next two to three weeks and, once approved, will apply for construction permitting – a process he said could take from 6 to 12 months.

In a best-case scenario, outside site work could begin in the first quarter of 2009, Penner said, with the hotel closing in early summer 2009 and reopening for business two years later in 2011.

Asked to answer lingering skeptics who doubt the Biltmore truly will be restored for future generations to cherish, Penner said, “We are trying to do something good for the community. We buy properties that are troubled and fix them. Maybe the day the hotel opens, people will believe it.”

Rendition of the Starlight Ballroom 2011   R. J. Heisenbottle, Artchitect


http://www.clearwatergazette.com/20071121/crist.html    Clearwater Gazette Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Keynote Speaker Crist Commends Legg Mason for Going Green

photo/text by Renee Burrell

"The Belleview Biltmore is a fixture in this community and its preservation is crucial to our culture and historical industries," said Governor Crist. (Pictured left to right) John Hildreth, Governor Charlie Crist, and Joseph Penner

BELLEAIR - Governor Charlie Crist applauded green building efforts in Pinellas and Sarasota counties Monday. His first stop was the Belleview Biltmore Resort for a press conference with John Hildreth from the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Southern Office and Joseph Penner, the Managing Director of Legg Mason Real Estate Investors and owners of the resort.

Speaking from the stairs of the hotel's original porch entrance, Penner announced plans for seeking the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

Crist commended Legg Mason Investments for plans to meet green standards and also for their preservation efforts of the historic landmark. "Today is an important day for one of Florida's most historic sites…The Belleview Biltmore is a fixture in this community and its preservation is crucial to our culture and historical industries. I commend Legg Mason's concern for the environment and commitment to restoring the resort in a way that will help preserve Florida's beautiful natural environment."

According to Penner, the renovations will include water efficient landscaping, utilization of energy efficient equipment and construction methods, incorporate reusable materials, and ventilation upgrades along with other enhancements to help them achieve "green" certification.

The renovations will cause the hotel to be designated by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) as a "green lodging" destination. Florida's Green Lodging Program began in 2004 and establishes environmental guidelines for hotels to conserve natural resources and prevent pollution.  

Crist embraced the Green Lodging Program in July at Florida's Summit for Global Climate Change when he signed Executive Order 07-126 that requires state agencies to conduct meetings and conferences at hotels participating in the program whenever possible.

Crist warmly greeted attendees gathered at the hotel for the conference before leaving to tour a green Sarasota County office complex and receive an award from Sarasota County Commissioner Joe Barbetta for his leadership in addressing global climate change through reduced carbon emissions, increased energy conservation and use of renewal energy.

Despite the work of determined preservation groups, the 110-year-old hotel was in danger of being demolished until Legg Mason purchased it, and committed to renovating, not razing it. Aside from being one of Florida's only remaining Victorian hotels, the Belleview Biltmore also has the distinction of being the largest, continually occupied wooden structure in the world still in use for its original purpose and has played hostess to several American Presidents, royalty, and celebrities.

John Hildreth, National Trust

The National Trust for Historic Preservations Southern Office's Director Hildreth commented during the press conference that the best "green" building is one that is already standing. He also announced that the Belleview Biltmore would be removed from the Trust's Registry of 11 Most Endangered Buildings, where it had previously been listed.

Later in the evening the public attended a presentation of the plans in the Hotel's Tiffany Ballroom.


http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/sptimes/access/1385742071.html?dids=1385742071:1385742071&FMT=FT&FMTS=ABS:FT&date=Nov+20%2C+2007&author=RITA+FARLOW&pub=St.+Petersburg+Times&edition=&startpage=5.B&desc=CRIST+LAUDS+PROJECT+AT+BELLEVIEW+BILTMORE

St. Petersburg Times  Tuesday, November 20, 2007

By Rita Farlow

CRIST LAUDS PROJECT AT BELLEVIEW BILTMORE

The new owners of the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa are taking steps to make the renovation of the 110-year-old landmark environmentally friendly.

At a news conference Monday, Legg Mason Real Estate Investors of Los Angeles announced its plans to seek "LEED" certification for the resort.

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. The designation is supplied by the U.S. Green Building Council for buildings that meet a lengthy set of environmentally responsible standards.

Legg Mason paid nearly $30.3-million for the landmark in June. Renovations will take about 21/2 years. The cost is likely to exceed $100-million, said Joe Penner, the managing director.

Gov. Charlie Crist was at the news conference at the hotel's original entrance to thank the key players for their desire to preserving the structure while protecting the environment.

"I grew up in Pinellas County," Crist said. "This is home. And, you know, when you grow up in a place as pretty as this, you want to try to make sure it's protected, that you take care of it, that you do the right thing in the process."


http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/sptimes/access/1385742161.html?dids=1385742161:1385742161&FMT=FT&FMTS=ABS:FT&date=Nov+20%2C+2007&author=RITA+FARLOW&pub=St.+Petersburg+Times&edition=&startpage=1&desc=WOODEN+ICON+BREATHES+NEW+GREEN+LIFE

 

http://www.sptimes.com/2007/11/20/NorthPinellas/WOODEN_ICON_BREATHES_.shtml

St. Petersburg Times  Tuesday, November 20, 2007

By Rita Farlow

WOODEN ICON BREATHES NEW GREEN LIFE

The governor endorses the energy efficiency project of the new owners of the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa.

The new owners of the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa are taking steps to make the renovation of the 110-year-old landmark environmentally friendly.

At a news conference Monday, Legg Mason Real Estate Investors of Los Angeles announced their plans to seek "LEED" certification for the resort.

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. The designation is supplied by the U.S. Green Building Council for buildings that meet a lengthy set of environmentally responsible standards.

"We're here today to set the stage for the future, and I can tell you it's a grand vision. This resort will be reborn as a modern energy-efficient, LEED-certified, green building while retaining all of its historical significance and its grandeur," said Joe Penner, managing director for Legg Mason.

Legg Mason paid nearly $30.3-million for the landmark in June. Renovations will take about 21/2 years. The cost is likely to exceed $100-million, Penner said.

Gov. Charlie Crist was at the press conference at the hotel's original entrance to thank the key players for their commitment to preserving the structure while protecting the environment.

"I grew up in Pinellas County," Crist said. "This is home. And, you know, when you grow up in a place as pretty as this, you want to try to make sure it's protected, that you take care of it, that you do the right thing in the process."

Crist noted the importance of sharing the historic landmark with future generations, as well as the economic impact places such as the Biltmore have on Florida's tourism industry.

Penner outlined some of the ways his team - including Heisenbottle Architects of Coral Gables - will seek certification.

The existing electrical, heating and cooling systems will be replaced with updated, energy-efficient versions.

Salvageable materials will be reused. And current asphalt parking lots will be replaced with an underground garage to create more green space.

Building "green" makes sense, Penner said. Although construction and materials can be more expensive up front, decreased operating costs mean savings in the long run.

"At the end of the day, you do recoup that savings over time, and, in reality, it's the right thing. For a property of this caliber, this type of feeling, to create something that will be a modern green building for the future," Penner said.

"Will it cost more? Yes," he said. "Is it worth it in the long run? Absolutely. We want something we can really look back on and be proud of."

John Hildreth, director of the southern office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, lauded preservation efforts that focus on environmental sustainability.

"We believe that the greenest building is the one that already exists," Hildreth said. "We believe, as well, that traditional preservation practices are compatible with environmentally sound building principals."

In 2005, the Biltmore was placed on the organization's list of 11 most endangered historic places.

Hildreth said he hopes to return someday to see the resort atop a different list: the National Trust's Dozen Distinctive Destinations, which honors unique communities committed to preservation.

Rita Farlow can be reached at farlow@sptimes.com or (727) 445- 4162.

Fast facts

The Belleview Biltmore owners

Legg Mason Real Estate Investors of Los Angeles:

- Provides "creative and flexible" commercial real estate financing.

- Part of publicly traded Legg Mason Inc., the world's fifth largest asset manager, with assets of more than $800-billion


http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/sptimes/access/1386539561.html?dids=1386539561:1386539561&FMT=FT&FMTS=ABS:FT&date=Nov+21%2C+2007&author=&pub=St.+Petersburg+Times&edition=&startpage=2&desc=GOING+GREEN+GAINS+MOMENTUM+IN+COUNTY

http://www.sptimes.com/2007/11/20/NorthPinellas/WOODEN_ICON_BREATHES_.shtml

St. Petersburg Times Editorial Tuesday, November 21, 2007

The "green" movement is showing up in North Pinellas County in a big way.

Take, for example, this week's major announcement that the developers restoring the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa to its former grandeur intend to spend the extra time and money to make it a "green" building.

At a news conference Monday featuring Gov. Charlie Crist, Legg Mason Real Estate Investors of Los Angeles said that the firm will seek a special designation, called LEED certification, awarded for projects that meet a rigorous set of environmental standards. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification is awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council.

"This resort will be reborn as a modern, energy-efficient, LEED- certified, green building," said Joe Penner, managing director for Legg Mason.

Legg Mason bought the historic Belleview Biltmore property in June for more than $30-million and expects to invest more than $100- million in the renovations. Legg Mason has said the enormous wood structure, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, will be renovated in a way that preserves its historic roots - no easy task for a building that size. The announcement that Legg Mason also intends to satisfy an exacting list of environmental standards to get green certification is just another indication of the firm's ambitious, spare-no-expense approach to the project.

Dunedin also has ambitions when it comes to going green. The city already has built a certified green building, the new Dunedin Community Center, and now has hired a "sustainability coordinator" to help the city change its approaches on everything from recycling to how it powers city vehicles.

As sustainability coordinator, Valerie Lane will have influence in big and small ways. For example, thanks to her efforts, city employees are asked to turn off lights and unplug electronic equipment and consider riding their bikes to work. She's also seeking certification as a green city government through a laborious documentation process and planning to work with local schools. For more information about Dunedin's efforts, check the city Web site at www.dunedingov.com and click on Sustainability Program on the left side of the screen.

The announcements from Legg Mason and Dunedin are just the leading edge. Daily, our understanding of the destructive impact of the human footprint on the earth increases. All individuals, businesses and governments should be finding ways to "go green."


http://tampabay.bizjournals.com/tampabay/stories/2007/11/19/daily13.html?t=printable

Tampa Bay Business Journal Monday, Monday November 19, 2007 -

Gov. Charlie Crist continues to promote environmentally friendly building throughout Florida, making stops Monday in Pinellas and Sarasota counties to recognize efforts there.  Crist visited the 110-year-old Belleview Biltmore Hotel, which will be renovated by Legg Mason Real Estate Investors according to standards set by the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program.

"The Belleview Biltmore is a fixture in this community and its preservation is crucial to our culture and historical industries," Crist said, according to a release. "I commend Legg Mason's concern for the environment and commitment to restoring the resort in a way that will help preserve Florida's beautiful natural environment." Officials with Legg Mason said their goal is to get a designation as a "green lodging" destination by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, a program launched in 2004 that provides environmental guidelines for hotels to conserve natural resources and prevent pollution.

As part of the announcement, John Hildreth with the National Trust for Historic Preservation said that the Belleview Biltmore would be removed from the organization's Registry of Most Endangered Buildings. The Belleview Biltmore is one of the largest, continually occupied wood structures in the country, and over the past 100 years has hosted heads of state, movie stars and even British royalty.


Crist also toured the Twin Lakes Green Building, Sarasota County's first LEED-certified building. It is a retrofitted older building made to be more energy efficient and renovated with sustainable materials.

The building is home to the University of Florida-Sarasota County Extension offices and has been awarded a gold-level LEED certification. The new construction manages storm water runoff to limit erosion, utilizes recycled and local materials, and institutes measures for conserving water - including rainwater collection - low-valve fixtures and native plants.


http://www.tbnweekly.com/content_articles/111407_bee-03.txt  Belleair Bee Wednesday November 14, 2007

Town commission reduces some building permit fees

Article published on Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2007

BELLEAIR – The cost of the restoration of the Belleview Biltmore, which has been estimated by owners Legg Mason Real Estate Investors to be in the neighborhood of $100 million, makes it one of the largest private building projects in the county and certainly the largest in Belleair.

On Nov. 7, town officials made the unusual move of adjusting down the town’s proposed building permit fees to come in line with other municipalities in the county.

Reading from a list of local municipal building fee structures, Town Manager Micah Maxwell enumerated the range of fees, which would apply to similar projects the size of the Biltmore: Clearwater, Tarpon Springs, Oldsmar and Belleair Beach would charge $300,000 to $350,000 in permitting and building inspection fees, Pinellas Park just over $200,000 and Largo and St. Petersburg $1.5 million and $2.9 million respectively.

The decision by the Town Commission was to bench their previous plan to hike fees from a simple 1 percent to 2 percent of total project valuation, and replace it with what Maxwell called a “sliding scale.”

For the first $1 million of project value, the permit and inspection fees would be set at a flat 2 percent or $20,000. Then for each $1,000 of value the town would collect $3.30, which for the Biltmore owners results in an estimated fee of approximately $350,000 rather than the nearly $2 million they had been facing.

The new sliding fee structure, “would fit in with the rest of these $100 million projects,” Maxwell said, “Pretty much the middle of the other projects.”

In discussions with town officials and the representatives of LMREI, the formula developed eases the burden of the cost of permitting very large value projects such as the Biltmore, yet keeps in place a fee structure. According to town officials, that will cover the cost requirements of permitting and inspecting, including, in the case of the Biltmore, site plans review and the cost of hiring historic preservation experts.

At the same time, the fee structure provides for a simple $25 fee for small projects up to $1,000.


St. Petersburg Times Editorial Wednesday, November 21, 2007

http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/sptimes/access/1386539561.html?dids=1386539561:1386539561&FMT=FT&FMTS=ABS:FT&date=Nov+21%2C+2007&author=&pub=St.+Petersburg+Times&edition=&startpage=2&desc=GOING+GREEN+GAINS+MOMENTUM+IN+COUNTY

The "green" movement is showing up in North Pinellas County in a big way.

Take, for example, this week's major announcement that the developers restoring the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa to its former grandeur intend to spend the extra time and money to make it a "green" building.

At a news conference Monday featuring Gov. Charlie Crist, Legg Mason Real Estate Investors of Los Angeles said that the firm will seek a special designation, called LEED certification, awarded for projects that meet a rigorous set of environmental standards. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification is awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council.

"This resort will be reborn as a modern, energy-efficient, LEED- certified, green building," said Joe Penner, managing director for Legg Mason.

Legg Mason bought the historic Belleview Biltmore property in June for more than $30-million and expects to invest more than $100- million in the renovations. Legg Mason has said the enormous wood structure, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, will be renovated in a way that preserves its historic roots - no easy task for a building that size. The announcement that Legg Mason also intends to satisfy an exacting list of environmental standards to get green certification is just another indication of the firm's ambitious, spare-no-expense approach to the project.

Dunedin also has ambitions when it comes to going green. The city already has built a certified green building, the new Dunedin Community Center, and now has hired a "sustainability coordinator" to help the city change its approaches on everything from recycling to how it powers city vehicles.

As sustainability coordinator, Valerie Lane will have influence in big and small ways. For example, thanks to her efforts, city employees are asked to turn off lights and unplug electronic equipment and consider riding their bikes to work. She's also seeking certification as a green city government through a laborious documentation process and planning to work with local schools. For more information about Dunedin's efforts, check the city Web site at www.dunedingov.com and click on Sustainability Program on the left side of the screen.

The announcements from Legg Mason and Dunedin are just the leading edge. Daily, our understanding of the destructive impact of the human footprint on the earth increases. All individuals, businesses and governments should be finding ways to "go green."
 


http://www.tbnweekly.com/content_articles/111407_bee-02.txt    Belleair Bee Wednesday November, 14, 2007

Crist to help launch ‘greening’ of Belleview Biltmore
 
Legg Mason will seek Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification
 

BELLEAIR – Gov. Charlie Crist will be the keynote speaker at the Belleview Biltmore Resort Monday, Nov. 19, 3:30 p.m., where he will address Legg Mason Real Estate Investors’ preservation efforts for the Biltmore.

Legg Mason Real Estate Investors of Los Angeles, plan to seek LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council for the Belleview Biltmore. According to Joseph Penner, managing director of Legg Mason, the intent is to utilize a water efficient landscape design, energy efficient equipment and construction methods, reusable materials, ventilation improvements and other enhancements to achieve “green” certification.

Legg Mason’s goal is to return the magnificent wooden structure to its former glory and achieve a four- to-five star hotel rating. Plans include restoring the hotel and surrounding historic homes in accordance with Department of Interior – U. S. Park Service preservation standards, removal of the pagoda-like front entrance, removal of the aluminum siding, adding an underground parking facility, a new spa, the creation of a park surrounding the hotel and a façade easement to protect the hotel forever.

The public is invited to view the plans at a 6 p.m. reception on Nov. 19 in the Tiffany Ballroom.

“The achievement of LEED certification is an important step in the life of this magnificent historic property,” said Penner. “The new design includes underground parking and sculptured gardens which will help restore the property to its grandeur, while creating a modern energy efficient destination resort.”

Legg Mason paid nearly $30.3-million for the landmark in June.


http://www.tbnweekly.com/content_articles/103107_bee-01.txt

Belleview Biltmore to close May 2009   Belleair Bee Wednesday, October 31, 2007

By HARLAN WEIKLE
 
Article published on Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2007
BELLEAIR – If your plans following Super Bowl 2009 in Tampa include a stay at the Belleview Biltmore, you better make reservations now.

The resort and spa will stop taking reservations at the end of May 2009 to facilitate its extensive restoration, according to officials representing Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, who made the announcement before a meeting of the Belleair code enforcement board Tuesday evening.

Attorney Tom Reynolds representing LMREI, which has owned the Biltmore just four months, was on hand to plead his client’s case to set aside the findings that the property was in non-compliance with several local building codes, the worst being the state of disrepair of the famous gabled green roof.

Sworn witnesses in attendance for Tuesday’s hearing were head architect for the project, Richard Heisenbottle of Coral Gables, Ron Harn of Skanska Construction, Martin Smith, managing director and vice president of the Belleview Biltmore, and town building official Fred Hawes.

Querying Hawes regarding the current condition of the roof, town attorney David Ottinger elicited the building inspector’s conclusion that following two inspections, one this past summer and a second on Tuesday, “The roof is not in compliance.”

Hawes referenced missing shingles, torn and missing non-certified fabric covering and exposed wood.

The board had previously granted the owners 120 days or until the end of November to bring the roof up to code or face fines of $250 a day until the order was satisfied.

Reynolds et al presented testimony, including that of Heisenbottle and Harn, that the physical repair of the roof although necessary was not possible in the time frame set by the board. Heisenbottle referred to the antiquity of the structure, which dates from the late 1800s, when he told the board that some portions of the roof had “layer upon layer upon layer upon layer of shingles” while other areas had no sheathing whatsoever. He said the restoration team needed at least six months just to prepare the application.

Harn then gave expert testimony based on his lifelong career as a roofing contractor that the process intended to fully restore the roof to its original appearance and at the same time adhere to modern codes would require 16 months and cost $4.5 million. The entire building, he said, would have to be “scaffolded” with the removal alone requiring four months followed by five months of reconstruction of the substructure, including the application of hurricane clips and strapping. That would be followed by an additional seven months to resurface the new structure.

Harn and Heisenbottle told the board that they were currently accessing a cosmetic, colored foam application that would disguise the poor condition of the roof giving the owners time to properly plan and execute a new roof, which Heisenbottle said, “Comes with a 50-year guarantee. We won’t be back here again.”

After some brief confusion regarding the target completion date, the board voted unanimously to amend their previous compliance order and grant Legg Mason until Nov. 1, 2009 to bring the roof up to code with the proviso that the construction management team returns Nov. 1, 2008 with a progress report.

Heisenbottle estimated that the fines, had they begun this week, would have resulted in an additional $100,000 to $150,000 or about .15 percent of the approximately $100 million price tag LMREI has predicted it will spend on the restoration project, now slated for completion by November 2010.

http://www.clearwatergazette.com/20070927/biltmore.html   Clearwater Gazette September 27, 2007

Belleair Commission Views Plans For Restoring Historic Treasure  
by Anne McKay Garris



Rendering of Biltmore south view by RJ Heisenbottle Architects

For three long years, the people of Belleair have struggled with what's to become of the 110-year-old Belleview Biltmore Hotel, a historic structure which has always been the focal point of the Town of Belleair. Several plans to replace the building which was, at one time, the world's largest wooden building under one roof, have been vigorously opposed by both Belleair residents and others in surrounding cities.

Finally, last Tuesday night, there was a proposal which earned eager bursts of applause from the more than 150 citizens assembled in the Commission Chambers at Belleair City Hall. The first cheers were for the removal of the vastly unpopular pagoda style entrance placed on the Victorian style hotel several years ago. Legg Mason Real Estate Investors are the new owners of the Biltmore property. Joseph Pender, managing director of Legg Mason, shared his company's vision of creating a true historic renovation.

"We envision," he said, "that this will be a resort and convention center which can compete nationally."

But it will be much more. While restoring the facade and ambiance of the historic hotel, the company plans to make it an environmentally friendly property. They will not only place all of the parking underground, they will operate the hotel in keeping with the best environmental practices using energy efficient methods approved by the environmental organization, Leaves.

Richard Heisenbottle, a Coral Gables architect whose firm specializes in historical restoration, is the architect for the project. He described some of the major changes contemplated.

"We choose difficult projects," he said. "They are so much fun."

According to Heisenbottle, plans contemplate removing the existing spa and replacing it with a 10,000 square foot ballroom space, big enough for events and conventions. The pool area will be changed from just a pool, to an "event pool" just below the current outdoor restaurant. There will also be other event oriented areas including tennis courts, and a wedding gazebo.

The four Victorian style "cottages" on the campus will be restored and used for meeting spaces or rentals, "Maybe a wedding party would like to rent one of them for the week-end," said Heisenbottle. Also retained and restored will be the popular Tiffany Room and the downstairs pub. A five star dining room will be added.

The golf course and club house, located down Indian Rocks Road from the Hotel Campus, are included in the plans for improvement as is the Belleview Biltmore property located on Sand Key. A new hotel and cabanas will replace the restaurant and swimming pool now located on the Sand Key property and the company hopes to reinstate the historic tradition of providing a launch to take hotel visitors directly across Clearwater Bay to the beach. An oldtimer in the audience pointed out that the launch tradition was so old that the "launch" originally was powered by sail.

Representatives from several historic preservation organizations and local museums spoke to congratulate Belleair on the considerable effort which had brought them to this point. Others referred to work, still to be done, on tax credits and comprehensive plans. No one spoke to oppose the plan.

Clearwater architect, Stephan Fowler, a member of the Belleair Town Commission for ten years, expressed his delight with the project.

"As an architect, I am absolutely delighted that they are getting rid of that new front," he said, "and the most exciting part of the plan, for me, is they are saving the cottages. They are a charming representation of the Victorian times and they were the sacrificial lambs on all previous plans."

Asked what he thought were the chances of the plan actually coming to fruition, Fowler said, "Town officials and my fellow commissioners show every indication of wanting to make this happen. I believe it will be a major destination resort, of regional, if not national reputation."


Thanks to Kay Norred of our local Pinellas County TV station for interviewing us at the Biltmore entrance in regards to the new renovation plans.  Click here http://www.pinellascounty.org/inside_pinellas.htm and then click on
Inside Pinellas streaming video.   The Biltmore segment is about five minutes into the show.  October 2007


http://tbnweekly.com/content_articles/092607_bee-01.txt       Belleair Bee September 26, 2007 

The south side of the Biltmore will feature a new swimming pool and cabanas.

Biltmore design captivates audience  

By HARLAN WEIKLE

Article published on Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2007  
  
The south side of the Biltmore will feature a new swimming pool and cabanas.


BELLEAIR – To anyone attending the presentation of the Belleview Biltmore restoration plans by Legg Mason Real Estate Investors on Sept. 19, it was evident that this was a plan the town could love.

Armed with richly illustrated renderings and detailed plan views, some of which project architect Richard Heisenbottle admitted were still works in progress just the evening before, the team headed by LMREI CEO Joseph Penner, treated a standing room only crowd to their first look at the group’s vision for the historic resort.

Heisenbottle told the audience, “We do a lot of restoration projects and we do them at the highest level. If it’s a tough project, a difficult project then that’s the kind of project we choose.”

Virginia Donahue, who lives just two doors from the Biltmore Golf Club said, “This was a very professional presentation. It’s going to be beautiful, it was the best town meeting I’ve ever been to.”

Donahue who occasionally played piano during Sunday brunch at the club was excited that it was among the featured elements of the resort, which were to be restored.

“I talked to Chuck Eade, the manager of the golf club and he told me, ‘I’ll be sure to get the piano back,’” Donahue said.

The restoration project, which will require closing the resort in mid 2009 and should be complete in 2011, will cost an estimated $100 million according to Penner, who told the audience the plan is to restore the Biltmore to its former glory reminiscent of the 1940s era.

Among the many new features touted by the architect: a 10,000-square-foot ballroom, larger rooms – some with cathedral ceilings – tucked below the famous gabled green roof and the addition of retail shops including a bakery, ice cream shop and high end jeweler. A new spa will rise over underground parking where the current tennis courts are situated.

Heisenbottle displayed a rendering of a new grand entrance boulevard lined with Queen Palm, which will lead motorists to a roundabout and beyond to the hotel’s new main entrance; the current pagoda of glass with its vaulted roof line will be replaced with a new entrance more in keeping with the Biltmore’s traditional green roof style.

“There will be event lawns everywhere,” said Heisenbottle, “for weddings and picnics or just for couples to stroll in.”

The crowd applauded wildly when the architect confirmed that the resort’s green space was a special interest for the designer team.

Mayor Gary Katica said of the meeting, “Just listening to the response of the people and their intermittent applause and the cheers was the highlight of the evening. The only downside if any is that the hotel will be closed while construction takes place.”

Katica said the closure was understandable.

“A project of this magnitude can’t be accomplished overnight,” he said.


http://www.sptimes.com/2007/09/26/Northpinellas/Biltmore_plans_in_syn.shtml   St. Petersburg Times September 26, 2007

Biltmore plans in sync with the resort's fans

By A TIMES EDITORIAL
Published September 26, 2007

The unveiling of a developer's concepts for a restored Belleview Biltmore Resort has fans of that historic structure celebrating. And why not? Pinellas County came close to losing the 110-year-old hotel - to either condo developers or wood rot - and now, if promised plans are delivered, it has a real future as a resort that retains its historic value while also providing the needs of modern vacationers.

At a public meeting last week, Legg Mason Real Estate Investors of Los Angeles, the new owners of the hotel, showed off artist's renderings and listed the work that is planned for the property.

Those renderings showed the primary hotel structure looking much as it does today, minus the offensive pagoda entrance constructed by a wrongheaded former owner. That was no doubt comforting to those who worried that some developer might ruin the Belleview Biltmore, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

However, it was clear from Legg Mason's presentation that there will be many changes to the property to make it a viable resort product. For example, the old spa and hotel kitchen will be demolished, underground parking garages will be built, a new pool will be put in behind the hotel, a new 10,000-square-foot ballroom will be constructed where the old spa is now, a new two-story spa will overlook the Intracoastal Waterway, hotel rooms will be combined to create larger rooms, a new banquet facility will be constructed, the golf clubhouse will be renovated, and the entire property, including the golf course, will get new landscaping and walkways.

Most significantly, a 160-room hotel annex will be built to boost the total number of rooms on the property from the current 244 to more than 400.

And out on the hotel's Sand Key beach property, the trouble-plagued Cabana Club will be torn down - no one will miss it - and replaced with an eight-story hotel that may have a seafood restaurant overlooking the gulf.

Legg Mason representatives said the total cost of the Belleview Biltmore project will be $100-million and probably will take as much as four years to complete. The goal, those representatives said, is not just to save the Belleview Biltmore, but one day to have it qualify as a five-star resort.

If the California company pulls that off, it will win the gratitude of all those in Pinellas who have mourned the loss of the county's historic buildings in the past several decades and have feared for the future of the Belleview Biltmore.

As the plans progress, locals will want reassurance that all of the new construction Legg Mason plans, particularly the hotel annex, will be true to the hotel's period architecture and that the entire project will be designed to limit traffic impacts and preserve green space. They will want to see the plans, and they will want to participate in public discussions of those plans. Even after all approvals for the project have been granted, Legg Mason should plan to provide the public with regular updates on the construction.

Because if the company doesn't already know this, it soon will: Legg Mason may be the legal owner of the Belleview Biltmore, but Pinellas residents feel the place belongs to them.


ST. PETERSBURG TIMES  (our vice president of our nonprofit organization Ed Jameson was also interviewed for this article)

http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/sptimes/access/1339558521.html?dids=1339558521:1339558521&FMT=FT&FMTS=ABS:FT&date=Sep+21%2C+2007&author=TERRI+BRYCE+REEVES%3BLORRI+HELFAND&pub=St.+Petersburg+Times&edition=&startpage=1&desc=GRAND+HOTEL%2C+GRAND+PLAN

September 21, 2007

GRAND HOTEL, GRAND PLAN
[STATE Edition]

St. Petersburg Times - St. Petersburg, Fla.
Author: TERRI BRYCE REEVES; LORRI HELFAND

People in Belleair cheer a new proposal to restore Belleview Biltmore Resort.

Anne Garris gazed at the proposed restoration of the Belleview Biltmore Resort and declared, "Why, it looks just like it used to."

Gone would be the Japanese pagoda lobby, the musty old spa and the soul-deadening parking lot. Coming would be classic Victorian styling, larger rooms and more green space.

The resulting retro look reminded Garris of her days exploring the palatial wooden structure in its heyday in the 1940s.

"It was so beautiful - and huge," she said. "I'm so glad they're keeping it and not tearing it down."

She was one of about 150 or more people who came to the Belleair Town Commission Wednesday night to hear what the resort's new owners have in mind for the 110-year-old resort, one of Pinellas County's most significant historic structures.

They learned the effort would cost $100-million or more, that it would be environmentally friendly and that it probably won't be finished until 2011. That means the resort - though not the golf course - could be closed for up to two years during construction.

But it will be worth the wait, the owner said.

"We're preserving a legacy for future generations," said Joe Penner, managing director for Legg Mason Real Estate Investors of Los Angeles. Legg Mason paid nearly $30.3-million for the landmark in June.

Penner predicted the restored hotel will one day be a five-star resort, "one we can all be proud of."

Richard Heisenbottle, president of Heisenbottle Architects of Coral Gables, said there would be selective demolition "of noncontributing structures." When he announced that the pagoda- style lobby built in the 1990s was on the hit list, the crowd cheered and applauded.

Also to be demolished is the hotel kitchen and the malodorous old spa, he said.

The ballrooms, dining room and pub would receive major renovations. The total number of resort rooms would go from about 244 today to about 435. Some rooms, small by today's standards, would be combined.

One key aspect of the project is parking.

The "asphalt will go away," he said.

Instead, motorists will enter through a rabbit-hole-like entrance where a valet will drive their cars to one of two underground motor courts. A one-story garage with 74 spaces will go under where tennis courts exist today. The other subsurface spaces will be two levels, with 600 parking spots. Those will be built under the current parking lot.

With the surface parking gone, there will be more green space, trees and walking trails, he said.

Heisenbottle described a "grand entrance" with palm and shade trees, fountains and a Victorian-style porte-cochere. The lobby will be a "soaring three stories" and built in traditional Victorian style.

The golf clubhouse will also get a makeover with a new porte- cochere, locker rooms, bathrooms, kitchens, bar and grill room.

Nearby, a 7,000-square-foot banquet room will be built to overlook the lake and fountain.

The golf course will see more trees and landscaping, he said. Since it was renovated about three years ago, Heisenbottle said he didn't anticipate any interruption in tee times during construction.

"The clubhouse might be closed for up to six months, though," he said.

Also proposed is a new five-story hotel annex that will contain 160 rooms. It's slated to go in the location of the original dormitory building that was torn down years ago.

"It will be very similar in style to the original hotel," he said.

A 10,000-square-foot ballroom will be built in the location of the current spa.

A new swimming pool, flanked with cabanas, will take the place of the old one on the south side of the property. There will be a new poolside grill and bar. Nearby will be a large event lawn with a wedding gazebo.

There will be a new tennis area with two courts built atop the underground garage on the east side of the property. The existing courts will be replaced with an 18,000-square-foot, two-story health spa overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway.

The three cottages will be renovated and the new green shingle roof "will be fixed forever," Heisenbottle said.

The Cabana Club, the resort's beach club on Sand Key, will be demolished and in its place will be an eight-story hotel with 57 units, a new pool and a dozen or so cabanas. The second floor may contain a seafood restaurant overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. Plans call for a boat to shuttle guests back and forth across the Intracoastal Waterway.

Heisenbottle's presentation drew plenty of applause.

It was a far cry from previous meetings where residents and preservationists booed another developer's plans to flatten most of the hotel, build 180 condos on the hotel lot and erect more than 350 homes on the golf course.

Ed Jameson, vice president of Save the Biltmore Preservationists, applauded the developer's plans, but worried about closing the hotel for up to two years during renovations.

"Hotels and other vacant property can be more vulnerable to damage from fire, gas, water, electrical, hurricanes and vandalism during renovations," he said. He suggested either the town or Legg Mason provide 24-hour, round-the-clock security for the property.

St. Petersburg preservationist Bill Stokes asked the commission to grant incentives favorable to the developers and write a strong historic preservation ordinance. He also asked them to pass an ordinance to abate some property taxes levied on the resort and urged them not to cap that tax break.

"Please be mindful that this could be the last chance to save a treasure that cannot be replaced," he said.

He received a standing ovation.

One resident asked if the developers intended to preserve the hotel's historic features.

"Of course we're going to keep the old stuff," Heisenbottle said. "That's what preservation is all about."

After the presentation, Belleair Commissioner and local architect Stephen Fowler praised Heisenbottle's presentation and his award- winning firm, which has been praised by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Florida Trust for Historic Preservation.

Mayor Gary Katica also was pleased.

"I was sitting up here two years ago for the other presentation and I had to take a tranquilizer," he joked.

Terri Bryce Reeves can be reached at treeves@tampabay.rr.com. Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or 445-4155.

FAST FACTS

Belleview Biltmore

1897: Built by railroad baron Henry B. Plant.

1979: Listed on National Register of Historic Places.

June 2007: Sold to Legg Mason Real Estate Investors of Los Angeles for nearly $30.3-million.

2009: When $100-million renovation is expected to start.

2011: Projected completion date.

Size: 820,000 square feet

New features: underground parking, more green space, Victorian- style lobby, larger rooms, new tennis courts and health spa.

 


http://www.tbnweekly.com/content_articles/092007_bee-01.txt   Belleair Bee September 20, 2007

Belleview Biltmore to shine once more  
By HARLAN WEIKLE

Article published on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2007  


  
A concept design depicts what will be the new entryway of the Belleview Biltmore Resort.


BELLEAIR – Promising a new roof first and $100 million later a five-star hotel, Legg Mason Real Estate Investors’ Joseph Penner Sept. 19 presented his firm’s plans for restoration of the historic Belleview Biltmore Resort.

A standing room only crowd at Town Hall started gathering early for what was to be their first look at Coral Gables architect Richard Heisenbottle’s vision for the restoration of the fabled hotel.

Following Penner’s introduction, Heisenbottle told the audience, “We do a lot of restoration projects and we do them at the highest level. If it’s a tough project, a difficult project then that’s the kind of project we choose. You’re looking at one of them now.”

The architect presented a series of slides illustrating the team’s proposed changes to the resort, some minor and others more significant, which, according to the architect will return the hotel to its former 1940’s elegance.

A new 10,000 square foot ballroom, larger rooms – some with cathedral ceilings – tucked below the famous gabled green roof and the addition of retail shops including a bakery, ice cream shop and high-end jeweler are just a few of the many details Heisenbottle highlighted. The audience, clearly responding favorably, fell captive to the imagery of landscaped event lawns and a new “grand drive” along a palm tree lined boulevard leading to the new entrance of what he said would be once again a “destination hotel.”

“Some demolition will have to take place first, however,” Penner said.

The much maligned pagoda entrance erected by previous Japanese owners will be first to go, he said to cheers from the crowd.

At the Beach Club property on Sand Key, a swimming pool and two restaurants will go to provide for a new “57-unit boutique hotel” with cabanas on the beach, which Heisenbottle assured will still be run by the Biltmore.

The existing resort spa will be demolished and a new spa with a parking garage below will replace it, where the tennis courts are now situated.

Responding to a question from the audience, Penner said that their best estimate of the schedule for the project was that in about 18 months the hotel would be closed while construction proceeded. The project managers are looking for completion two years later.

Swedish construction giant Skanska with local offices in Tampa has been chosen to manage the project, which Penner said will be an environmentally sensitive undertaking bringing a large economic benefit to the community.

“We really need to know soon that you’re behind us,” he told the audience.

In recent budget discussions the Town Commission has, among other revenue added proposals, considered raising the town’s development permit fees from 1 percent to 2 percent of the cost of a project. The ordinance, which was due for its second and final reading Wednesday evening, was continued to a future date. Town Manager Micah Maxwell confirmed that LMREI and city officials were in the process of discussing alternative proposals such as a possible fee cap or some type of sliding scale.

If the ordinance is approved as it stands, LMREI’s cost in fees to Belleair would rise from $1 million to $2 million. LMREI’s lawyers have petitioned the town to reconsider. Currently Belleair’s development fees are among the lowest in the county.

Following the meeting, Penner said they had met with the administration to review those fees.  “The city has been great,” he said. “We just want it to be fair all around.”  

 


http://www.tbo.com/news/metro/MGBXIRMQS6F.html   TAMPA TRIBUNE   September 20, 2007

Belleview Biltmore Buyers Vow $100 Million Facelift

By CARLOS MONCADA The Tampa Tribune

BELLEAIR - Residents received their first look Wednesday night at ambitious plans to restore the once-threatened Belleview  Biltmore Resort and Spa to its former grandeur, a $100 million project aimed at preserving the 110-year-old landmark and its Victorian charm.

The restoration plan, presented to more than 100 people at a Belleair Town Commission meeting, calls for replacing the pagodalike entrance a former Biltmore owner added in the 1990s and relocating the spa. Also proposed were new ballrooms and banquet facilities, several more restaurants and retail shops.

Underground parking and extensive landscaping will create a parklike setting on the 22-acre property, which also will include a smaller, 160-room hotel that will operate as part of the main hotel, which will have 274 rooms.

The restoration will be environmentally friendly and in keeping with  federal preservation standards, said Joseph Penner, managing director for Los Angeles-based Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, which purchased the resort in June for more than $30 million.

"Our goal is really to create something worthy of the legacy that we have and to create something for future generations to enjoy,'' Penner said.

The restoration is expected to take four years to complete. The Biltmore will be closed for 18 to 24 months while the construction is under way. No closing date has been announced.

Local preservationists said they were pleased with the restoration plans.

"I'm very excited that they're going to save this building,'' said Edward Jameson, vice president of the Save the Biltmore Preservationists  Inc. "It's rooted in Pinellas County's history and I'm very happy about this renovation that's going to occur.''

The Biltmore had been threatened with demolition since 2004, when Tampa-based DeBartolo Development had an option to buy the resort with the intent of replacing it with condominiums

The restoration will be environmentally friendly and in keeping with federal preservation standards, said Joseph Penner, managing director of Legg Mason Real Estate Investors of Los Angeles, which bought the resort in June for more than $30 million.


For NBC TV local coverage by Peter Bernard on Channel 8 and to watch his segment click:
http://tbo.com/video/xml/MGBXR99NS6F.html  

The interview also shows Legg Mason Real Estate Investors manager Joseph Penner who was here for their renovation plans for the Biltmore.

Our vice president Ed Jameson of Save the Biltmore Preservationists is also interviewed on this segment.

 


FOX 13 TV NEWS  Our vice president Ed Jameson was also interviewed for the TV segment the video clip is not available online.  They did show a jpg photo of the drawing for the renovations on TV  September 19, 2007

http://www.myfoxtampabay.com/myfox/pages/Home/Detail;jsessionid=2E0A169631E953A2281162583EC11C00?contentId=4406230&version=2&locale=EN-US&layoutCode=TSTY&pageId=1.1.1&sflg=1 

This rendering shows plans for the Belleview Biltmore hotel.

BELLEAIR - The Belleview Biltmore is a step closer to its former glory.

Developers presented a plan to the Belleair Town Commission that outlines restoration and redevelopment plans for the historic building.

"We believe that we have designed a project which honors Belleair's past, and which will make the community extremely proud," said Joseph Penner, with Legg Mason, the group that designed the project.

The hotel was built in 1897, and in 2004, the DeBartolo development group tried to purchase the property with the intent to demolish the hotel, and replace it with retail shopping and condos.

Preservationists and the public were outraged, and the plans were withdrawn.


http://www.tbnweekly.com/content_articles/092007_bee-01.txt

Belleview Biltmore to shine once more
By HARLAN WEIKLE
 
Article published on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2007
[Image]
A concept design depicts what will be the new entryway of the Belleview Biltmore Resort.
BELLEAIR – Promising a new roof first and $100 million later a five-star hotel, Legg Mason Real Estate Investors’ Joseph Penner Sept. 19 presented his firm’s plans for restoration of the historic Belleview Biltmore Resort.

A standing room only crowd at Town Hall started gathering early for what was to be their first look at Coral Gables architect Richard Heisenbottle’s vision for the restoration of the fabled hotel.

Following Penner’s introduction, Heisenbottle told the audience, “We do a lot of restoration projects and we do them at the highest level. If it’s a tough project, a difficult project then that’s the kind of project we choose. You’re looking at one of them now.”

The architect presented a series of slides illustrating the team’s proposed changes to the resort, some minor and others more significant, which, according to the architect will return the hotel to its former 1940’s elegance.

A new 10,000 square foot ballroom, larger rooms – some with cathedral ceilings – tucked below the famous gabled green roof and the addition of retail shops including a bakery, ice cream shop and high-end jeweler are just a few of the many details Heisenbottle highlighted. The audience, clearly responding favorably, fell captive to the imagery of landscaped event lawns and a new “grand drive” along a palm tree lined boulevard leading to the new entrance of what he said would be once again a “destination hotel.”

“Some demolition will have to take place first, however,” Penner said.

The much maligned pagoda entrance erected by previous Japanese owners will be first to go, he said to cheers from the crowd.

At the Beach Club property on Sand Key, a swimming pool and two restaurants will go to provide for a new “57-unit boutique hotel” with cabanas on the beach, which Heisenbottle assured will still be run by the Biltmore.

The existing resort spa will be demolished and a new spa with a parking garage below will replace it, where the tennis courts are now situated.

Responding to a question from the audience, Penner said that their best estimate of the schedule for the project was that in about 18 months the hotel would be closed while construction proceeded. The project managers are looking for completion two years later.

Swedish construction giant Skanska with local offices in Tampa has been chosen to manage the project, which Penner said will be an environmentally sensitive undertaking bringing a large economic benefit to the community.

“We really need to know soon that you’re behind us,” he told the audience.

In recent budget discussions the Town Commission has, among other revenue added proposals, considered raising the town’s development permit fees from 1 percent to 2 percent of the cost of a project. The ordinance, which was due for its second and final reading Wednesday evening, was continued to a future date. Town Manager Micah Maxwell confirmed that LMREI and city officials were in the process of discussing alternative proposals such as a possible fee cap or some type of sliding scale.

If the ordinance is approved as it stands, LMREI’s cost in fees to Belleair would rise from $1 million to $2 million. LMREI’s lawyers have petitioned the town to reconsider. Currently Belleair’s development fees are among the lowest in the county.

Following the meeting, Penner said they had met with the administration to review those fees.  “The city has been great,” he said. “We just want it to be fair all around.”

http://www.tbnweekly.com/content_articles/091207_bee-03.txt  Belleair Bee September 12, 2007


Biltmore renovation plans to be unveiled  
By HARLAN WEIKLE


BELLEAIR – Weighty budget concerns aside and millage rates notwithstanding, what many Belleair town folk want to know is when they will get a peek at plans for the renovation of the Belleview Biltmore Resort.

During a special budget meeting Sept. 5, Mayor Gary Katica, acknowledging that he had received many calls from citizens wanting to know when the plans for the resort would be made public, put it directly to Tom Reynolds, lawyer for LMREI, new owners of the property, saying, “You have said that the owners were going to make a public presentation by the end of the month, our meeting is on the 19th. It’s very important that this gets out in front of the public.”

Commissioner Karla Rettstatt put it even more forcefully.

“You guys are asking us for some sort of exception or changes to our budget, but you’re not giving us the opportunity to educate the public, which elected us,” Rettstatt said, referring to Reynolds’ admonition to the commission to reconsider its decision to increase the permit and inspection fees the town charges for construction from the current level of $25 to $50 and 1 to 2 percent respectively.

Reynolds said the change would greatly impact the Biltmore project’s estimated $100 million restoration.

Reynolds responded by affirming that they would make a public presentation on Wednesday, Sept. 19.

Also on the 19th, the commission will have its second and final reading of the ordinance setting the millage rate to 4.2551 in a budget year when legislative mandates have forced ad valorem tax reductions throughout the state.

Town Manager Micah Maxwell said the town subsequently would lose $300,000 to $400,000.

Attempts to bolster Belleair’s finances this year will include consideration of increased library and recreation fees, the rise in construction permit fees and possibly additional fees for sideyard garbage pick up, which had been requested by some town residents.

The budget process concludes on the 19th with the last public reading and vote to adopt the budget and at the same time set the final millage rate. The discussion of the budget however may well continue into the fall and early winter even as the town begins to exercise it, allowing changes, additions and deletions as the community proceeds through the fiscal year.

Commissioner asks for dismissal of attorney

Speaking in no uncertain terms, Commissioner Stephanie Oddo acting in her capacity as adviser to the Historic Preservation Board asked the town commission to consider replacing Miami attorney Nancy Stroud, who has been representing the town on matters concerning the Belleview Biltmore for the last two years.

“With regard to my dissatisfaction with our current attorney that sits on the board: she has presented incorrect information at board meetings, she does not have local knowledge; it’s clear to me that she perhaps has not even bothered to read local ordinances,” Oddo said. “Her turnaround was extremely slow. In my opinion she … the confidence of the board in her is lost ... if you don’t know something, don’t say it.”

Oddo then asked for a consensus to discontinue using Stroud’s services.

Katica said that Stroud came, “highly recommended by just about every preservation group as the top attorney in Florida. So, this is the first time I’ve heard about this.”

Maxwell later confirmed that he and Town Attorney David Ottinger would place a conference call to Stroud to discuss Oddo’s allegations.

 

Biltmore to host ‘Who Let The Dogs Art?’     Belleair Bee, 2007

Article published on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2007
BELLEAIR – On Sunday, Sept. 16, Fluffy Puppies will present its second art show on the grounds of the historic (and dog-friendly) Belleview Biltmore Resort.

Proceeds from “Who Let The Dogs Art?” will go to Southeastern Guide Dogs.

Kris Logan-Walker, owner of Fluffy Puppies in Clearwater, put a call out to artists earlier this year. Fifteen have committed, along with sponsors Whitney Bank, Walker Law, Merrick Pet Foods, Natura Pet Products, Dogswell, Belleview Biltmore, Dowling Graphics and “The New Barker,” Tampa Bay’s top dog magazine.

The variety of artwork represented will feature traditional and non-traditional, including sculptures, glassworks, jewelry, watercolor, acrylic, charcoal and oil. The common theme and subject of each piece of artwork will be dogs. Southeastern Guide Dogs will be on hand with their dogs and handlers giving demonstrations.

It’s first year, “Who Let The Dogs Art?” raised $2,000 for the SPCA Tampa Bay. Once again, Sandy Snider has donated the original artwork for the poster and T-shirts which will be on sale the day of the event.

Call Anna Cooke at 214-7453 or Kris Logan-Walker at 446-7999.

http://www.tbnweekly.com/content_articles/082207_bee-01.txt    Belleair Bee August 22, 2007

Biltmore owner raises land use stakes  

By HARLAN WEIKLE
 

BELLEAIR – Laura Dedenbach of the Easley Group, acting in her capacity as consultant to the Town Commission was on hand Tuesday night to address aspects of the 2008 comprehensive plan ordinance when her role suddenly became as much that of an arbiter as consultant.

Also on hand to address specific language in the proposed ordinance were representatives of Legg Mason Real Estate Investment, the new owners of the Belleview Biltmore. In attendance were architect Richard Heisenbottle of Coral Gables; attorneys George Rahdert and Tom Reynolds of the St. Petersburg firm Rahdert, Steele, Bole and Reynolds; and Cynthia Tarapani of Florida Design Consultants in New Port Richey.

The five were there to build a case for altering select language in the ordinance characterizing the proprietary use of land within the provisions for open space under the town’s comprehensive plan.

The first exception the group called for was a change to the ordinance concerning setbacks. The proposed law as stated proposes that all building edges should maintain a setback minimum of 25 feet from any right of way. Reynolds suggested that the wording should be any “public” right of way, accenting the numerous private driveways and walkways on Biltmore property.

The commission turned to Dedenbach who suggested that the proposed language change was within the bounds of acceptable intent.

The second exception, “minimum acreage” subject to alteration under historic protection provisions of the law, generated more of a stir. The Biltmore would like to have the minimum revised upward to 2 acres; the reason suggested by Reynolds, anything less than 2 acres imposed too strict a limit for any future minor changes that might become necessary.

Heisenbottle then took the podium building on Reynolds’s statement that it was not the intention of the Biltmore owners to, “subdivide the property willy-nilly.”

“In any consideration of such law we’ve found that there is likely to be a second consequence, the law of unintended consequences,” said Reynolds.

As an example he pointed to the construction of a proposed underground parking facility, which he said likely will require the purchase of less than a 2 acre “sliver” of land from an adjoining property.

Heisenbottle suggested that if the owners are required to come back to the commission each time a similar situation requires a ruling by the town it would encumber the process, perhaps even rendering it impracticable.

“Stephen,” he said, addressing Commissioner Fowler, “we wouldn’t be able to build that underground garage.”

Dedenbach suggested that the 2-acre change, although potentially less in keeping with the original intent of the ordinance, might at least warrant further study, adding, “We have to be very careful before we make a commitment like that. We need time to consider.”

It was however the third proposal by Biltmore representatives that generated the most attention and dominated discussion. Unveiling a report drafted by Tarapani, the petitioners aimed their sights directly at the heart of Belleair’s sovereign open space. As if to emphasize the issue Tarapani drew on comparisons of the ratio of open space to population garnered from other jurisdictions.

Citing the numbers, Belleair currently mandates that using both public and privately held open space combined, the township maintains a standard of 95 acres of open space for every 1,000 population. By comparison, Tarapani’s report lists Clearwater’s ratio as 4 acres per 1,000; Pinellas County, 9 acres but proposing 14; and Pasco, 11 acres per 1,000.

The notable difference is that Belleair, being both part and parcel of substantial privately held open space, rolls the private acreage into the community’s number.

Tarapani’s report also included a figure quoted from the “National Recreational and Park Association Standards” of The United States, 10 acres.

Calling the inclusion of privately held land exceptional, Heisenbottle said, “To say to private owners you can’t change one inch of open space (on private land) to any other use is onerous.”

He added, “We would urge you to take the private lands out of this and take a long look at the 95 acre requirement.”

Dedenbach however stuck to her guns and maintaining a clear line of sight regarding her mandate as a town consultant, reminded the commission that the open space to population figures Tarapani gave represented averages only, not specific ratios both higher and lower. She concluded her comments by suggesting that all parties “get together and work on these issues.”

Correction:
Changed 'Reynolds said' to 'Heisenbottle said' in the sentence: Calling the inclusion of privately held land exceptional, Heisenbottle said, “To say to private owners you can’t change one inch of open space (on private land) to any other use is onerous.”


http://www.clearwatergazette.com/20070823/belleair.html   Clearwater Gazette August 23, 2007

Town Council Moves to Protect Green Space, Promises to Work With Hotel Owners

By Renee Burrell

Town Council Moves to Protect Green Space, Promises to Work With Hotel Owners
By Renee Burrell
BELLEAIR - The town council met Tuesday evening for a special public hearing and scheduled public meeting. An amendment the council is seeking to The Town of Belleair 2008 Comprehensive Plan was voted on and underwent its first reading.
The council heard from a member of a local planning agency, The Easley Group, who recommended that the council submit the proposed amendment to the Department of Community Affairs (DOC) for approval.

The current draft, Ordinance #445 has provisions that aim to preserve the town's green space, whether that space is owned publicly or privately. Deputy Mayor Stephen Fowler said, "We are looking for any tools that we can use to arm ourselves in protecting our open space."

Present at the meeting were attorneys and representatives of the Belleview Biltmore Resort. They relayed their concerns about the ordinance and asked for changes in language because, "The proposed amendments to the Recreation and Open Space Element would appear to impose undue restrictions upon the development (and redevelopment) of private property."

Hotel representatives submitted their proposals to the council.

Though the council voted to submit the amendment to the DOC, Mayor Gary Kattica and the council agreed to work together on changes that will help the hotel in achieving its goals for renovation.

The council assured hotel reps that there will be ample time to change language and make changes to the amendment before adoption, a process that takes about five months.

The hotel's owners are set to present their plans to the community at town hall the end of September.


http://www.tbnweekly.com/content_articles/080907_bee-02.txt   Belleair Bee August 9, 2007

Recreation fees to help budget crunch

Biltmore to close during renovations
 
By HARLAN WEIKLE
 
Article published on Thursday, Aug. 9, 2007
BELLEAIR – Town officials, nearing completion of the city’s 2007-08 budget during Tuesday afternoon’s work session, outlined two measures that will add to the town’s bottom line and bring it into compliance with the state Legislature’s mandated budget cuts.

One, recreation fees to use the Dimmitt Community Center will be going up. Currently residents are charged no fee.

Commissioner Karla Rettstatt who attends the Recreation Board meetings reported that the board had discussed setting resident annual membership fees to $20 a person, maximum $65 a household.

The commission ultimately voted to charge Belleair residents $30 a person annually, plus an additional $5 fee for more than three family members, with the maximum family fee at $95.

Nonresident fees would increase proportionately from the current rate of $65 a person to $95 a person with a maximum annual family rate set at $290.

Rettstatt went on to express that an increase from $65 a person annually to $95 for nonresidents was still a bargain considering that just three dinners out per year for a husband and wife would cost more than that just in sitter fees, referring to the rec center’s staffed operations, which allow parents to entertain children at the center’s evening programs.

Rettstatt supported the increase saying, “Most residents I have talked to would prefer to keep the rec’s services because they are a good quality, safe environment.”

Maxwell, perhaps framing the issue that will dominate budget deliberations in years to come, said, “Services like the rec, which are not state-mandated, will of course be the first hit, so this is the first step in preparing to keep those services.”

The commission agreed and the rec membership fee increase will take affect Sept. 1, the anniversary date of current memberships.

A second revenue source found its way onto the agenda Tuesday afternoon – permit fees. Building official Fred Hawes presented a study indicating that Belleair, while maintaining a viable fee-to-service structure stood lowest in the county in terms of fee percentages charged, at 1 percent.

His recommendation, an increase to the charge to 1.5 percent of the building contract, which would generate fee increases amounting to $850 on an average residential contract of $171,000, the average includes residential building contracts including new construction as well as additions. Hawes stated that such an increase would still leave Belleair among communities in the county collecting the lowest building fees. He pointed out that Pinellas County charges double that percentage and has been raising its fee annually by 10 percent for the last four years and this year that increase will be 12.5 percent, he said.

The commission plans to consider raising the fee to 2 percent and increase the permit fee from $25 to $50 on residential construction, which will place the service somewhere near the midpoint among county communities.

Biltmore to close during renovation

Referencing the plans for restoration of the recently purchased Belleview Biltmore Resort and Spa, Mayor Gary Katica said he had met with Legg Mason Real Estate Investment executive Joseph Penner who assured him the work, although extensive, would be only restorative in nature.

“It’s not changing the structure,” he said. “The only thing that bothers me is that the repairs are so extensive that they will have to close down for one-and-a-half to two years,” Katica said.

According to the mayor, Legg Mason will make the Biltmore renovation plans public by mid-September. The closing date has not been announced.

Also Tuesday, the commission approved a lease agreement between the town and Ashton Personal Fitness Center, LLC, for the abandoned fire station at 901 Ponce de Leon Blvd. The building is behind town hall, adjacent to the rec center.

Ashton purportedly plans to fast track a personal fitness center at the location.

Commissioners considered a neighbor complaint ascribing fault to the erection of a child’s play apparatus within the lot setback at 445 Poinsettia Road. Town ordinance prohibits a variety of permanent structures placed within setbacks, including play structures.

Explaining that while similar situations may arise from time to time, Maxwell clarified the policy of the community saying no action is required of the board unless there is a complaint filed in which case the commission is obliged to act.

In a letter sent Aug. 2, Maxwell advised the owner that they had the right to apply for a variance to the code and that that should be done in time to be considered at the next meeting of the Planning and Zoning Board set for Sept. 10.

Finally, the commission passed a resolution honoring long-time resident and past commissioner Frank Mudano for his, “civic pride and care in the well-being of his town.”

Mudano passed away July 29.

http://www.creativetampabay.com/newsletter   Creative Tampa Bay August 6, 2007

Save the Biltmore Efforts Expand to Preservation

Now that the Belleview Biltmore Resort and Spa is saved, the nonprofit organization, Save the Biltmore Preservationists, Inc. will work towards promoting and preserving this beautiful Victorian hotel both in and out of our community. Save the Biltmore Preservationists is offering a variety of memberships that will enable them to continue to preserve and promote the Biltmore in the future with your help. Save the Biltmore has been dedicated to saving all four wings of the Belleview Biltmore Spa and Resort since 2004 and will continue do so in the future. In saving the golden treasures of the past, we bank on enriching the present and the future. To find out more visit http://www.savethebiltmore.com.


http://www.sptimes.com/2007/07/03/Northpinellas/Biltmore_deal_cost_cl.shtml    St. Petersburg Times July 3, 2007

photo          photo

Roofers Anthony Migliore (left) and Victor Scinto install a temporary roofing skin on the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa, which is getting a new roof.

The night the sale of the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa closed, a reporter e-mailed Joseph Penner to ask how much his investment firm paid for the historic property.

Too much, Penner replied coyly.

Turns out, Los Angeles-based Legg Mason Real Estate Investors paid nearly $30.3-million -- nearly double the resort's selling price in 1997 -- according to public records recorded Friday at the Pinellas County Clerk of Court.

Locals, though, aren't necessarily talking about the numbers. They're just happy that the 110-year-old landmark was sold to someone who wants to keep the old doors open, not tear them off.

Penner, a Legg Mason managing director, declined Monday to comment on the transaction, saying "there's nothing to tell you right now."

"When we have a concrete plan, we'll invite everyone out to look at it," Penner said. "And my hope is that we put something together that everyone likes."

Vincent Sanfilippo, chief investment officer for Urdang Capital Management, which helped the resort's former owner, Belleview Biltmore Resort LTD, sell the property, declined to comment on the sale.

In a statement, Sanfilippo said "we wish Legg Mason much success in their efforts to renovate the property to enhance and preserve it for generations to come."

Belleair Mayor Gary Katica said the new owners will be back in town in late August or early September to talk further about proposed renovations.

He said they plan to upgrade the rooms and the pool and build a convention center.

"It's a touch of Americana," said Katica, who recently traveled overseas. "You can go to Europe and see something that's a thousand years old and in the United States a building gets a little old and it's gone. This has stood the test of time and has that certain beauty that reaches down at the people."

Built by railroad tycoon Henry B. Plant, the 244-room hotel, which also features a 13,000-square-foot Tiffany ballroom, opened in 1897.

The hotel has changed ownership a number of times in the past 20 years.

In 1990, Mido Development, a Japanese ownership group, bought it for $27-million.

Atlanta hotelier Salim Jetha in 1997 paid $16-million for it. Urdang became a general partner in the resort in 2003.

While it operated as a hotel and had been renovated over the years, preservationists got worried in 2004 when DeBartolo Development announced plans to raze the hotel and build condominiums. That deal fell apart in 2005, setting the stage for Legg Mason's acquisition.

mdonila@sptimes.com


Belleview Biltmore Under New Ownership Clearwater Gazette  July 5, 2007

http://www.clearwatergazette.com/20070705/biltmore.html

BELLEAIR - For the many local citizens who supported keeping the Belleview Biltmore Hotel instead of knocking it down, the recent sale of the historic hotel to Legg Mason Real Estate group was a sign of relief.

The new owners paid over $30 million dollars for the Biltmore properties (that was an investment by the Honeywell Pension Fund.)

The future?

In the near future, the Los Angeles owners will unveil several remodeling ideas they are currently reviewing for the 110-year-old hotel.


http://www.sptimes.com/2007/06/29/Fashion/Ahhhh__the_ultimate_s.shtml    St. Petersburg Times June 29, 2007

 

Ahhhh, the ultimate spa
By Dalia Wheatt

It was a tough job, but somebody had to do it.

In the spirit of investigative journalism, I slipped into a one-size-fits-all Belleview Biltmore robe and signed up for the spa's signature service, the hot sea shell massage.

Turns out there weren't any shells involved, but a CD of waves crashing over acoustic guitar music gave the room that oceanside feeling. With the lights dimmed, I dropped my robe and scurried under a sheet, face down.

Here's what I observed before everything got all tingly:

Licensed massage therapist, esthetician and nail specialist Kimberly Hume warmed a pile of stones in a massage stone heater, which resembles an oversized Crock-Pot filled with water. As Hume lined the rocks along my bare spine, they felt hot, then pleasantly warm. She alternately traced them along my skin and massaged a light oil into my muscles. She rubbed my back, my legs, my shoulders, even my earlobes. She kneaded lotion into my feet.

I was down for the count.

About halfway through the 80-minute massage, Hume coaxed me back into consciousness so I could flip over. As I drifted back to LaLa Land, Hume worked her magic on my arms, hands and neck. She placed cool stones around my face and over my eyes, plus more hot ones between my toes...

- - -

"Okay, Dalia. That's the end of our time."

Talk about $150 well spent.

I pulled on the robe and headed to the lounge, where Hume offered me a glass of cold water to help me return to my right mind. While walking back to the women's locker room, I caught a whiff of chlorine from the grandiose indoor pool.

So this is how the other half lives, I thought.

- - -

If not for those pesky mortgage payments, I might have also sprung for a hydrotherapy treatment or the Ladies Golf and Spa package, which includes nine holes, lunch on the veranda, a 50-minute aromatherapy massage, a facial and something called the paradise pedicure. I also wouldn't mind researching the Chardonnay manicure or the "ultra-slimming" seaweed body mask.

I want it all: the fountain of youth facial. And the yoga classes. And an overnight stay at the Biltmore - haunted as it may be.

I want an up-do from the salon. I want my body sprinkled with gold dust. I want my dog to have her nails painted and teeth brushed.

Okay, so I don't have a dog. But if I did, I'd be sure to save her the scraps from my lunch on the veranda.

Everyone deserves to be pampered once in awhile.

The Spa at the Belleview Biltmore Resort: 25 Belleview Blvd., Clearwater, (727) 443-6424; http://www.belleviewbiltmore.com

 

How you voted

The Spa at the Belleview Biltmore Hotel and Resort, Clearwater: 71%

Tranquility Day Spa, 8%

Awa, Tampa: 7%

The Spa at the Don CeSar, St. Pete Beach: 5%

Other: 5%

Safety Harbor Resort and Spa, Safety Harbor: 4%


 


 

http://www.tbnweekly.com/content_articles/062807_bee-02.txt   Belleair Bee June 28, 2007

New management firm takes over at Belleview Biltmore  
By CHARY SOUTHMAYD

[Image]
Photo by NANCY AYERS
All smiles over the Belleview Biltmore sale to Legg Mason Real Estate Investors are, from left, Connie Mudano, former Belleair mayor who began Belleview Biltmore preservation efforts in the 1970s; Barry Ullman, who did extensive research on the Belleview Biltmore at the University of Florida; Greg Harvey and Cay Ludden.


BELLEAIR – The ink on the deal had just long enough to dry as preservationists celebrated the sale of the Belleview Biltmore Resort to Legg Mason Real Estate Investors on June 20, when change was in the wind.

A new management company is now in place – GF Management, headquartered in Philadelphia.

Trust Hotels and Resorts had been managing the Biltmore, but no longer.

Martin Smith remains managing director of the Biltmore under the new regime. He has been with the hotel since February 2004.

No longer part of the Biltmore management team is Richard Wilhelm of Trust Hotels, whose name has been closely associated with the historic hotel in recent years.

“Richard does not have a role anymore,” said Smith. “He will be missed.”

Michel Mauborgne will continue to manage the Biltmore’s Beach Club, and Chuck Eade remains in charge at the Biltmore Golf Club, said Smith.

Some staff members have been let go, but Smith maintains that has nothing to do with the change in management, but rather seasonal slowdowns.

“We did the same thing last summer, when business goes down,” said Smith, who cited fewer than 10 positions eliminated to accommodate the slower tourist season. “This is business as normal.”

In an e-mail message to the Bee on Monday, Rob Richute, the Biltmore’s former marketing manager who was among those laid off, writes, “Employees are dropping like flies and current and old management is telling everyone they have nothing to worry about. They constantly told me my job is not in danger.”

GF Management’s Web site describes the firm as “Leaders in Hospitality Management – Acquisitions, Evaluations ...

Whether acting as an owner or manager for an owner, GF Management follows the same disciplined approach to the property evaluation.

• Undertakes extensive research and analysis.

• Introduces aggressive operations management.

• Implements a marketing-driven business plan.

• Staff with dynamic sales personnel.”

The company’s portfolio lists properties in 18 states, including well known chains Holiday Inn, Hilton, Days Inn, Clarion, Super 8 and Doubletree, among others. Also in its portfolio, GF lists asset management for the US Grant Hotel in San Diego. That hotel, which underwent a $52 million renovation, has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1979.

Smith previously worked for GF Management at the Charlotte Hilton in 1996, so he is familiar with how the company does business.

“We will now begin to operate (the Biltmore) in GF style,” he said. “This is a good thing for the hotel. Now that all the rumors are done we have stability ... it’s much better for business.”

Smith has reassuring words for anyone clinging to doubt whether the historic Belleview Biltmore will be restored, as Legg Mason has indicated.

“I have no doubt at all that it will be restored,” said Smith. “This is the chance of a lifetime.”

 


 

Note readers:  Bay News 9 interviewed Ed  Jameson, our vice president of our nonprofit organization, Save the Biltmore Preservationists for their TV news segment June 24, 2007. Here is their online article.

 

Saving the Belleview Biltmore     Bay News 9 TV  Sunday, June 24, 2007

 

http://www.baynews9.com/content/36/2007/6/24/264013.html?title=Saving+the+Belleview+Biltmore  

 

 

New ownership has big plans for the Belleview Biltmore, which has stood for more than a century.

 

A symbol of Tampa Bay will continue to stand, looking over the water as it has for more than a century.

It's been a fight for the past few years for preservationists. And now that the Belleview Biltmore Resort is under new ownership, they're boasting with relief.

It's a victory for those who fought a hard fight to save a piece of history.

"It's been a place where people could come with their side cars from the railroad," preservationist Edward Jameson said. "It was just a resort of the ages in the 1890s."

The Belleview Biltmore resort was threatened with demolition until this past week, when a new real estate investment group bought the property.

Jameson has been a great part of the effort to save the Biltmore.

 
Preservationist Edward Jameson
 

Preservationist Edward Jameson said the Belleview Biltmore was the place to be in th 1890s.
 

"We've heard that they would be replacing that pagoda. And they would also be adding maybe a convention center and doing some other changes for the hotel," Jameson said. "It all sounds very positive."

The fight that began in 2004 is finally over, and preservationists hope to restore the Biltmore to what it was in its hey day.

"It's the root of Pinellas County history," Jameson said. "It's where the movers and shakers of the 19th century came."

The Belleview Biltmore sits at the water's edge in Belleair. The resort, which includes a golf course and spa, was built in 1897.
 

Carol Minn, reporter for Bay News 9 did the interview


Belleview Biltmore sale finalized   Belleair Bee  June 22, 2007

http://www.tbnweekly.com/pubs/belleair_bee/content_articles/062107_bee-07.txt

[Image]

File photo by

CHARY SOUTHMAYD

The Belleview Biltmore Resort and Spa has been purchased by Legg Mason Real Estate Investors.
BELLEAIR – The historic Belleview Biltmore Resort is now officially under new ownership.

Principals of the buyer, Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, and the seller, Belleview Biltmore Resort Ltd., wrapped up the exhaustive process of completing the massive amount of paperwork involved in the transaction late in the day on June 20.

“The fee simple transfer was completed ... Thank goodness,” said Richard Wilhelm, president and CEO of TRUST Hotels and Resorts, the firm managing the Biltmore, who was closely involved in the process from beginning to end. “I’m delighted Legg Mason has acquired it, and everyone in the community I’ve talked to is looking forward to its future for another hundred years.”

The purchase price was not announced.


Belleview Biltmore Resort Ltd. purchased the hotel, golf club and beach club on Sand Key from the Japanese firm, Mido Hotels, in 1997.

“We have engaged numerous consultants and historic preservation experts in order to develop a restoration and rehabilitation plan for the property,” said Joseph Penner, managing director of LMREI, in a June 4 press release.

“This is a very large project, so we want it to be well thought out,” Penner later added during a phone interview from his California office.

Threatened in recent years by demolition, LMREI’s purchase of the hotel has thus far served to reassure historic preservationists who mounted a spirited campaign to save the Grand Dame from the wrecking ball.

“We have fought long and hard to save all four wings (of the hotel) since I launched my Web site in 2004, so having succeeded in that goal is very gratifying,” said Diane Hein, founder of www.SaveTheBiltmore.com. “The reality of its being saved is certainly a joyous occasion for all, and I thank the community for their support during for the past few years.”

The Biltmore remains open for what management hopes will be a busy summer season.

Belleview Biltmore Property Sold

http://www.clearwatergazette.com/20070621/biltmore.html  Clearwater Gazette June 21, 2007

By c.j. pollick

BELLEAIR - As of Wednesday the 20th of June, 2007, the Belleview Biltmore Hotel and related properties (Belleview Biltmore Golf Club and Beach Cabana Club) were sold by Honeywell Pension Fund to Legg-Mason Corp. Purchase price was not disclosed.

The sale was welcomed by many Belleair and Biltmore friends, "This is a good thing for the Biltmore . . . it will now begin to make progress," stated one Belleair citizen.

Martin Smith will remain as General Manager of the Belleview Biltmore Hotel (and Cabana Club) while Chuck Eade remains General Manager of the Belleview Biltmore Golf Club. GF Management Group of Philadelphia will oversee management of the hotel assets.

Employees of the Biltmore have been notified of the change in ownership. According to some Biltmore employees, "Not much is expected to change at this time, but it is understood that there are management people making plans for improvements and other direction changes for the Biltmore properties. All of this is a good thing."

As one golf club member said on Wednesday, "Finally, all the talk about a sale of the property is over."

Belleview Biltmore is now under new ownership.


Biltmore Purchased; Buyer To Restore 110-Year-Old Resort  Tampa Tribune June 22, 2007

Published: Jun 22, 2007

BELLEAIR - Threatened with demolition since 2004, the historical Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa is getting a reprieve.

The 110-year-old landmark was purchased late Wednesday by a Los Angeles-based investment firm that plans to rehabilitate and restore the famed but fading 22-acre property.

Neither the seller nor the buyer is disclosing the sales price, Joe Penner, managing director for Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, said Thursday.

Legg Mason, which typically invests in shopping centers and apartment complexes, bought the resort from Belleview Biltmore Resort Ltd., represented by Urdang, a Pennsylvania-based investment management firm.

In restoring the stately Victorian-themed hotel, placed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2005, Legg Mason plans to remove the pagodalike main entrance that was added in the 1990s and possibly remove or replace the spa.

Tampa-based DeBartolo Development had an option to buy the Biltmore with the intent of replacing it with condominiums, sparking a wave of protest in the Tampa Bay area. That option expired in 2005, leaving the Biltmore's fate in limbo.

The Biltmore is the only one of Florida's grand 19th century hotels that still exists as a resort. Often called the world's largest occupied wooden structure, the 247-room hotel was built by railroad tycoon Henry B. Plant and opened Jan. 15, 1897. It has lured notables such as the Duke of Windsor, Babe Ruth and Thomas Edison.

Reporter Carlos Moncada can be reached at cmoncada@tampatrib.com or (727) 451-2333.


Biltmore Dodges Wrecking Ball   St. Petersburg Times  June 21, 2007
 

It's official.   Two years after being threatened with the wrecking ball, the Belleview Biltmore Resort and Spa was sold Wednesday to a group that plans to save it.  The buyer is Legg mason Real Estate investors, based in Los Angeles. Terms of the sale were not disclosed.  Officials and others close to the deal say Legg Mason plans to restore the 110 year old Biltmore, removing the unpopular pagoda entrance, redoing the pool and adding underground parking.  The resort is on the  National Register of Historic Places.


http://www.tbnweekly.com/content_articles/062107_bee-02.txt    Belleair Bee  June 21, 2007


Commissioners get Biltmore look-see


BELLEAIR – Remaining questions regarding the future of the Belleview Biltmore Resort may, at last, be put to rest with a few tantalizing revelations regarding the new owner’s plan for the fabled White Queen of the Gulf.

With little more than general speculation fueling rumors regarding the outcome of the proposed sale and what it may signal for the future of the historic property, a few select glimpses into the design process were revealed this week as representatives of Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, in town while the sale is being finalized, met privately with Belleair commissioners.

What those meetings disclosed remains the primary topic of discussion at the epicenter of this spectacle as residents, preservationists and well-wishers alike await details regarding the new owner’s plans for restoration of the hotel to its former glory.

During Tuesday night’s Town Commission meeting, as officials discussed budget cutting proposals, accepted a bid on retired town equipment, approved the purchase of a new administrative police vehicle and passed a resolution challenging the county’s decision to alter the flow (accounting) of funds for water and sewer service, the topic of the Biltmore sale suddenly entered the agenda and, for a brief moment, captured the spotlight.

Commissioner Karla Rettstatt had a meeting Tuesday with Joseph Penner, LMREI managing director, during which, she said, “I saw preliminary plans for the renovation, however there was no schedule discussed. The owners want to make a presentation of the plans to the public soon.”

Asked after the meeting for details of the plans she had been shown, Rettstatt said that the building would remain intact.

“They are not taking anything down, except the pagoda is gone,” she said, referring to the often criticized discontinuous architectural style of the steel and glass structure erected over the hotel’s entrance by previous owners. Rettstatt said she saw renderings of the pool area, which were beautiful.

She added that it was apparent they intend to restore the hotel, in Belleview Biltmore grand style, replete with signature green roof. 


The Biltmore saved?  http://www.famoushotels.org/article/677     Andreas Augustin, President, Famous Hotels

1897 Belleview Biltmore Hotel: will now all four wings remain a hotel with authentic Victorian charm

Diane Hein from the Save the Biltmore Preservationists, a nonprofit organization, was proud to announce: There is wonderful and exciting news to report.....at last!  Four local newspapers, the St. Petersburg Times, the Belleair Bee, the Clearwater Gazette and the Tampa Tribune have reported that there will be a sale of the Belleview Biltmore Resort and Spa to Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, (Los Angeles) by the end of this June!  More information will be given at that time in one of my Updates after the sale goes through, but they are promising historic restoration and preservation and plan on making the Biltmore a 4 to 5 star hotel!  This of course is a dream come true for me, my nonprofit organization and many preservationists to save ALL FOUR WINGS OF the hotel from demolition and restore it!

For more info: http://www.SaveTheBiltmore.com


http://www.tbnweekly.com/content_articles/060707_bee-01.txt    Belleair Bee June 7, 2007

Biltmore purchase on the horizon  
  
Photo courtesy of RICHARD WILHELM
A portion of the Belleview Biltmore’s new roof, including the Starlight and Tiffany ballrooms and main kitchen is photographed near completion. The re-roofing has gone down to the original beams and joists, with the old roofing removed.


By CHARY SOUTHMAYD

BELLEAIR – After years of deal, no deal, speculation and the rumor mill on constant overdrive, the sale of the historic Belleview Biltmore Resort and Spa to Legg Mason Real Estate Investors will reach fruition within weeks.

Closing on the sale is targeted by the end of this month.

Included will be the purchase of the hotel, Belleview Biltmore Golf Club on Indian Rocks Road and Belleview Biltmore Beach Club on Sand Key.

“We have engaged numerous consultants and historic preservation experts in order to develop a restoration and rehabilitation plan for the property,” said Joseph Penner, managing director of LMREI, in a press release issued Monday. “Our goal is to present a clear and detailed plan to the local government and community as soon as possible.”

Currently owned by Belleview Biltmore Resort Ltd., the resort is managed by TRUST Hotels & Resorts. Richard Wilhelm is president and CEO of TRUST Hotels.

“I have a passion for these properties, and I am delighted Legg Mason is coming in to restore the hotel,” Wilhelm said. “I am delighted for Bernie Powell (former owner) that the hotel will be protected.”

Wilhelm said he is confident the future of the Belleview Biltmore will be “very positive for all – the hotel, Legg Mason and the community.”

Already under way are permanent, high quality repairs to the badly deteriorated hotel roof, which sustained extensive damage when Hurricane Jeanne blew through in 2004.

“We are doing a quality job on the roof that will last for 40 years,” Wilhelm said. “We have pulled off up to seven layers of roofing, down to the bare beams and joists in several large areas.”

New roofing over the Tiffany and Starlight ballrooms and the amphitheatre are finished, complete with green shingles, a trademark of the Biltmore in its glory days.

Wilhelm is apologetic that the resort’s neighbors have endured years of unsightly temporary roof fixes as the litigation with the insurance company stalled in the court system.

“I feel bad for them, and I apologize,” said Wilhelm.

The town recently granted the hotel a 120-day reprieve to complete roof repairs before it slaps management with a $250-a-day fine for code violations.

Interviewed by phone from his California office Tuesday, LMREI’s Penner said no decision has been made whether to keep the resort open once the renovation process begins, or close it down during construction. Penner said he looks forward to bringing their vision for the Biltmore to Belleair, though that vision is still coming into focus, with much to be discussed.

“This is a very large project, so we want it to be well thought out,” Penner said.

He added that the pagoda entranceway will not be part of the hotel’s future appearance.

Wilhelm predicts that once it is restored to its original grandeur, the Belleview Biltmore will be admired both nationally and internationally once again.

“It will look great,” he said. “Properly managed, this is an incredible marketing opportunity in the hospitality industry ... This whole community is going through a Renaissance and personality conflict ... By 2009-2010, I am confident this whole area will see a complete transformation to a high-level destination.”

As a new chapter in the saga of the Belleview Biltmore begins, LMREI is on the same page as those who’ve fought to save Henry Plant’s beloved White Queen of the Gulf from demolition.

“We know that the Biltmore has been an integral piece of the community’s history and we look forward to working with the city on a plan that preserves it for future generations,” said Penner. “It’s always nice to have a project like this that is creative and historical. It will be a positive and fulfilling experience.”


Editorial by CHARY SOUTHMAYD  Editor of the Belleair Bee

http://www.tbnweekly.com/editorial/viewpoints/content_articles/061207_vpt-01.txt    June 14, 2007


Honor the Grand Dame

Unique, historic, romantic, endangered.

All of those words can be used to describe something very special, something worth saving and something that is really quite unforgettable.

The Belleview Biltmore is all of those things. As such it is deserving of a magnificent renaissance to the splendor of days gone by.

Sure, the old place needs a lot of work. It’s obvious to even the most casual observer that with its creaky floors, tattered roof, and many other cosmetic imperfections, the White Queen of the Gulf is no spring chicken.

The Belleview Biltmore definitely shows her age – not that there’s anything so terribly wrong with that. Those wrinkles should be viewed with admiration.

In a world where what’s faster, newer and sleeker is often considered better, there is another school of thought. Old age signifies staying power, the ability to withstand the fickle tests of time and embodies strength of character.

Unique, simply because there is nothing else like the Belleview Biltmore, the largest occupied wooden structure in the world. The fact that Henry Plant built this jewel in 1896 is nothing short of miraculous.

That realization really hits home when you tour the Biltmore’s underground, its passageways and remnants of the rail tracks that brought in steamer trunks for unloading after weary travelers seeking a peaceful respite had properly disembarked at the grand entrance.

And what a grand entrance it was – and still is, though it hasn’t served as the hotel’s main entrance for many years now. One needs only to consider that the likes of Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Babe Ruth were among the honored guests who passed through the breezy veranda and entered at that doorway to appreciate the historic value of the Belleview Biltmore.

Edison used to set up a movie projector in a booth over the Starlight Room, where guests could retreat after dinner to watch a movie as nannies and children were whisked away through a secret stairway – best neither seen nor heard.

The Biltmore exudes romance, with its lush grounds complete with the treasured heart tree on the south lawn near the one-time carriage entrance where countless couples have vowed to love, honor and cherish. Weddings remain big business at the Biltmore. A window view on the main floor allows visitors to watch fabulous wedding cakes being created. You can feel the anticipation of love’s promise in the air.

Endangered is the one word that strikes fear into the heart of the Belleview Biltmore’s admirers. Her historic designation provides protections, but nagging uncertainty remains. The Biltmore saga has proved that anything is possible. The buyer, Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, has indicated restoration is the plan.

We hope they are sincere, unlike others who so thoughtlessly viewed this community centerpiece as nothing more than a wilting, dispensable commodity that stood in the way of yet another dime-a-dozen megabucks condo development.

Go by and visit, enjoy Sunday brunch, relax and sip a beverage out on the veranda. To save the Biltmore is to honor what is worth keeping. We take pride in her past and hope that when once again fabulous, the community will embrace the Biltmore as an integral part of our future.

Around the Bay Editorial by the St. Petersburg Times   Monday, June 11, 2007

The new owner of the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa is expected to close on the property by month's end and plans to preserve the 100 year old landmark.  And there's more good news:  The Biltmore's much maligned pagoda entrance, just behind employee Bruce Paquette, right will be a goner.  (photo not available for this article) "We know the Biltmore has been an integral piece of the community's history and we look forward to working with the city on a plan that preserves it for future generations, said Joseph Penner, managing director of Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, a Los Angeles subsidiary of Legg Mason asset Management firm.  Legg Mason plans a "massive remodel," with a goal of restoring the Biltmore and transforming it into a five-star resort, according to G. Michael Harris, whose company WLM Inc. is a project consultant.


Due Diligence for the White Queen of the Gulf Fulfilled Sale Expected Prior to July 1      Clearwater Gazette June 6, 2007

http://www.clearwatergazette.com/20070607/biltmore.html

By Renee Burrell

Symbolizing the Belleview Biltmore's elegance, romance and perseverance. Maisie Plant's story is local legend.

Henry Plant tees off. The hotel's golf course and green spaces are still being enjoyed after 110 years.

Photos reproduced with permission and courtesy of the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa

BELLEAIR - In a statement made Tuesday, Joseph Penner, of Legg Mason Real Estate Investors (LMREI), Los Angeles, announced that the due diligence process has been completed and LMREI intends to move forward with the purchase of the Belleview Biltmore Resort and Spa.


LMREI announced in March 2007 that it had signed a contract to purchase the 110-year-old resort with intentions of saving it. Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, Inc., supplies debt and equity capital, and is a subsidiary of Legg Mason, Inc.

LMREI manages discretionary debt funds that provide commercial real estate financing to fund entrepreneurial multi-family, office, retail, industrial and other commercial properties.

For the past two months neither LMREI nor the resort's present owners, Urdang Capital Management, would reveal details of the sale.

The transaction is expected to be completed before July 1, 2007.

"We have engaged numerous consultants and historic preservation experts in order to develop a restoration and rehabilitation plan for the property" said Joseph Penner, Managing Director of LMREI. "Our goal is to present a clear and detailed plan to the local government and community as soon as possible. We know the Biltmore has been an integral piece of the community's history and we look forward to working with the City on a plan that preserves it for future generations."
 


http://www.tbnweekly.com/content_articles/060707_bee-01.txt      Tampa Tribune, Pinellas Section June 7, 2007

Restoration Plan May Be Biltmore's Last Resort   June 7, 2007


By CARLOS MONCADA, The Tampa Tribune

Published: June 7, 2007

BELLEAIR - Time might not be running out for the historic Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa after all.

A Los Angeles-based investment firm that has a contract on the 110-year-old landmark, threatened with demolition since 2004, plans to close the deal June 20 with the intent of rehabilitating and restoring it, to the delight of local preservationists.

Previous potential buyers, including Tampa-based DeBartolo Development, deemed such a plan economically unfeasible. DeBartolo's option to purchase the Biltmore expired in 2005. It initially had proposed replacing the structure with condominiums.

The threat of demolition has not been eliminated. Town officials on Wednesday said the application that the Biltmore's owner, Belleview Biltmore Resort Ltd., filed two years ago to raze the hotel can be transferred to the new owner.

'The owners never asked for a hearing, so it just kind of hung out there and it remains hung out there,' Town Manager Micah Maxwell said of the demolition permit request. 'My understanding of it is that it would transfer from the old owner to the new owner.'

Maxwell said, though, he has received no indication the contract purchaser, Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, has any plan to demolish the 440,000-square-foot hotel, which railroad magnate Henry B. Plant built and opened in 1897.

'Every conversation I've had with them is they want to renovate it and they want to keep the structure,' said Maxwell, who has met twice with Legg Mason's managing director, Joseph Penner, since March.

The only portions of the resort that would be lost are the pagoda-style main entrance that former owners added in the 1990s, and possibly the spa, Maxwell said. No renovation plans have been submitted to the town, he said. Repairs to parts of the roof damaged by Hurricane Jeanne in 2004 finally are under way.

Preservationists who have fought to save the stately Victorian-themed hotel, known as the world's largest occupied wooden structure, say they are pleased with what they have heard from Legg Mason representatives.

They've agreed to give a historic preservation easement on the hotel, which will protect it forever. They want to completely renovate it and bring it up to a four- or five-star property.  And they want to keep as much green space as possible. They're doing everything that was hoped for.

Legg Mason's Penner did not return telephone calls Wednesday from The Tampa Tribune. Neither did Richard Wilhelm, the Biltmore's general manager. Vincent Sanfilippo, chief investment officer for Urdang, could not be reached.

The Biltmore's purchase price has not been disclosed, but Johnson said she heard it was between $30 million and $35 million. Legg Mason typically invests in apartment complexes, shopping centers and other commercial real estate it may view as undervalued, underperforming or badly managed.

There are few hospitality properties in its portfolio.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2005 placed the Biltmore on its list of America's 11 most endangered historical places after its possible demise inspired a wave of protest in the Tampa Bay area.

The Biltmore has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1979.

'I hope it's finally going to happen,' Michael Sanders, a Clearwater historian, said of the hotel's restoration. 'It's been rolling around for some time.'



http://www.sptimes.com/2007/06/06/Northpinellas/New_owner_to_save_hot.shtml   June 6, 2007  St. Petersburg Times

New owner to save hotel
An investment firm is set to close June 20 on the historic Belleview Biltmore Hotel.
By LORRI HELFAND
Published June 6, 2007


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Roofers Anthony Migliore (left) and Victor Scinto install a temporary roofing skin onto the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa, which is getting a new roof. Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, an international asset management firm in Baltimore, is buying the 110-year-old hotel with the intention of rehabilitating and restoring the landmark property.  
[Times photo: Douglas R. Clifford]


[Times photo: Douglas R. Clifford]
Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa guest Michael Brindly of Hobe Sound, descends the hotel's main staircase which spirals to the hotel's 4th floor.
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[Times photo: Douglas R. Clifford]
This sculpture diffuses lighting in the ceiling of the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa's pagoda, which was built in the 1990's after ownership of the hotel has passed between different hands over the years, and it was purchased by a Japanese company, Mido Development.
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Breaking News Video

BELLEAIR - The new owner of the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa is expected to close on the property by month's end and plans to preserve the 110-year-old landmark.

That is bringing deep sighs of relief from preservationists who fought hard the past three years to save the venerable hotel.

And, there's more good news: The Biltmore's much-maligned pagoda entrance, built in the 1990s by a Japanese owner but nicknamed Godzilla by preservationists, will be a goner.

Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, a Los-Angeles-based subsidiary of Legg Mason asset management firm, announced in March plans to buy and restore the hotel. Monday, the company said it is scheduled to close on the purchase by month's end.

"We know the Biltmore has been an integral piece of the community's history and we look forward to working with the city on a plan that preserves it for future generations," said Joseph Penner, managing director of Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, in a news release this week.

The fate of the 820,000-square-foot hotel has been a mystery - and a concern - since DeBartolo Development's deal to buy it expired in September 2005. Twice since 2004 the hotel faced a threatened demolition.

Penner, who said he could not disclose the purchase price, has released few details. But the town is buzzing about the possible plans for the resort, built by railroad tycoon Henry B. Plant and opened in 1897.

Legg Mason plans a "massive remodel," with a goal of restoring the Biltmore and transforming it into a five-star resort, according to G. Michael Harris, whose company WLM Inc. is a project consultant.

Previous plans by other potential developers included razing the hotel, building condos or converting portions of the hotel into condo-hotels.

Harris said that's not the intention of Legg Mason Real Estate investors, whose parent company holds assets exceeding $800-billion.

Harris, town leaders and others said they were told resort plans include redoing the resort's pool, constructing underground parking, restoring three houses on the property and replacing the spa with a convention center.

Legg Mason also intends, Johnson said, to preserve the hotel's golf course, which is not adjacent to the hotel, but a short drive south on Indian Rocks Road.

Belleair Mayor Gary Katica said he met last week with current hotel manager Richard Wilhelm, president and CEO of Trust Hotels, and nothing Wilhelm disclosed about planned remodeling scared him.

"There's nothing there that would throw a red flag up to me," he said.

Wilhelm said this week the closing is set for June 20.

Project architect Richard Heisenbottle, known for his work on Miami's Freedom Tower and the restoration of Deland's Athens Theatre, said about 50 percent of his work is on preservation.

"We take preservation very seriously and we're glad we've got a client that recognizes the importance of this project as well," said Heisenbottle.

Wilhelm said he informed employees of the pending purchase Monday and that his company would continue to be involved with managing the hotel.

Legg Mason's Penner also recently visited with the Biltmore's longtime owner Bernie Powell to discuss plans for the hotel, said Powell's grandson, Matthew Archangeli, who sat in on the discussion.

"It looks like now it's going to come out the way I would want it to," said Powell, 95, who bought the hotel in the mid 1940s and re-established it as one of the Florida's grand resorts. Powell owned and operated the resort for more than 40 years before selling it to a Japanese firm in 1990.

Belleair Town Manager Micah Maxwell said that during the past nine months there had been about four or five general inquiries about the Biltmore.

He said Penner contacted him about two months ago to ask about the process for restoring the hotel.

Meanwhile, the hotel is repairing portions of the roof damaged by Hurricane Jeanne in 2004. The town has given the hotel about four months to complete a master plan to make those repairs. Wilhelm said ownership and management have pumped about $12-million into the hotel since 2001.

Fast Facts:

Hotel's history, ownership chain

Jan. 15, 1897: The hotel, built by railroad magnate Henry B. Plant, opens.

1919: John McEntee Bowman buys the hotel and adds the name Biltmore.

1942-44: U.S. Army Air Corps moves 3,000 servicemen into the hotel as an auxiliary barracks for MacDill and Drew fields.

1946: Bernard Powell, Nora Mae Peabody and Roger L. Stevens buy the hotel.

1979: Hotel is listed on National Register of Historic Places.

1990: Hideo Kurosawa of Mido Development buys the hotel and calls it the Belleview Mido.

1997: The hotel celebrates 100 years. The Jetha Corp. buys it and returns the name to the Belleview Biltmore. The hotel is renovated extensively.

2003: A company run by Pennsylvania investor Scott Urdang becomes resort general partner.

2004: DeBartolo Development, First Dartmouth Homes and Sun Vista Ventures form Belleair Redevelopment Group and announce a contract on the hotel properties. The Times reports the group's plans to raze the hotel.

January 2005: Contract with Belleair Redevelopment Group falls through.

April 2005: DeBartolo Development announces new contract on hotel properties. Hotel owner files application to raze hotel.

June 2005: the National Trust for Historic preservation places the hotel on its most endangered list.

September 2005: Debartolo Development's deal to buy the hotel expires.

October 2005: Belleair passes a historic preservation ordinance.

March 2007: Legg Mason Real Estate Investors announce desire to buy and preserve hotel.

June 2007: Legg Mason finishes due diligence, announces plans to close by month's end.

 


Biltmore management responds    Belleair Bee  June 7, 2007


Editor:
We very much appreciate the continued positive and fair reporting of The Belleview Biltmore these past six years while we, TRUST Hotels & Resorts, have been managing our wonderful grande dame.

During these past years, we have certainly had difficulties in the ongoing management of the hotel proper, because of such issues as the unfortunate roof damage that occurred during Hurricane Jeanne in September 2004, the first storm damage in 107 years.

And even at this late date we are still arguing in federal court for recovery of millions of dollars in insurance claims from the unfortunate storm incident.

Because of the ongoing delay of settlement of the claim, and because the current ownership does wish to protect the hotel, it was finally decided to move ahead to begin the massive job of permanent repairs and replacement of the multiple roofs even though the insurance has not been settled almost three years later.

This was begun approximately 60 days ago, with full proper permitting, with professional experienced roofing contracts and with high quality roofing materials. We also appreciate and thank the Code Enforcement Board and officials of the town of Belleair, for their appropriate ongoing support during this time.

We wanted to ask that we might make some corrections to the May 31 Bee article, because we are sensitive to the proper issues being related to the public, because so much of our public, friends, neighbors, overnight hotel guests, and our hotel staff, are supporters of the Belleview Biltmore, that we relay the proper information to them:

• The major roofing being completed at this time is permanent, not temporary, roof repairs, with high quality materials, and in fact is warranted for 40 years. It includes major areas such as the roofs of the Tiffany Ballroom, the Starlight Ballroom, the Amphitheatre, and connecting roofs to the main spine of the hotel

• In addition, we have already completed permanent repairs to many other areas of the hotel roofing system from gabled areas to other sections of the hotel main building.

• We do continue to use a special “skin” called Pro-Turf to keep the balance of the roof secured and attractive and protect the hotel, until that date in time that we do complete the balance of the roofing on this very large structure (the largest continually operating wooden structure in the world, which is built primarily of Heart of Pine which molecularly petrifies into an almost iron like substance, make this hotel a very sound building structurally and fire life safety wise, including the roof. That is one reason why it has lasted 110 years through many storms).

• We look forward to continuing the process of the restoration of the hotel, and certainly the roof, to benefit all.

• TRUST Hotels & Resorts is primarily a hotel management company not a “condo hotel management company” although we do have a division that focuses on condo hotels. TRUST’s principles and managers have directly been involved with the redevelopment and management of over 100 projects, of which over 30 have been historic hotels, some of them truly grande dames such as The Plaza Hotel in New York City and The Tides in South Beach.

We thank all the friends and neighbors, and the more than 1-million persons a year who visit the Belleview Biltmore for overnight accommodations to weddings to visits to our Maisie’s Ice Cream Parlor, or even for our daily 11 a.m. historic tours, and the continued support for our wonderful grande dame over these past 110 years, and for many decades into the future.

Richard Wilhelm
President & CEO
The Belleview Biltmore Resort
TRUST Hotels & Resorts


Two Landmark Hotels Saved, Two Others Need Saving

http://www.hotelinteractive.com/index.asp?page_id=5000&article_id=7863           6/1/2007


By Stanley Turkel

The French Lick Springs Resort reopened last fall after a two-year historic renovation of its 443 guestrooms, restaurants, casino, spa and golf course. The first hotel built on this site opened in 1845 to take advantage of the natural sulphur springs and Pluto mineral water. The original hotel burned down in 1897 but was rebuilt on a grander scale by Thomas Taggert, the mayor of Indianapolis (and later a U.S. Senator). The Monon Railroad built a spur directly to the hotel grounds with daily passenger service to Chicago. Casino gambling, although illegal, flourished at the resort. In its heyday in the Roaring Twenties, the surrounding Spring Valley had 30 hotels and 15 clubs. At the time, it was a lawless community for gamblers, politicians, sports figures, entertainers and gangsters. The town got its name from the French traders who founded it and the salty mineral deposits that attracted wildlife.

The French Lick Resort’s casino is apparently as luxurious and as big as the original. The 84,000 square-foot casino features 1,200 slot machines and dozens of blackjack, roulette, craps and poker tables. The Resort has eight new restaurants, six-lane bowling, indoor tennis, riding stables and promenade shops. The casino is built in the shape of a riverboat and is surrounded by a moat (in accordance with a 1993 state law which permits gambling only on riverboats). French Lickers call it the Boat in the Moat.

The French Lick Springs Resort, IN
During the Prohibition years, French Lick had 13 casinos, all of them illegal. Famous guests who visited French Lick included Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Adlai E. Stevenson, the Marx Brothers, Joe Louis, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.

The Donald Ross golf course at the French Lick Resort reopened in September, 2006 unveiling at $4.6 million restoration of the famed course where Walter Hagen won the PGA championship in 1924. Hagen closed out Englishman James Barnes on the 36th and final hole of the two-round match- play championship. Similarly, Betsey Rawls walked off the 72nd hole in 1959 with an LPGA Championship defeating Patty Berg. Mickey Wright won the tournament there a year later.

The golf course restoration is an impact project for the resort, said Steve Ferguson, chairman of the Cook Group, part-owner. Coupled with the construction of a Pete Dye- designed course near the West Baden property and a 9-hole, almost-forgotten course designed by the legendary Tom Bendelow nearly a century ago, the three courses could make French Lick one of the Midwest’s premier resort, casino and golf destinations.

The 246-room West Baden Springs Hotel reopened in May, 2007. Once known as the “Eighth Wonder of the World”, West Baden’s six-story atrium had the world’s largest free-span dome until the Houston Astrodome opened in 1965. West Baden offers a unique natatorium/spa featuring a 12,000 square foot indoor pool and an 8,000 square foot spa including treatment rooms, relaxation rooms and a state-of-the-art fitness center. The recent renovation of the two famous Beaux-Arts hotels, has just been completed. They first opened a few months apart in 1901 and 1902. The restorations evoke the memories of French Lick’s long lost past. More recently French Lick has been known mainly as the hometown of Larry Bird, the legendary Boston Celtic basketball player.

West Baden Springs Hotel, IN
The old casino trolley connecting the two resorts is just a memory now, as are the rail lines that once delivered Pullman-loads of gamblers and guests from Louisville, 55 miles east, and Indianapolis, about 100 miles north. But the French Lick, West Baden & Southern Railway still operates a short sightseeing run from the historic depot which houses the Indiana Railway Museum.

Colorfully-named towns abound throughout this part of southern Indiana- places like Beanblossom, Pumpkin Center, Santa Claus, Hindustan, Buddha and Gnaw Bone. But none has a history as colorful as French Lick’s, or a future as bright.

The Belleview Biltmore Hotel in Belleair, Florida was built in 1897 by Henry Bradley Plant, the prominent railroad, steamboat, express mail and hotel developer (the FedEx/UPS man of his time). Designed by Michael J. Miller and Francis J. Kinnard, the Belleview Hotel at Bellaire opened with 145 rooms, Georgia-pine construction, swiss-style design, golf course and race track. The Belleview became a retreat for the wealthy whose private railroad cars were often parked at the railroad siding built to the south of the hotel. Guests at the Belleview enjoyed the amenities of regal rustic living; yachting and sailing on Clearwater Bay; horseback riding, golfing, tennis, skeet shoot and bicycling. It is called “The White Queen of the Gulf” and is the largest wood-frame building in Florida.

The Belleview Biltmore Hotel, FL
In 1920, the hotel was acquired by John McEntee Bowman, international sportsman and owner of the Biltmore chain of hotels (Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, Delaware, Santa Barbara, Havana, Providence). This national treasure has enriched the lives of guests for 110 years. Despite being listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, it has been under threat of demolition by its current owners. But now two local newspapers, the St. Petersburg Times and the Belleair Bee have reported that there is a contract to purchase the Biltmore with Legg Mason Real Estate Investors Inc. Los Angeles, California.

“Executives with Legg Mason Real Estate Investors would not disclose the proposed purchase price or the closing date, but said in a written statement they had a contract to buy the resort and intend to preserve the 110-year-old hotel,” St. Petersburg Times writer Rita Farlow wrote on March 9, 2007. How great it would be to hear from Legg Mason that they will definitely preserve and restore The Belleview Biltmore Hotel.

Fenway on the Bay was built in 1924 when citizens of Dunedin contributed $100 each so that the developer Grant & Skinne could construct a new hotel. The Dunedin Times issue of July 10, 1924 announced that “the hotel will be one that the townspeople will be proud to point out to their friends… It means a new era for Dunedin” and asked each resident to “dig down in your jeans and fish out the necessary coin for a share in both.” On August 6, 1925 the Dunedin Times reported that a Clearwater developer named George H. Bowles had paid $250,000 for a controlling interest in the hotel but the Fenway was still unfinished and funds were still short. Bowles was also an enthusiastic promoter of that newfangled invention called ‘radio’, which in 1925 had only a five-year history of commercial broadcasting. Bowles finally finished the hotel and installed transmission towers used for the first radio broadcast from Pinellas County on station WGHB (The call letters were George H. Bowles initials, of course).

After the crash of 1929, the Fenway was acquired by James McGill whose son-in-law Tommy Scanlon managed through the ‘30’s, ‘40’s and ‘50’s. The Independent, a St. Petersburg newspaper, stated in an article of January 20, 1941 that 15% of the guests who stayed at the Fenway bought and built homes in Dunedin. From 1956 to 1961 the building sat vacant until the Fenway became home to Trinity College, also known as Florida Bible Institute. In 1991, Schiller International University moved into the building and used the Fenway as its United States campus until August, 2006.

A St. Petersburg attorney, George Rahdert just received approval from the Dunedin City Commission for a 150-room restoration of the historic Fenway Hotel. Rahdert has been a prolific historic preservationists for the past 25 years who has restored over 20 buildings in Pinella County, with four buildings nominated for the National Historic Registry.

My book-in-progress “Great American Hoteliers: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry” will be published at the end of 2007 by McFarland & Company, Publishers, Jefferson, N.C. You can reserve an autographed copy by sending me an email at stanturkel@aol.com

Stanley Turkel, MHS, ISHC operates his hotel consulting office as a sole practitioner specializing in franchising issues, asset management and litigation support services. Turkel’s clients are hotel owners and franchisees, investors and lending institutions. Turkel serves on the Board of Advisors and lectures at the NYU Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management. He is a member of the prestigious International Society of Hospitality Consultants. His provocative articles on various hotel subjects have been published in the Cornell Quarterly, Lodging Hospitality, Hotel Interactive, Hotel Online, Hotel & Motel Management, AAHOA Lodging Business, Bottomline, New York Times, Travel & Leisure, etc. If you need help with a hotel operations or franchising problem such as encroachment/impact, termination/liquidated damages or litigation support, don’t hesitate to call 917-628-8549 or email stanturkel@aol.com


http://www.tbnweekly.com/content_articles/053107_bee-02.txt   May 31, 2007

Code board grants Biltmore reprieve

Management company given 120 days to prepare plans for roof repairs
 

BELLEAIR – Called before a special meeting of the Code Enforcement Board of Belleair on May 23, Belleview Biltmore officials CEO Richard Wilhelm and Chief Operating Officer Sam Downing presented a visual record of the progress to date on repairs made to the massive roof structure of the famous resort.

During the meeting, Belleair Code Enforcement Board members listened to a 30 minute presentation describing the repairs in photos and words.

The Code Enforcement Board, which reviews alleged issues of noncompliance with Belleair’s building and property design and maintenance standards, has the power to order property owners to make necessary repairs and or changes to their property or face fines of up to $250 a day.

After reviewing Wilhelm and Downing’s presentation the board found that resort officials were in noncompliance but agreed unanimously to extend the owners a period of 120 days in which to prepare a plan for completing the roof repair and return to the code review process for approval, according to Wilhelm.

Wilhelm, who is CEO of Trust Hotels, a condo-hotel development and management firm, which manages the Biltmore, explained during a phone interview Tuesday that the repairs, which began 45 days ago, have already progressed significantly. The contractor, he said, has now finished temporary repairs to the roof areas covering the Starlight and Tiffany ballrooms, as well as the amphitheater including their connecting passageways.

He said that the work is complex and entails removing any damaged material down to the “bare bones,” which he described as exceptionally sound structurally. An engineered material used to weatherproof the roof, Wilhelm added, is designed to protect the “building, its occupants and the community” from the effects of all but the most severe weather.

Wilhelm said that when Hurricane Jeanne struck parts of Florida in September 2004, it was the first occasion in 107 years that the Belleview Biltmore has suffered significant storm damage. Company officials are still awaiting the outcome of litigation in federal court regarding that event, in what he said amounts to a multimillion-dollar insurance claim.

http://www.tbnweekly.com/content_articles/052407_bee-02.txt   Belleair Bee May 24, 2007

Town raises roof issue with Belleview Biltmore  


By HARLAN WEIKLE

  
Photo by HARLAN WEIKLE

[Image]


The north entrance to the Belleview Biltmore shows temporary covering on the damaged roof.


BELLEAIR – If you’re a homeowner in Belleair and you receive notice of a code enforcement hearing, it’s wise to pay attention. No less so if you’re a local icon such as the Belleview Biltmore Resort.

Such a notice was formally served on the owners of the historic resort in April, calling them to a hearing before the code enforcement board to examine whether or not the resort stands in violation of building codes, which, among other things addresses roof assemblies and rooftop structures.

Even the most cursory examination of the huge structure capping the Biltmore reveals extensive swaths of plastic sheeting covering acres of roof where the weather and age have done their worst.

Reports of windblown debris littering the world famous links surrounding the Biltmore are evidenced by shards of the same material flagging in the wind like so many rags worn by a now declining social matriarch.

Although details have not been forthcoming, it is reported that the resort has been sold to an out of state investment group. As town officials, residents and the town’s Historic Preservation Board wait to learn the eventual fate of the Biltmore, the wind continues to blow and the roof continues to vex.

Now, threatening potential fines of $250 per day and on the eve of a potentially difficult hurricane season, the town has taken matters into its own hands.

The Biltmore’s new owners or their representatives were asked to appear before the code enforcement board May 23 to show cause why the roof, in such disrepair, has not been brought up to code or face penalties.

Earlier this month, in a related action, the commission heard expert testimony from a consultant hired to examine the extent to which Belleair controls the land use rights for approximately 180 acres of open space surrounding the hotel. The commission, fearing a potential challenge to the town’s domain, asked the consultant to come back with hardened language further protecting the town from unwanted development.

Repeated calls to Biltmore management requesting an interview for this story were not returned by press time.  


http://www.sptimes.com/2007/04/04/Northpinellas/Today_s_Letters__Unhe.shtml   Letters to the Editor

St. Petersburg Times   April 4, 2007

Biltmore full of happy memories

I've only known the Belleview Biltmore for 60 of its 110-year history, but I feel it was always a rewarding friendship.

I had my first view of the "Queen" in 1947. At this time she was capable of supplying her own electricity or water and even had her own fire truck. My dad was the paint contractor to help restore her once again to her original beauty after the Army had just vacated the hotel and had spray-painted almost everything pink. My first job was to paint the strips along the sides of the carpeted halls. I didn't know there are 71/2 miles of halls!

I was with the Belleview Biltmore from 1947 until 1961 - with two years off in the Army and two years away to start my family. All of these years were in the service department as a doorman.

The hotel was only open during the winter months. The rest of the year was spent keeping her beautiful. I spent two summers with the painting crew - the halls, the suites of rooms, the dining room ceilings, the many dormers, the vast porches and even the elevator shafts above the six-story roofs - all had to be painted. At that time all of the sidings were wood. Many times we were the only ones there, and to put rumors to rest, I never saw a ghost.

What a wonderful life the Belleview provided, not only for its guests, but for all the employees who came back year after year.

We were privileged to use the golf courses (two at that time surrounding the hotel), the tennis courts, the Tiffany Ballroom for dances and movies and even go to the private beach. Bernie Powell and Don Church took wonderful care of their employees.

Over the years many important people visited the Queen, including Norman Vincent Peale, the Duke of Windsor, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, the Lennon sisters and movie stars galore.

Each year my friend Lois Cormier of Clearwater - her husband and I worked together - and as many of my family as I can get together visit the hotel. This year a friend who had not been back there in 40 years called and we took a tour.

The kitchen is still as big and useful as before. We toured the dining room where so many well-dressed guests had great meals prepared by Andy Spence, the chef.

What a joy it was to read that once again the Belleview will survive with the glory it deserves. We thousands of employees say thank you. It deserves the respect.

Don Audibert, Largo


This painting "White Queen of the Gulf"  by Lauren Smith (L.Smith Studio Inc.) won an award at The Arts Center's Ephemera Show.  It was featured on the front page article in the Seminole Beacon a few months ago.


http://www.tbnweekly.com/pubs/belleair_bee/content_articles/031507_bee-01.txt  March 15, 2007

Belleview Biltmore principles guarded on contract details  
  
Photo courtesy of HERITAGE VILLAGE ARCHIVES

The Belleview Biltmore back in its heyday as a premier winter resort for the wealthy.


By HARLAN WEIKLE

BELLEAIR – The recent announcement that the venerable old “White Queen of the Gulf,” the 110-year-old Belleview Biltmore Resort, is under contract may not have come as a surprise to many, but for others it creates more questions than answers.

Buying the property from Urdang Capital Management Inc., Legg Mason Real Estate Investors Inc., says its “Number one goal is to devise an economically feasible plan to rehabilitate and restore this landmark property,” and Legg Mason cites as precedent an unnamed “historic” hotel redevelopment project in Santa Monica, Calif., for which they are currently finalizing the permits process.

City hall officials in Santa Monica were unable to confirm that. They suggested possibilities as either the Georgian Hotel, or the Shangri-La. Both historic hotels are located on Ocean Avenue, overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

The Shangri-La, according to its Web site, is currently closed for renovation, however a subsequent call from the Shangri-La’s general manager, Dino Nanni, revealed that the hotel is owned by the Tehmina Adaya family.

A spokesperson for the Georgian Hotel, told us that their hotel is part of the Broughton Hospitality Group, with properties in California, Mexico and Indonesia, adding that they have no immediate construction projects pending.

A quick search of Legg Mason’s Web site reveals that LMREI also recently provided short-term bridge loans for two hotel redevelopment projects in Hawaii. In both instances the properties were converted into student housing.

Repeated requests for further information regarding their development plans from Legg Mason’s fund manager for the Biltmore project, Joseph Penner, went unanswered.

Reached at his office in Pennsylvania Monday evening, Urdang’s chief investment officer, Vince Sanfillippo, would say only that all parties to the contract were prohibited from revealing any details regarding any conditions of the pending contract or any plans for the Biltmore’s immediate future.

Belleair Town Manager Micah Maxwell, who met briefly last Thursday with the principles to the contract, said that neither he nor any other Belleair officials were privy to the specifics of the contract, but Maxwell expressed confidence that town ordinances regarding the disposition of historic properties as well as the presence of an experienced Historic Preservation Board would help ensure the town’s interests in the redevelopment of the property.

“They’ll have to follow regulations and the ordinances that are in place,” Maxwell said.

One question, which seems to loom consistently over the ongoing saga of the Biltmore’s transition from one owner to another, is the purchase price. The Urdang acquisition never revealed a settlement cost and the current pending contract participants will say only that they require time for “due diligence” before unveiling the conditions of the contract or their plans for redevelopment.

The previous owners, the Jetha Brothers, whose Baltimore-based development company, Focus Historic, purportedly sold all its interests in the Biltmore to Urdang in 2003, again without revealing a selling price. However, as of Tuesday, the FocusHistoric.com Web site still prominently listed the property, saying, Mr. (Shaffin) Jetha currently has an ownership and management interest in three hotels, including the Belleview Biltmore Resort and Spa.

Focus Historic did not reply to a request for clarification.  

Article published on Thursday, March 15, 2007  
Copyright © Tampa Bay Newspapers: All rights reserved.

 



http://www.tbnweekly.com/pubs/belleair_bee/content_articles/031507_bee-04.txt  March 15, 2007

Fowler, Oddo prevail for Belleair commission  

By HARLAN WEIKLE

BELLEAIR – Stephanie Oddo, a relative newcomer to Belleair, can add another distinction to her resume, namely town commissioner.

Oddo joins Stephen R. Fowler, who retained his place on the commission Tuesday as two seats were in contention. Commissioner Gary Katica vacated his seat taking over the mayor’s gavel from outgoing Mayor George Mariani Jr. Katica ran unopposed.

Oddo said she wished to thank all of her supporters.

“I am so proud and privileged to represent the people of Belleair,” she said.

Oddo received 36 percent of the vote in this very tight race.

Katica expressed his admiration for the diversity of the new commission noting that with this election the town commission now, “represents five generations of Belleair residents,” with members on board ranging in age from 30 to 70.

Incumbent Commissioner Stephen Fowler, after learning late in the evening that he had won with 37 percent of the overall vote, 2,200 total, a relatively high turnout, said, “I am very proud to have garnered such support,” and wished to thank everyone for their community spirit.

Asked about the recent announcement that the Belleview Biltmore was under pending contract, Fowler said, “To this point, nothing is known and simply consists of absolute rumors.”

He added that, for his part, he will reserve judgment until something is presented.

Both Fowler and Katica expressed their confidence in the town’s code and detailed comprehensive plan to ensure an outcome that would be suitable for both the Belleview Biltmore and the town of Belleair.  

Article published on Thursday, March 15, 2007

 


http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/sptimes/access/1229955621.html?dids=1229955621:1229955621&FMT=FT&FMTS=ABS:FT&date=Mar+9%2C+2007&author=RITA+FARLOW&pub=St.+Petersburg+Times&edition=&startpage=1&desc=A+happy+ending+for+the+Biltmore

March 9, 2007

A happy ending for the Biltmore


St. Petersburg Times - St. Petersburg, Fla.
Author: RITA FARLOW
Date: Mar 9, 2007

There's a buyer, a contract and a statement of intent to preserve the historic hotel.

An international asset management firm in Baltimore announced Thursday it wants to buy and save the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa.

Executives with Legg Mason Real Estate Investors would not disclose the proposed purchase price or the closing date, but said in a written statement they had a contract to buy the resort and intend to preserve the 110-year-old hotel.

"Our No. 1 goal is to devise an economically feasible plan to rehabilitate and restore this landmark property," Legg Mason managing director Joseph Penner said in a press release.

Reached Thursday, Penner confirmed the purchase contract but declined to comment further.

Vince Sanfillippo, the chief investment officer for the hotel's current owner, Urdang Capital Management, did not return a call late Thursday afternoon.

But Legg Mason's announcement quoted Sanfillippo as saying the buyer's plan for the resort's future was an important factor in reaching a deal.

Preservationists have fought to save the historic hotel, which was built by railroad magnate Henry B. Plant, ever since DeBartolo Development announced plans to raze the hotel and build condominiums on the property, said G. Michael Harris, who is on the town's historic preservation board. That deal fell apart in 2005.

Harris said saving the hotel has far-reaching implications.

"It's just as important for the residents of Belleair as the whole future of Pinellas County and the state of Florida," he said. "It's preserving history for future generations."

Legg Mason is involved in the redevelopment and restoration of two historic buildings into a new hotel in Santa Monica, Calif.

Times staff writer Lorri Helfand contributed to this report. Rita Farlow can be reached at farlow@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4167.

FAST FACTS

Preserving history

Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa

- Built by railroad tycoon Henry B. Plant. Opened in 1897. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in December 1979.

- Includes 244 rooms, 13,000-square-foot Tiffany Ballroom, 18- hole golf course

Legg Mason Real Estate Investors

- Provides "creative and flexible" commercial real estate financing.

- Part of publicly traded Legg Mason Inc., the world's fifth largest asset manager, with assets of more than $800-billion.

[Illustration]
Caption: PHOTO, SCOTT KEELER - Times (2005): DeBartolo Development's plan to buy and tear down the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa fell apart in 2005.


Katica raises conflict of interest concerns   Belleair Bee February 15, 2007

BELLEAIR – Town Commission candidate Rae Claire Johnson sees no conflict of interest in her pursuing an acceptable ownership group for the Belleview Biltmore Resort, while running for the commission in the March election.

In a phone interview, Johnson, president of Friends of the Biltmore, said, “I have no financial interest in the hotel. We are trying to find a group that would buy the hotel and not change it into condos.”

Questions about a potential conflict of interest were raised at last week’s commission meeting by Commissioner Gary Katica, who is in line to become mayor. Mayor George Mariani Jr. is not seeking re-election and only Katica filed for mayor.

“I certainly want any potential conflicts of interest to be brought forward so as to ensure totally objective decisions by this commission regarding the Biltmore property that may come before us in the future,” Katica read in a prepared statement.

Katica further stated that he was recently advised by Rory Hiller, who has long expressed an interest in purchasing the hotel, that “negotiations for sale of the Biltmore property had bogged down due to some interest of Rae Claire Johnson in the deal.”

“His statement is ridiculous,” Johnson said. “I have told Gary repeatedly that I have no agenda except to save the hotel. It was just an attempt to discredit my reputation and my character.”

Johnson acknowledged that though she was previously in discussions with Hiller about a potential scenario that would include Friends of the Biltmore, that is no longer the case. She said she has put another investment group in touch with the resort’s owner, Urdang and Associates, and advised that investment group, “what would be acceptable to the town and the people in town.”

Johnson said the unidentified investment group agreed to put in writing a stipulation that the hotel’s historic preservation easement would be given to Friends of the Biltmore or another designated nonprofit, preferably the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

“I don’t want someone to come in and ruin it. I am trying to protect this building for the town,” she said. “If it became a resort oasis with 75 to 80 percent occupancy rates, that would help home values.”

Meantime, Hiller said of Johnson’s involvement in his plans for the Biltmore, “The deal went astray. She did not perform on anything she said she was gonna do. We told her they (Friends of the Biltmore) needed to participate financially at some point in time. Nothing ever happened ... She changed too many rules.”

Hiller maintained that he is still “100 percent” pursuing the Biltmore with other investors whom he chose not to name. His plans would involve a hotel-condo development.

“In a couple of weeks we will be in a better position to show what we are proposing. It will have the same look as it has today, but in like-new condition,” said Hiller.

Katica stands by his claim there would be a potential conflict should Johnson be elected in March.

“This (Belleview Biltmore) is going to be the big issue for this town. It’s going to be an embarrassment for her (Johnson) and the commission if she is involved in any way,” he said.

http://www.tbnweekly.com/content_articles/070606_bee-03.txt    July 6, 1006

Capturing the charm of the Belleview Biltmore

By WAYNE AYERS
 
[Image]
Photo courtesy of SAVETHEBILTMORE.COM
The Belleview Biltmore charm is available at www.savethebiltmore.com, at the hotel gift shop and at K.K. Smith and Sons jewelers.
 

BELLEAIR – Located in an area that many say is losing its charm to over development, the Belleview Biltmore has stood as an ageless symbol of beauty, style and casual elegance.

With developers eyeing the classic hotel for possible demolition, one tiny, classically elegant piece of jewelry may play a role in its salvation.

The piece is a charm, a decorative pendant which has enjoyed periods of popularity in the form of a charm bracelet. Charms were collected to capture memories of treasured life experiences … places visited, associations, relationships. It is said that Queen Victoria wore charm bracelets.

Today, charms are worn on bracelets or on a chain or cord necklace.

The Belleview Biltmore Hotel, holding a special place in the lives of its many fashionable patrons, had its own unique and special charm.

The elegant Belleview Biltmore charm has been resurrected and re-created by local jewelers K. K. Smith and Sons. Sales of this collector’s piece through the Save the Biltmore

preservationists Web site (www.savethebiltmore.com), directly from K. K. Smith jewelers or at the hotel gift shop will benefit efforts to rescue and preserve the classic hotel.

The charm is an exact replica of the original jewelry sold decades ago by a fine jeweler located in the hotel. Years have passed since the charm was last available.

The Belleview Biltmore charm’s renaissance was the inspiration of Clearwater resident Barbara Arnold, who provided the original charm for the mold used to create the replica pieces. Arnold is with the preservationists group. Her family has shared cherished moments at the hotel in a relationship spanning four decades.

The charm used to create the replica pieces was an anniversary gift given by Arnold’s father to her mother in the 1960s, Arnold said.

“Mother had admired the charm in the jewelry shop during one of my parent’s many visits to the hotel,” she said.

By making the historic hotel charm available once again, Arnold hopes to inspire many more people to go out and visit the hotel, experience its charms and join in efforts to preserve it.

“I am very, very happy to see it happen,” Arnold said of the charm’s re-creation.

Ken Smith of K. K. Smith and Sons said that he is pleased to have a role in bringing this piece of vintage memorabilia from the hotel back to life. The family-owned jeweler’s Clearwater roots date back more than 50 years.

“The history of the Belleview Biltmore is the history of my family and friends that I knew,” he said. “When Barbara Arnold showed me the charm, I told her right away that I would like to be able to manufacture it.”

Smith said that his dad had connections with the Lennon family who owned the hotel jewelry shop where the original charm was sold. Smith contacted the Lennon Jewelry headquarters in Utica, New York.

“They allowed us to go ahead and reproduce the item,” he said.

An 8-hour process is used to create each charm. Besides the traditional sterling silver, there is a gold over sterling and a 14-karat gold version.

“Every one is hand made,” he said.

The Belleview Biltmore vintage charms are arriving just in time for the hotel’s 110th birthday, said Diane Hein, founder and president of SaveTheBiltmore.com.

Since a portion of the proceeds from the charm’s sales are being used to benefit the preservation cause, the Belleview Biltmore’s many admirers have one more way to wish the hotel “many years to come.”


http://www.clearwatergazette.com/20060622/charm.html    June 22, 2006

CLEARWATER - A charm depicting the original front entry of the Belleview Biltmore Hotel is being offered by KK Smith Jewelers, 1204 Rogers Street, Clearwater, and Save the Biltmore preservationists. KK SMITH jewelers have been located in Clearwater for over 50 years. They are generously donating a portion of each charm sale to Save the Biltmore's Preservation efforts.

This is not the first attempt at capturing the charm of the Biltmore and rendering it in fine jewelry. The charm was originally created by the hotel's jewelers, Lennon's of Utica, New York in the 1960s. Lennons have given Smith and the preservation group permission to replicate the charm.

The charm measures 1 and 1/8 inches and can be worn on a bracelet or as a pendant. The charm is available in sterling silver, gold over sterling vermeil, or solid 14 karat gold. Charms created in gold weigh 1/4 ounce.

"The charm is a round silhouette of the hotel. It's created through the lost wax process," says goldsmith Ken Smith, Pinellas county's only hand engraver. "The charm can be personalized with hand engraving, or with a diamond rondelle added to depict a light in a window," says Smith.

Smith's father opened the first KK Smith jewelry store in 1955 located in Cleveland Plaza. Smith says he has fond memories of the Biltmore and would like to see it preserved.

"We had our 20th Clearwater High School reunion at the Belleview Biltmore. It was wonderful. Anyone who has spent any length of time in the area has some fond memory of a time enjoyed at the hotel."

The idea to resurrect the charm of the Biltmore came from Save the Biltmore Preservationist Barbara Walters Arnold. Her mother's charm from Lennon's was used to make Smith's wax mold.

"The idea began with my mom’s gold charm bracelet – it’s the traditional “jingle-jangle” kind that contains silhouettes representing her children and grandchildren and golden shapes, each with their own story of cherished memories," says Arnold. "One such memento, depicts in fine detail a garden path leading to a beautiful turn of the century building, with its finely detailed gabled roof and numerous chimneystacks – all encased within a circle. Many years ago Dad had surprised mom with this gift from the fine jewelry shop then located in the Belleview Biltmore Hotel. Times spent and shared at the hotel over the next 4 decades are now intrinsically part of mom’s charm."

Arnold explains her devotion to the hotel, "Of course, the last year or two has been a cause of serious concern for the hotel’s future. Last year a combination of factors prompted me to lend what time and effort I could to prevent the hotel from being removed from our landscape. Personal memories dating back to 1959, an overall appreciation for its significance, and admittedly the feeling that even though Dad had passed away he was expecting me to, were the final catalysts."

The charm and Smith were recently featured on channel 10's 11 pm news. The 19th century Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa was recently featured in the July 2006 issue of Men's Journal. The publication encouraged Clearwater area visitors to visit the hotel as it is a place to stay to embrace old Florida.

Prices set for the hand crafted charms are $75.00 for sterling; $100 for gold over sterling vermeil; and $400 for 14kt gold. Charms may be viewed and ordered online at www.savethebiltmore.com. Since all charms are custom made to order, a time period of 4 to 6 weeks must be allowed for creation and delivery.

 


http://www.tampabays10.com/news/local/article.aspx?storyid=33528  June 15, 2006    Tampa Bay Channel 10 TV

Charm of the Belleview Biltmore preserved on charm

By:  Kathryn Bursch  Clearwater, Florida

At K.K. Smith Jewelers you’ll see plenty of sparkle, but it’s in the back you find the charm. It’s there that family members work side by side.

Norris Smith, Jeweler:
“Our actual family has been in the business for 110 years.”
And now this family that’s so steeped in tradition is making a little piece of history. They’re custom creating charms of the Belleview Biltmore Hotel to help raise money for a group working to preserve “The White Queen of the Gulf”.

Ken Smith, Jeweler:
“The history of the Belleview Biltmore is the history of my family and the friends that I know.”
The charm is about as historic as the old hotel itself. A jeweler based at the hotel decades ago used to sell them and K.K. Smith has received permission to use the exact same design.

About 8 hours of work goes into each charm. There are a dozen steps along the way and they take place in a work room that conjures up visions of a crocked Betty Crocker. Viewing the microwave, mixer and crock-pot Jason Smith says with a laugh, “we’re cooking jewelry”.

But there are time-honored methods to this madness. The piece is born in fire and refined at the bench. And when all the surfaces are polished, the charm of the Belleview Biltmore comes shining through.

Jason Smith, Jeweler:
“I think people will love this, I know they will. It’s a beautiful piece of jewelry.”
Proceeds from charm sales will go to the group “Save the Biltmore Preservationists”; to find out more click on the link below.

www.savethebiltmore.com


http://www.sptimes.com/2006/06/18/Northpinellas/Shell_Oil_eyes_drilli.shtml

PLEASE NOTE THE DATE HERE, 1919!!  This is from the St. Petersburg Times newspaper, Pinellas County History

June 16, 1919

Belleview owners to build on Sand Key

BELLEAIR - With the expenditure of millions of dollars, Pinellas County is to have a new gulf beach resort on Sand Key.

The Biltmore interests, which recently bought the Belleview Hotel at Belleair, is taking up the task of building up a beach resort on the west coast where Plant left off. They have already taken preliminary steps to convert the north end of Sand Key into what is described as the finest resort in the country. Plans include a bridge across the bay from Belleair to the island and a hotel with a number of palatial cottages.

The Biltmore interests own two-and-a-half miles of gulf front on the island, their property beginning just north of Indian Beach.

Surveyors are already on the ground getting the land laid out for the first work and preliminary arrangements have been made for the Seaboard Air Line Railway to run to the resort.


Clearwater Gazette, May 18, 2006  www.ClearwaterGazette.com




Pillars of the Community
Bernie Powell
By RENEE BURRELL

Our community is very fortunate to have had Bernie Powell move here from Michigan in 1946. Not only because of his significant generosity, but also for his charitable leadership and for practicing his catholic faith’s virtue of setting aside self-interest for the benefit of the community for over a half century.

Powell turns 94 May 24.

A recent visit to his personal library revealed that Powell, best known for owning the Belleview Biltmore Hotel, was also a pillar in his native Detroit.

In Michigan he made his mark in the legal profession. A graduate of Detroit Law School, Powell passed the Bar at age 22 and was employed as an associate in three time Governor Alex Groesbeck’s law firm. Bernie was admitted to practice in the U.S. Supreme Court in 1944 where he says he worked on his most exciting case.

At age 31 Bernie represented farm and homeowners living in heavily taxed areas who found themselves involved in litigation over certified drainage bonds.

The case continued to the Supreme Court where the favorable and unanimous decision went to Powell. Bernie saved many of the landowners from foreclosure, as they were no longer forced to pay millions of dollars in drain bonds. Upon their victory, some of Bernie’s clients no doubt were reminded of Saint Bernard the Archbishop of Vienne who is the patron saint of agricultural laborers.

In 1946 a client, Roger Stevens, Broadway theater producer and part owner of the Empire State Building included Powell and his sister Nora Peabody in the $500,000 purchase of the Belleview Biltmore Hotel. The United States Army had just recently evacuated the hotel. The Belleview, stood vacant, the largest wooden structure in the world, stripped, and devoid of furniture and equipment.

The investors’ original plan called for Powell to reopen the structure as a hotel and then sell it for a profit. Powell settled in and eventually uplifted the hotel to four star status, became the principal owner and sold the hotel at age 77 in 1990 for 27.5-million.

Powell said he would do it all over again if he could, even starting from scratch, as he considers the hotel to be not just a national treasure, but also a world treasure.

He praises the hotel’s current management and is confident the hotel won’t be razed although the present owners are seeking a permit to do so from the town of Belleair. “The hotel is being run very nicely by the General Manager. I feel certain it won’t be destroyed, and when sold that it will be for a nice price,” said Powell.

When sold, Powell thinks all three properties, the hotel, Donald Ross designed golf course and cabana and beach club should stay together to keep the resort status in tact.

During his 43 year tenure as president and manager of the hotel, Bernie enriched the lives of hotel guests and locals in numerous and often remarkable ways.

For one, he had the hotel consecrated as a Catholic church and masses were said there. He brought classical music to the hotel when Cal Gifford appeared. Bandleaders Peter Duchin and Lester Lanin also performed at the hotel.

The hotel drew many interesting and famous guests. Powell played host to President George Bush, President Jimmy Carter, President Gerald Ford, Lady Margaret Thatcher, Joe DiMaggio, and entertainers Tony Bennett, and Carol Channing.

Socialite and cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post Davis was a frequent guest and an accomplished dancer who performed in the hotel’s Starlight Room. Bob Dylan recorded an album there in 1976.

Bernie golfed with some of the sport’s greats and not so greats, like the Duke of Windsor, whom he played with and beat. A Western Union telegraph from the Duke hangs in Powell’s library. It’s addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Powell and reads, “Many thanks. You’re thought of me at this sad time. Duke of Windsor”. It’s dated April 1.

Bernie counts the four papal meetings he’s had as extra special. He said his favorite pontiff was Pope John Paul, whom he met in Vatican City when the Pope invited him and Bishop Donovan of Detroit to his office so he could present them with medals. Powell describes the honor, “John Paul reached into his desk drawer to get the medals when the drawer and everything in it fell to the floor. He got down on his hands and knees searching through the spilled contents until he retrieved the medal and handed it to me. I still have it. He was so humble…truly a great figure.”

After selling the hotel, Powell used his financial power to help the medical community and other local organizations and charities.

In 1991, Powell and his wife, Mary Ann, donated funds to Morton Plant Hospital to build the Powell Cancer Center. The Cheek-Powell Heart and Vascular Pavilion and the Mary Ann and Bernard F. Powell Child Care and Learning Center followed. In July 2005, The Mallory-Powell Salvation Army opened.

His generosity to the community will continue for many years to come as Bernie and Mary Ann have through the Powell Foundation provided for future continuous gifts to area charities ad infinitum.

 


Letter to us on April 6, 2006

Right now, the Florida House of Representatives is considering H.B. 1567, a bill that would provide Florida's home and small business owners with a significant level of protection against eminent domain abuse.  This legislation would ban the condemnation of private property for private and economic development, and would also strip the power of eminent domain away from Florida’s community redevelopment agencies (which are notorious for their abuse of this power). The bill limits condemnations to individual properties with serious problems and to public projects.  It forbids transferring condemned property to private use for at least five years.  H.B. 1567 is a strong bill that will provide additional and much-needed protection to property owners.  

Please contact your representatives IMMEDIATELY and urge them to support H.B. 1567 without any amendments that water it down. You can do so here: https://action.popuvox.com/default.aspx?actionID=239.

Here's the text of the bill: http://www.flsenate.gov/data/session/2006/House/bills/billtext/pdf/h156702c2.pdf.

Florida's legislative session closes on May 5, 2006, so we will send you another action alert when a bill begins to move in the Florida Senate.  That will likely be in the next week or two.

Best,

Christina Walsh
Assistant Castle Coalition Coordinator
Institute for Justice
901 N. Glebe Road, Suite 900
Arlington, VA  22203
(703) 682-9320
www.ij.org 
www.castlecoalition.org


http://www.clearwatergazette.com/20060309/belleair.html     March 9, 2006

Sunshine Law Casts Long Shadow at Belleair Meeting

By Renee Burrell

BELLEAIR – A few issues raised at the February 20 town commission meeting begged for a review of Florida’s Sunshine Law, regarding public records, meetings, and private, often called “shade” meetings.

Because Florida's Government-in-the-Sunshine law requires board and commission meetings to be open to the public, most take it for granted that all are. But there are exceptions.

Several Belleair residents in attendance found this out when they demanded the commission address what has been going on behind the scenes with petitions signed by 700 Belleair residents who support a referendum for a charter amendment to require land use and zoning changes be voted upon.

The Belleview Biltmore Hotel’s preservation was the impetus for the petitions, which circulated last spring.

David Ottinger, the town attorney, who filed the complaint in court to determine whether the petitions violated state law, fielded the questions.

Laurie Adams asked him, “I would like to know what intention and purpose you had in filing a law suit against Mildred Hathaway, a senior citizen?” Adams found it inconceivable that 700 people’s wishes could be ignored and she wanted to know how they could ultimately have a voice.

Ottinger said he was asked to determine if the petitions were valid as they proposed a “dilemma” for the town because it was suspected that the petitions were unlawful.

He added that filing the suit was a procedural matter done to satisfy due process and named Hathaway because it was she who presented the petitions at town hall to town clerk Donna Carlen.

Hathaway didn’t answer the court by retaining an attorney for her defense within a 20-day time period, so a decision was made by default judgment to drop the suit.

“Time ran out and there was no answer,” said Ottinger.

Although he said, “ Two attorneys had contacted me on the 20th day but neither were representing and defending Hathaway.”

Said Ottinger, “There will be a judgment soon and I think the petitions will be deemed unlawful as a referendum for any and every land use zoning change is not conducive to state law.”

The judgment by default was assigned to Judge Brant Downing and is expected soon.

Another resident, Rae Claire Johnson, asked the board when it voted on initiating the law suit because she has been in attendance at the meetings and could not recall the matter on an agenda or added to the agenda in discussion.

Carlen answered that the decision was made at a regular meeting in December, but didn’t have the exact date. Though the Sunshine law doesn’t require that tape recordings be made by a public board or commission, Belleair’s policy is to audio tape them.

On February 27, Carlen gave the exact date of when the law suit was agreed to be filed via e-mail, “The matter was discussed at the December 6 work session and Resolution No. 2005-40 was adopted at the December 20 regular meeting to file for the declaratory judgment.”

In regard to tape recording meetings, Carlen wrote, “Tapes of the meetings are kept for a period of three years, after they have been officially adopted, per records retention schedule outlined in Florida Statutes. We do provide copies of the tapes for a charge of 65 cents per tape.”

An alternative to obtaining an audiocassette from the town may lie in another part of the Sunshine Law. Private citizens can videotape public meetings, because public boards cannot prevent it. Videotaping has to be permitted as long as non-disruptive video recording equipment is used.

The Sunshine Law doesn't pertain to only announced meetings. The law applies to all discussions and deliberations as well as the formal action taken by a board or commission.

Carlen said, “The Sunshine Law requires that all meetings are held in the ‘Sunshine” except for meetings regarding litigations and all records are open to the public except for minutes of litigation meetings held ‘out of the Sunshine’. Once the litigations have been settled all records are open to the public.”

Ottinger explained at a meeting earlier this year that this exemption was the reason the commissioners had to refrain from speaking about the town’s negotiations with Progress Energy.

Upcoming in Belleair is the March 14 election for a seat on the commission. Virginia Donahue, Karla Rettstadt and Tom Shelly all vie for the spot.

Whoever wins will become immediately subject to another aspect of the Sunshine Law as newly elected members or appointees of boards and commissions are covered by a section that prohibits two or more members of the same board or commission to discuss topics that will be brought before them.

The newly elected commissioner will join the others in Belleair who have to monitor themselves and avoid speaking with fellow commission and board members at social functions or in private conversations about matters that may come before their respective boards or commission.


Biltmore passes first round of fire testing  by Lorri Helfand   St. Petersburg Times  March 1, 2006

http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/sptimes/995523101.html?MAC=d76cac914e4136120a28b48da24d4200&did=995523101&FMT=FT&FMTS=FT&date=Mar+1%2C+2006&author=LORRI+HELFAND&pub=St.+Petersburg+Times&printformat=&desc=Biltmore+passes+first+round+of+fire+testing 

St. Petersburg Times March 1, 2006

The Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa passed the first round of major tests Tuesday, confirming that a portion of the hotel's fire protection system is working properly.

"We can now validate that the first part of the system can function under fire fighting conditions," Largo fire Chief Jeff Bullock said.

Firefighters, engineers and fire protection specialists tested about 20 percent of the system for 10 hours Tuesday. More tests will be conducted today. Six more sections of the building will be tested during the next few months, officials said.

Largo Fire Rescue called for the tests after asking the Biltmore to assemble experts to deal with fire safety issues. The department had warned the hotel's management for more than a year about inadequacies, such as deficiencies in the fire alarm system, sprinkler coverage and smoke detectors.

The fire department oversees fire protection at the hotel because the department manages the Belleair Bluffs Fire Department, which serves Belleair.

The hotel's team of experts included John Parks of Renker-Eich- Parks Architects, Joe Griner of Griner Engineering and C.W. McGirk of Industrial Fire & Safety.

Shortly after tests began at 8 a.m., a small crack was noticed and repaired in the system that firefighters hook into outside the building, Bullock said.

The crew tested the sprinkler system and the pipes that carry water to firefighters, to ensure water flowed through the systems properly and that they could withstand the pressure necessary to fight a fire. About 400 gallons per minute at about 150 pounds per square inch of pressure were pumped through the pipes.

Last week, after a contractor noticed some discolored joints, the hotel spent about $12,000 to replace the piping system on the building's west end.

"One thing that's encouraging is that they have invested money. They're taking this testing seriously. They're aware of the consequences if this doesn't pass," Bullock said.

Richard Wilhelm, chief executive office of Trust Hotels, which manages the Biltmore, said he was "very pleased" by Tuesday's positive results.

[Illustration]
Caption: Among the crew checking part of the sprinkler system Tuesday at the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa are, Jim Warman, Tom Buirdire, and Gary Foss. (ran CLEARWATER, LARGO); Photo: PHOTO, SCOTT KEELER

 


http://www.clearwatergazette.com/20060302/belleair.html   Clearwater Gazette  March 2, 2006

A Little Q & A With Belleair's Candidates

By Renee Burrell

BELLEAIR - The Gazette asked the three candidates seeking to fill the commission seat in Belleair's upcoming March 14 election to share some of their thoughts in order to help voters learn more about them. We asked: 1) What makes you qualified to serve on the commission? 2) How would you describe the ideal Belleair? 3) In your estimation, what are the three most important issues facing the town in the next few years, listed in order of importance. Here are their answers.

Virginia Donahue:
1) I have worked all of my post college years for both not for profit and for corporate America. My years in business have been on the technical side, staff assignments and managerial positions. I believe that I am eminently qualified for commissioner based on my work experience, and my ability as a decision maker and consensus builder.
2) This is the most difficult of the three questions proposed to me. What do I consider to be the ideal Belleair? What if I told you that Belleair is closing in on 'Ideal'? What do I consider to be its greatest assets? The 'Ideal Belleair' would retain its present ambience of small town neighborliness and sense of security. Let me elaborate. I love the quaintness offered by diversity of architecture, closeness to neighbors, the security of knowing that when I am traveling the Belleair Police are keeping a watchful eye on my homestead. And the present town services for example, waste management, are most desirable. I love the geographical situation close to the Bluffs, Clearwater and the hospitals. In summary, I guess I like the small town atmosphere similar to my own upbringing in Merrimack Valley, Massachusetts.
3) a. Money. You cannot run a town, even a small town, without a steady sustainer source of revenue. These dollars are required to maintain the 'Ideal Belleair', and move comfortably into the future.
b. Heritage. Belleair's raison d'être was the Belleview Biltmore Hotel. It still is. We are here because of Henry Plant and his vision. Americans are too quick to throw out the seemingly 'old' and replace it with the 'trendy new'. If Belleair were Paris or London we would not be facing this dilemma today.
c. Over development. I have always welcomed and endorsed change. It is essential to our well being and progress. I do not support greed and the "Let's cash in on it" attitudes of today's developers. Let's keep our green space, our heritage and let's work together to solve our town's financial needs. Let us all be creative and work in a spirit befitting our small town utopia.
 

Karla Rettstatt:
1) I am a 12 year resident of Belleair. I currently serve the residents as the Planning and Zoning board vice-chair and the recreation board vice-chair. By serving on these boards, I have gained valuable knowledge about Belleair. I served as the civic association President in 2003-04. I volunteer at all the civic association events which gave me the opportunity to meet many of our families and grandparents. As an area sale manager for Kraft, I continually worked with customers to create effective business plans that were mutually beneficial for both sides.
2) My ideal Belleair is a place everyone can continue to feel safe and secure. Where residents of all ages can walk the streets and not be afraid. I want to create wonderful childhood memories for my son, his friends and the children and grandchildren who grow up in Belleair. My ideal Belleair is the place we call "HOME" and proud of it.
3) a. The impact of any renovations from the historic properties to the town's infrastructure and the residents.
b. Find ways to generate revenues to continue the necessary infrastructure improvements without raising taxes. Look into the opportunities available for sharing and/or trading services with other surrounding communities.
c) Preparing and educating all the residents in the event of an emergency. Making sure our most vulnerable residents are assisted. Let's maximize the opportunity of the new community center for use as a temporary shelter if needed.
 

Tom Shelly:
1) I am currently on the town of Belleair commission. The Belleair town commission unanimously appointed me to fill a vacancy last summer. I'm sure that each of us has seen our town from a number of viewpoints depending on where we've lived and what we've done. During my time with the Eckerd Drug Company I was responsible for South Florida, South Texas & Louisiana, then New York State. I helped to solve transition problems of merging other companies with Eckerd Drug from diverse corporate cultures. I have served many hours of community service including: 2005 President of the Belleair civic association; past member of the town of Belleair historic preservation board; volunteer for the Belleair rec board events; 2005 co-chair of the Rotary Foundation-2006 board of directors of the Rotary; taught Junior Achievement classes; coordinated Children's Miracle Network activities for Eckerd Drug in three states.
2) I would like to see our town move forward with a new consensus, that we will better our town by coming together to solve problems and address issues. As a commissioner, it is not for me to define the ideal Belleair, but to reflect the best consensus of the residents I represent, being unafraid to make difficult or unpopular decisions when necessary, but still wanting what is best for the citizenry as a whole. As a resident of Belleair, my ideal community is one where residents work together to maintain a community that is safe, vibrant and prosperous and appeals to our children in hopes that they will want to live here. Belleair is already one of the premier communities on Florida's West Coast and we need to maintain that.
3) a. The comprehensive land use plan for Belleair requires a complete review & update in order to preserve our town's character and remain in force. This comprehensive land use plan not only meets state requirements it defines and protects the land use as identified by the town. For example the Belleview Biltmore (formerly Pelican) Golf Course is designated "open space" to protect against development.
b. Progress Energy - We have made an offer to Progress Energy to sign a franchise agreement and are waiting for a response. Progress Energy is waiting for a Public Service Commission ruling.
c. Belleview Biltmore - We hired Nancy Stroud one of the best land use attorneys in Florida. We passed the historic preservation ordinance, which became effective in October 2005. We need to work with the owners of the Belleview Biltmore to help work out the issues to continue to make the hotel & golf course financially feasible.

 

 


http://www.tbnweekly.com/content_articles/022306_bee-02.txt    February 23, 2006  Belleair Bee

Biltmore appeal remains strong

BELLEAIR – The seemingly endless saga of the Belleview Biltmore Resort and Spa properties continues to draw inquiries from potential new owners, several months after Debartolo Development dropped out of the purchase picture and Rory Hiller of the Hiller Group claimed to have a solid deal close to fruition with owners Urdang and Associates.

There has been no deal.

Stepping up to the plate this week with inquiries on behalf of “a few clients” is Dick Groff with Mandalay Realty in Clearwater Beach. Declining to identify his interested group of clients, whom he describes as “qualified and serious,” Groff said Tuesday, “We’ve been looking at it for over a year. They are still interested.”

Groff stopped by Belleair Town Hall on Monday with questions regarding the feasibility of new development near the Biltmore’s golf course clubhouse – on property which is not part of the course itself.

“I told him that would require a zoning change,” said Town Manager Steve Cottrell. “And, I don’t know how the commission would feel about that.”

Perhaps of greatest interest to historic preservationists, the potential investors don’t want to demolish the “White Queen of the Gulf,” according to Groff.

“They are definitely not going to tear it down,” he said.

Preferring not to disclose specifics for now, Groff suggested that this reporter check back in another week or so.

“I should be able to tell you more then,” Groff said.


http://www.tbnweekly.com/pubs/belleair_bee/content_articles/022306_bee-04.txt   February 23, 2006 Belleair Bee

Referendum petitions ruled invalid

BELLEAIR – At Tuesday night’s Town Commission meeting, residents wanted to know what became of 700 signed petitions supporting a referendum for a charter amendment that would require all land use and zoning changes to go to a vote.

Town Attorney David Ottinger said he filed a complaint in court to determine whether the questions on the petition violated state law. He said a lawsuit was filed against Belleair resident Mildred Hathaway because she is the person who filed the petitions with Town Clerk Donna Carlen. However, Ottinger said, since Hathaway did not respond within a 20-day period, a decision was made by default judgment that the questions were invalid.

“Those questions were so broad that they violated state law and would paralyze our local government,” Ottinger said. “Every single land use and zoning change would have to go to referendum.”

Laurie Adams, who initiated the petition campaign did not know about the lawsuit until after the time had expired. Adams asked Ottinger, “How do these 700 people who signed these petitions get a voice?”

“By electing town commissioners,” Ottinger said.



http://www.tbnweekly.com/content_articles/021606_bee-01.txt     February 16, 2005  Belleair Bee

Morning fire empties Biltmore  
By DAVE SHELTON

BELLEAIR – Some 200 guests were evacuated from the historic Belleview Biltmore Resort after fire erupted in a kitchen early Saturday morning.

Fire engines lined Belleview Boulevard from the resort’s front gate to South Ft. Harrison Avenue during the fire, which was reported at 4:45 a.m.

Largo fire Chief Jeff Bullock said the fire apparently started on a stove and spread upwards into the stove’s protective cowling and an attic above the kitchen.

He said it was initially believed something was left on the stove on a hot burner.

Bullock said the hotel’s sprinkler system was activated once heat reached the attic of the two-story addition to the main hotel. This set off the audible hotel fire alarms.

Hotel spokesperson Jennifer Addison said security personnel immediately started evacuating the hotel guests. They were quickly joined by the first firefighters to arrive, Bullock said. Temperatures were in the low 40s at the time of the fire.

Bullock immediately called for a three-alarm response, bringing dozens of firefighters to help roust the 200 guests from the 246-room hotel. Bullock said that fire engines stayed at the resort’s gate in case the fire spread and endangered the rest of the hotel.

Dozens of units responded from all surrounding municipalities. The fire chief said he needed the manpower to evacuate the hotel and help locate the fire more than to actually fight the fire. Firefighters found heavy smoke on the second floor of the hotel, near the kitchen where the fire had erupted.

“They couldn’t find the source of the smoke immediately, this is an 800,000-square-foot building,” Bullock said.

As smoke began filling the first floor hallways, firefighters located the fire that was left smoldering in the old, dry wood attic floor.

Guests were gathered in the hotel lobby and some were outside in the cold, as firefighters located the fire and extinguished it after about an hour.

“At first we asked dispatch to have PSTA (Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority) send us buses so we could take them (the guests) to someplace out of the cold,” Bullock said. “Then, the Belleair Country Club people came through and said we could take them all there, across the street.”

At 5:30 a.m. the guests were herded into a dining room at the country club where they were served hot coffee.

“About a half hour later one of my firefighters said we should send someone over there from the hotel to calm them (the guests) down,” Bullock said. “I decided to go myself. I explained what was going on and they actually applauded.”

Addison said only one couple complained to hotel management about the fire and evacuation. She said all guests were back in their rooms by 7 a.m. The hotel then served breakfast to the guests in a dining room served by a kitchen not involved in the fire.

Most of the fire damage was restricted to the kitchen area and the attic. Bullock said no one was injured and he estimated $25,000 damage was caused by the fire.

Bullock said the hotel’s sprinkler system worked exactly as it was designed and had extinguished most of the fire before firefighters arrived.

In January, Bullock demanded the hotel form a team of state, local and private officials to carefully inspect the hotel’s compliance with fire codes. That team, which includes engineers, has already begun work, he said, and had not yet found any serious problems that could make the hotel unsafe.

The biggest project identified so far as needed, he said, was a mapping of the 50-year-old sprinkler system. He said no drawings have been found so that all of the pipes can be located. Bullock said the sprinklers were installed during the 1940s by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.

“I also expect there will be recommendations for some big modifications at the end of the year in the alarm system,” Bullock said. “At this point it looks like it is safe for people to stay in the hotel. This is a beautiful building with historical value but we can’t compromise on life safety. This incident proved that all systems in place worked and worked well. Firefighters came in and worked in a well-coordinated, efficient manner in a situation that could have been very serious. Damage was very minimal and no one’s life was compromised because we were able to evacuate them quickly. Time is everything.”

There is an application pending in Belleair for demolition of the hotel, erected in 1897. Amid public clamor to save the area landmark, the town has launched an intense scrutiny of the application.
 

http://www.tbnweekly.com/content_articles/020906_bee-03.txt  February 9, 2006

Belleair's comprehensive plan under evaluation  
By BRITTANY FENSKE

BELLEAIR – Gail Easley, a planning and growth management specialist, made a presentation at Tuesday’s Town Commission meeting on what the town must do to complete the evaluation and appraisal report of its comprehensive plan.

Easley said the purpose of the EAR audit is to update the comprehensive plan so that it meets the town’s needs. The audit also is required by state law. As part of the evaluation the town notes specific issues where the plan needs to be amended.

Town Manager Steve Cottrell with the advice of the commission, constructed a list of five issues that he would like to be updated and amended in the comprehensive plan.

The first issue identified by the town is historic preservation, which includes potential redevelopment of the Belleview Biltmore properties and associated future land use.

The second issue is the impact of potential redevelopment, including impacts on transportation systems, open space and wastewater treatment.

The third issue is water supply, including potable quantity and quality and alternative water supply sources.

The fourth issue is about infrastructure repair and replacement, including streets, bridges and storm water systems.

The fifth issue was developed at Tuesday’s meeting as being future use of submerged lands. Cottrell recommended that the town look more closely at the waterfront as a future development project waiting to happen because of the recent demand for marinas and more boat space. With a unanimous consensus the commission voted to add the concern as a fifth issue to the comprehensive plan.

The evaluation is expected to be completed by late spring.

 


http://www.clearwatergazette.com/20060209/belleair.html  Clearwater Gazette February 9, 2006

Cottrell Tells Belleair Commission Of County Demand For Shelters
By Renee Burrell
BELLEAIR – During the town’s work session Tuesday, Steve Cottrell, the town manager, outlined what Pinellas emergency planners are asking the cities to do in response to the county's serious shortage of emergency public shelters.

The county is urging towns to plan now for additional emergency shelters not only for citizens, but also for town staff and emergency workers.

Cottrell said, "There is a huge shortage. The county is appealing to all the cities to identify what buildings - public and private – can be used. They want every city to come up with as much space as possible."

The county is said to have space for 70,000 evacuees. Some local planners have said that after a category 5 storm, about 140,000 county residents would need shelter.

Last fall the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council made proposals for the 2006 hurricane season. Proposals concerning shelters included: minimum standard for refuges (locations that are needed as shelters but locations that have not been pre-approved but are needed); consider use of private structures (with reimbursement) as shelters; consider use of other public structures for use as shelters, retrofit existing and build new structures to Category 5 standards.

Commissioner Gary Kattica offered that the new Dimmmit Community Center the town is constructing will act as a shelter in the event of a catastrophic storm.

Commissioners discussed incident management further as they are considering a proposed resolution designating the National Incident Management System which reportedly is part of the Homeland Security preparations, calling for all levels of government responders to adhere to standardized procedures in the event of domestic incidents, such as those from terrorism or natural disaster.

NIMS application ensures that appropriate first responders are trained in a consistent manner so they can provide a cohesive response to emergency situations.

According to a memo from the Pinellas Planning Council, failing to become NIMS compliant will disqualify governmental bodies for funding from the Department of Homeland Security for training, exercises and equipment.

One citizen’s comments during the work session also resonated with worries for emergency management planners.

Addressing the commission about any changes to the comprehensive plan that may allow for increased density and the impacts thereof, Barbara Walters Arnold of Clearwater and a member of Save the Biltmore Preservationists asked if the number of area hospital beds will be factored in when studying the impacts of redevelopment.

Arnold related two incidents which revealed what appears to be presently a possible shortage of hospital beds in the area. Arnold said her mother needed care on a weekday last October and paramedics advised that Morton Plant and Largo Med were full to capacity.

Arnold recalled her elderly neighbor’s more recent experience when in need of emergency treatment and hospitalization. The neighbor was also told by paramedics that Morton Plant was full and if brought there, would have to expect to wait.

Mayor George Mariani pointed out that the number of hospitals per the population is something for the state to evaluate.

Arnold asked, “If Belleair builds out and increases density, wouldn’t that be a matter for Belleair to think about with regards to their residents?”

Mariani answered, “I think our goal is to prevent more build out.”

After the meeting Mariani furthered that position. He said, “I think the town’s density is right just the way it is.”

 


Your Family Decorator: Loss of Belleview Biltmore Would be a Blow to All    January 20, 2006


 

Friday, January 20, 2006

Are you a preservationist? If you answer no, you would not care if the White House were demolished and replaced with a concrete-and-glass building that resembled any high-rise condominium in the world. If you answer no, you would not object to all the Addison Mizner originals being demolished and again replaced with contemporary structures with fronts of sheet glass.

And you would not object to raising the Old North Church in Boston, Viscaya in Miami, Monticello and Mount Vernon in Virginia as well as the older historical hotels in America, including The Greenbrier in West Virginia; The Grand on Mackinac Island in Michigan; The Mt. Washington at Bretton Woods, N.H; and The Del Coronado in San Diego.

After all, you might say, these old-guard "grand dame" hotels have not kept up with the times. Just look at the bathrooms: They can't compare with the big marble-and-glass shower baths of the newer Ritz-Carltons and the Four Seasons. If you want big marble baths, the modern high-rise hotels are for you.

But if you want the traditional hotels, you'll frequent the charming old beauties that Mother and Dad and Grandmother and Granddad used to enjoy – where dining rooms were filled with men in jackets and ties, and young children learned table manners and polite conversation.

Where are all the preservationists, the folk who want the history of America recorded and cared for? Just think of all the old American institutions that have been torn down, the architecture destroyed, only to be replaced by the quick commercial structure that no one in the future would ever try or want to preserve.

American movie palaces have been raised in many cities only to be replaced by those stark, unimaginative multiplexes. And think of all the fabulous palace hotels that have now been raised. So sad, as we are losing the face of America.

Can you imagine what New York City would be without Grand Central Station, preserved by the forces of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Philip Johnson?

It is time to become a preservationist, to save America. I'm not saying that we should not go on and create for today's world, but I am saying that we should protect our heritage. Last week, I was in Belleair, Fla., home of the Victorian hotel called The Belleview Biltmore. The hotel, built in the late 1800s by the railroad magnate Henry B. Plant, is now in danger of being raised.

The hotel is well worth a visit, for it represents the state's history – its railroad history – back when high-rise condominiums were not ever an issue. The Victorian architecture of the white-clapboard building represents early Florida architecture, style and society. While Henry M. Flagler was developing hotels on the east coast of Florida with a railway system to accommodate people and tourists, Plant was developing hotels and a railway system on the state's west coast to support the freight trade. Of course, with freight came people – and at the Belleview Biltmore, the railway sleeper cars pulled right up to the entrance so that guests and their luggage could be unloaded.

As in most railway-company-constructed hotels of the late 1800s, a guided tour of the building is given at the Belleview Biltmore daily. The Tiffany Ballroom, formerly the hotel's main dining room, has a decorated glass ceiling that is of museum quality, while the original Henry Plant library and original main lobby are definitely worth a look for preservationists.

Mido had purchased the property for $27 million from Bernie Powell, who owned and operated the resort for many years.

Those readers interested in learning more about the restoration of Florida's Belleview Biltmore can do so by visiting a Web site run by a group – separate from Friends of the Biltmore – called Save the Biltmore Preservationists, Inc.: www.savethebiltmore.com.

Interior designer Carleton Varney owns Dorothy Draper & Co. in New York City. Varney's worldwide roster of clients includes many in Palm Beach. He welcomes your comments or decorating questions for this column. Send them to Carlton Varney, c/o Darrell Hofheinz, Palm Beach Daily News, 265 Royal Poinciana Way, Palm Beach 33480.


http://www.sptimes.com/2006/01/23/Northpinellas/Owners_yet_to_get_off.shtml   Letter to the editor September 23, 2006

Belleview hotel's fate not same as Largo landmark

Re: 95-year-old hotel in city is history worth saving, editorial, Jan. 13.

I am a native of Largo and am well aware of the plight of the Johnson Building in Largo.

Although I share the writer's concerns about the building and have myself written to the city in the past (and even suggested to my Boy Scout troop that we take on the building as an Eagle project), I do think there is a distinction to be drawn between the Johnson Building and the threatened Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa, about which I've written before.

The Johnson Building might be in sore need of renovation, but it is not in danger of either falling down or being razed. What's more, everyone's aware of it, and I would be very surprised if the city of Largo would let anything happen to it.

The Belleview Biltmore is an entirely different matter. Urdang & Associates will try, and have been trying, anything to succeed in destroying this irreplaceable piece of state history. No matter how many times the town of Belleair denies their demolition permit, Urdang gets a continuance and delays again until its circle of charlatans (legal team) come up with a new strategy. And the town seems to be too impotent to do anything permanent to stop them.

It is as if we have a grand dame in our midst with no one to defend her. That's why local preservationists have focused their efforts on the hotel. To borrow from the founder of my alma mater, we have "nailed our colors to the mast, and if she sinks, we will go down with her."

Regarding the Johnson Building, I would suggest the writer contact the Largo Historical Society. Not only is the society in your own back yard, it should be intricately involved in any plans to save and restore the structure.

And once the Belleview Biltmore is forever safe from the wrecking ball, I personally pledge to you my support for the restoration and renovation of the Johnson Building.


-- Mark B. Horner, Taylors, S.C.

http://www.sptimes.com/2006/01/20/Pasco/Downtown_landmark_des.shtml  January 20, 2006  Letter to the Editorial

A wave of nausea overcame me recently while attending the farmer's market in downtown Clearwater. I watched as heavy equipment was unloaded and gouged our public streets in preparation for the razing of Calvary Baptist Church.

 

Calvary Baptist is currently blitzing the city with fliers beginning with the lines, "Tomorrow does not have to be like yesterday. We all need a place to begin again" (i.e., in the new Calvary Baptist sanctuary on McMullen-Booth Road). Although spiritually correct, the lines seem to gloss over and justify the demolition of one of our landmarks. How can we know where we are headed if we don't know where we have been?
 
Tearing down our heritage and losing our identity and sense of place does not bode well for the future. This is our last surviving landmark on the bluff and should have been saved. Most cities would have demanded its preservation as a cultural arts center such as in other Florida cities. Our mayor, to his credit, made a good-faith effort but, overall, the effort was short-lived and misdirected.
 
I'll share the blame for not pushing harder for a historic ordinance, though I've been talking about one for years. Belleair has one. Each major upcoming high-rise project downtown or along North Osceola involves taking down part of our history. No adaptive reuse of our historic resources is anywhere in sight.
 
And, similar to the Belleview Biltmore Hotel in Belleair, Calvary Baptist sanctuary will be irreplaceable.

http://www.tbnweekly.com/content_articles/011906_bee-02.txt   January 19, 2006 Belleair Bee

Time on their side
Biltmore gets indefinite extension

BELLEAIR – After some debate at its Jan. 17 meeting, the Town Commission agreed unanimously to grant Urdang and Associates, the owners of Belleview Biltmore Resort and Spa, an indefinite extension to apply for major development.

Attorneys representing Urdang requested the continuance after the planning and zoning board hearing the previous night, Jan. 16.

Commissioner Gary Katica said that he had contacted Town Attorney Nancy Stroud and asked what her opinion was on the commission granting the continuance.

She replied that the commission should grant the extension for two reasons. “They have something cooking on the project and if we grant them the extension it prevents them from filing a lawsuit,” she said.

Town Attorney David Ottinger suggested that the commission grant Urdang a one-month extension and then place the application review back on the agenda.

“Why would we leave it (extension) out there forever?” Commissioner Stephen Fowler asked.

“In one month, one year or five years the Biltmore will still be there. I would make my motion as to what Nancy said for an indefinite extension,” Katica said.

The commission granted the indefinite extension, but with a followup from the town staff on what appropriate decision to make.

Planning and zoning member Karla Rettstatt addressed the commission on another issue.

“There is For Rent signs everywhere in Belleair and we have no control over the renters, which brings difficulty with code enforcement issues,” she said.

Mayor George Mariani and Commissioner Gary Katica both agreed that she had a good point.

Rettstatt said that the P&Z board has discussed the issue at meetings and one idea discussed was to require people renting out their home to register with the town and possibly pay a fee.

“At least they would be registered with the town,” she said.

The issue will be put on the agenda for the next meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 7.


http://sptimes.com/2006/01/15/Northpinellas/Headlines_through_the.shtml

Jan. 11, 1947: Biltmore opens for first time since war

BELLEAIR - Resuming its place in the Florida winter resort world as a rendezvous for wealthy and distinguished visitors, Belleair's exclusive Belleview Biltmore reopened today under the ownership of a Michigan syndicate headed by Karl P. Abbott, with approximately 75 percent of its 580 rooms occupied.

Sold several weeks ago by Ed Wright, the St. Petersburg investment broker who purchased it shortly before the end of World War II from Arnold S. Kirkeby, the historic Belleview is one of the nation's largest all-wooden hotel structures.

During the war, the hotel was taken over by the U.S. Army Air forces as a training center for recruits. Thousands of young men were given basic instruction on drill fields laid out on the two 18-hole golf courses. Then Kirkeby sold the property to Wright, who bought it as an investment.

The reopening was devoid of pomp or fanfare, but the scene was the same as in past years, except that the cast had changed. Instead of the late Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis listening intently to the music of the local high school band, current jurists relaxed on sunny porches. A new generation disported in the big outdoor swimming pool.

Resort managers think the hotel will enjoy top-drawer business this season, and the Belleview, as of yore, will be the center of the Clearwater area's social whirl.

Theresa Blackwell compiles the history column. She can be reached at 727 445-4170 or tblackwell@sptimes.com


http://www.sptimes.com/2006/01/15/Northpinellas/Save_hotel__then_tack.shtml

Save hotel, then tackle violations

Letters to the Editor
Published January 15, 2006
 

Re: Enforce fire code at Biltmore, editorial, Jan. 8.

This is in response to the editorial regarding the enforcement of fire codes at the historic Belleview Biltmore hotel in Belleair. While I am in hearty agreement with the Times in the protection of lives, I think your readers would benefit from a fuller explanation of, and a greater appreciation for, the historic nature of the hotel.

You are absolutely correct; the Belleview Biltmore is, by most accounts, the largest inhabited wooden structure in the world. However, that distinction by no means suggests that the hotel is a tinderbox. Quite the contrary: Several well-respected experts have declared the hotel well built and structurally sound.

I completely concur with you that the fire code violations need immediate redress. I, although relocated to South Carolina, have visited the hotel numerous times and would agree that certain safety aspects are definitely lacking. However, none is so serious as to declare the hotel unsafe for business.

In its laundry list of deficiencies, it almost seems as if the Times is grasping for excuses to have the hotel razed. I am quite confident that hotel staff members do their utmost to ensure guests' safety (as they would at any establishment).

What it boils down to is this: The Belleview Biltmore is in real jeopardy of being destroyed. While there are serious issues to be discussed, the first priority must be to save the hotel. Code enforcement must be handled in a way that strives to save and preserve the hotel, not used as a convenient scapegoat to level the building.

Surely public safety and historic preservation can operate harmoniously, as they have in countless locations throughout the state and across the country.


-- Mark B. Horner, Taylors, S.C.

Truly preserve Biltmore: Comply with fire codes

After being redeemed from what seemed its inevitable demolition, it would be a shame to lose the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa to a fire, all because of safety issues and not being up to code.

Complying with fire codes is the law. And now, because it appears as though the grand hotel will be spared from being razed, the owners not only have a duty to the hotel but to its patrons as well.

The expression "Save the Biltmore" means just that. The possibility of a wrecking ball is not the only foreseeable danger to the hotel. Now that it has been brought to our attention, let us hope that all measures will be taken so that the Biltmore is in compliance with fire codes. That way, we can rest assured that the Biltmore can and will be saved.


-- JoAnn Lee Frank, Clearwater

Biltmore a lovely break from the speed of life

Enforce fire code at Biltmore, editorial, Jan. 8.

I would like to think that this editorial position is a vote of support for the future of the Belleview Biltmore.

The piece states that the owner did not bring the structure up to code because its future was uncertain.

We just came from four days at the Belleview Biltmore. I had yearned to stay there since we celebrated my grandparents' 50th anniversary there in 1988. We found it beautiful and well appointed, truly an old-fashioned pleasure and a break from the fast-paced life. We took a historical tour and brought our family to join us, and we learned the hotel's concise history since 1897 and the fact it was Florida's first golf course.

Indeed, in addition to an architectural wonder, it is an important part of Florida history and arguably its most important industry: travel.

Most of all, it is a lovely place where anyone can stay, have a family celebration, have a nice meal, play a round of golf, enjoy a day at the spa or just break from the 21st century.

These things need to endure - places that are inclusive and inviting. Not more condos built around golf courses.

Thank you for considering this letter.


-- Leigh Montgomery, Wakefield, Mass. [Last modified January 15, 2006, 01:47:20]

http://www.clearwatergazette.com/20060112/biltmore.html    January 12, 2006  Clearwater Gazette

Crowd Cheers Two Bobs and a Plan

By Renee Burrell

BELLEAIR - Belleair residents and others concerned over the possible razing of the Belleview Biltmore Hotel who attended the town's planning and zoning meeting Monday found several reasons to burst into applause. The planning & zoning board was charged by the town commission to make a recommendation, as the matter is a building issue.

Town staff explained the review process of the hotel owner's application for demolition, which has been re-termed as the 'application for major redevelopment'.

Speeches from a town planner and those from various Belleair residents and preservationists moved the crowd to cheering.

Before the presentations, board chairwoman Gloria Burton reminded, "Any decision made today by planning and zoning members is only a recommendation for the town commission."

Robert Brown, Belleair town planner said as it stands Belleair's comprehensive plan calls for preservation of the hotel in no uncertain terms. Brown stated that one of the plan's listed goals is to ensure the park like and family residential atmosphere of the town, which is contingent upon the preservation of the Belleview Biltmore Hotel. Said Brown, "The plan calls it a grand landmark and asset."

Brown went on to explain. "We've reviewed their application and we're in a catch 22. Section 66.171C2M requires that historical and archaeological sites will be protected. The plan doesn't indicate how the hotel will be protected and the application is to destroy the hotel."

Brown said the bottom line is: "The plan to demolish the hotel does not protect historic resources. They wish to demolish the hotel and the town's historic preservation ordinance and comprehensive plan do not allow for that."

The board planned to hear additional presentations from the public, those living in close proximity to the hotel first and also from preservationists, but what they didn't plan on was an announcement made by a Palm Beach man, Robert Brandt, who said he is in town to learn more about acquiring the hotel. Brandt said he stayed at the hotel as a guest over Christmas and was dismayed at talk of it being torn down.

Brandt is against tearing down the wings or any part of the hotel. Brandt said he didn't think one; "…stick… brick…window… or petal" should be changed there.

Later Brandt said he envisions the hotel thriving again, with accoutrements from the past back in place, such as horse drawn carriages.

The Belleair town commission is expected to approve or deny the application at their next meeting Tuesday, January 17 at 7:30 PM.


 

http://www.tbnweekly.com/content_articles/011206_bee-02.txt    January 12, 2006  Belleair Bee

Board votes to deny Biltmore demolition permit

BELLEAIR – Once a completed application for a demolition permit for the Belleview Biltmore Resort and Spa finally was filed with the town, the next step was consideration by the Planning and Zoning Board. Monday night the board met and concluded that the application is not in compliance with the town’s comprehensive plan and unanimously voted to deny it.

Gloria Burton, P&Z board chairman, said that after reviewing the application for major development the board decided to deny it because it conflicted with the land development code found in the comprehensive plan.

Burton said elected and appointed officials have a responsibility to uphold the laws which include the comprehensive plan, and the town adapted a comprehensive plan that states that the Belleview Biltmore Hotel should be preserved.

“I cannot support a demolition permit that goes against the land development code,” she said.

The Town Commission, which meets next on Tuesday, Jan. 17, was scheduled to take up whether to approve or deny the application. However, attorneys representing Urdang and Associates have requested a continuance for an indefinite period of time before commission consideration. Attorneys for both sides will work out an agreeable date.

Town Manager Steve Cottrell said that if the commission does not agree with the Planning and Zoning Board and does issue a preliminary development approval, it would go to the Historic Preservation Board for review. If the commission denies the permit, then the application is back in the hands of Urdang and Associates to make the next move.

If the application goes to the Historic Preservation Board, it would decide whether or not to recommend that a certificate of appropriateness be approved by the commission based on the application.

According to the town’s new historic preservation ordinance, no feature of historical significance shall be demolished until a certificate of appropriateness has been reviewed and approved.

“They’re asking to demolish the hotel, and the town of Belleair is committed to the charter and the comprehensive plan which does not permit any destruction of the hotel,” Burton said.


 

http://www.sptimes.com/2006/01/11/Northpinellas/Board_says_Biltmore_h.shtml

Board says Biltmore hotel must stay intact

Planning officials say a move to demolish the historic resort should be denied because its preservation is written into the town's comprehensive plan.

By LORRI HELFAND, Times Staff Writer
Published January 11, 2006
 

BELLEAIR - Town officials told the owner of the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa that its plan to raze the historic hotel has a major flaw: It clashes with the town's key rules.

Tuesday night, the town's seven-member planning and zoning board unanimously recommended denying Belleview Biltmore Resort Ltd.'s application to tear down the hotel, saying its request doesn't conform with Belleair's comprehensive plan.

The plan mentions the 109-year-old hotel about a dozen times, claiming it should be preserved and protected.

The Town Commission is scheduled to make a final decision next Tuesday, but the owner's lawyers have asked for a delay.

Karla Rettstatt, planning board vice chairman, scolded the owner's attorney, Christopher Smart, for not acknowledging the hotel's prominence in the comprehensive plan.

"You never knew about it, that the Biltmore was at the top of that list?" she asked.

Smart told the board that his client plans to work with an architectural historian to photograph historic elements of the hotel.

Protecting the hotel cannot be accomplished by taking a picture of it, said town planning consultant, Robert G. Brown, senior vice president of TBE Group.

Preservation "is not the same as having a vacant lot where the hotel used to be," Brown said.

About 10 residents and preservationists spoke in favor of saving the hotel, which earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. The meeting took an odd turn when one speaker, Robert Brandt of Palm Beach, announced he wanted to buy the hotel and save "every stick, shingle and flower petal."

Shortly after Brandt took his seat, the owner's attorney, Roger Schwenke, led him into the lobby for a private chat. No deal was announced upon their return.

Nine months ago, the owner filed its first application to tear down the Biltmore, but town officials said the owner submitted the wrong application. The staff rejected the owner's applications two more times on procedural grounds before finally accepting one turned in on Nov. 23.

Even if the commission approves the owner's plan to raze the hotel, a historic preservation ordinance passed in October requires the owner to go through more red tape to tear it down. The Biltmore's owner, however, contends that the ordinance does not take away its right to tear down the resort.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at 445-4155 or at lorri@sptimes.com


http://www.sptimes.com/2006/01/13/Northpinellas/95_year_old_hotel_in_.shtml

95-year-old hotel in city is history worth saving

A Times Editorial
Published January 13, 2006

 

With all the attention of local historic preservationists focused on saving the Belleview Biltmore Hotel, another old hotel in North Pinellas is being virtually ignored and falling into ruin.

It appears that the owners want it that way.

The so-called Johnson Building in Largo, formerly the Pinellas Hotel, is 95 years old and has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1987. The two-story white building sits cater-corner to the busy intersection of West Bay Drive and Seminole Boulevard, with tens of thousands of motorists streaming by daily who have no idea they are passing a historic treasure. It certainly doesn't look like one. A few years ago the owners, perhaps in a fit of pique over city criticism about the state of the property, installed a bright pink awning around the lower porch. Otherwise, the outside of the building looks like it hasn't been spiffed up in a long time. The property generally appears poorly maintained.

One of the building's owners, Joyce Siegel, lives upstairs. Siegel and her brother, Charles Johnson, inherited the building after their mother died in 1994. A private pair, they have routinely declined interviews and turned aside offers from the city to help them with the property.

The owners' brushoffs have frustrated city officials for many years. Across the intersection from the hotel is Largo Central Park, the city's pride and joy. Just west of the hotel is downtown Largo, an area the city strives to reinvigorate.

Having a dilapidated building at the gateway to downtown is a detriment, and letting a historic landmark fall into ruin is a shame. Largo City Manager Steve Stanton has been working to build connections to the hotel's owners as well as to the owner of another old structure in the same location that was known as the Largo Hotel. That building, which opened in 1908, was substantially modified over the years and is not listed on the National Register.

Stanton already is negotiating with Largo Hotel owner Ronald Steiger. Stanton says that building probably cannot be saved, but if the city purchased the property, it could be offered to developers to build a new hotel or restaurant - something that would be an attraction downtown.

However, Stanton believes the Johnson Building, because of its historic designation, should be saved and could be beautifully restored, perhaps for a historic bed and breakfast or some other appropriate use.

It is difficult to figure out why the Johnson family would put the long-term survival of the structure at risk by not properly protecting and maintaining it. A restored Johnson Building could be a source of community pride long after they are gone. Perhaps area preservationists, who have played a valuable role in the fight to save the Biltmore, might join the effort to save a smaller, but still historically significant, piece of Pinellas' past.


http://www.sptimes.com/2006/01/05/Northpinellas/Biltmore_tackles_safe.shtml  

Biltmore tackles safety concerns
Largo Fire Rescue has warned management of the old hotel that its fire protection is dangerously deficient.
By LORRI HELFAND, Times Staff Writer
Published January 5, 2006

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 

BELLEAIR - After more than a year of warnings from Largo Fire Rescue, the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa has assembled a team of experts to deal with fire safety issues at the 109-year-old hotel.

While the fire department has not conducted a complete inspection in recent months, Largo fire officials told hotel management in the past that there are major inadequacies in fire protection, including "dangerous deficiencies" in the fire alarm system, areas of the hotel without sprinkler coverage and battery-operated alarms in guest rooms instead of the required electric ones.

"It has now been one year and very little has been completed. I do understand that the future of the hotel is in question. But it is still open and operating as a hotel with several hundred guests occupying a structure and rooms that have severe life safety deficiencies," fire inspector Donald Feaster wrote on Oct. 4.

Largo Fire Marshal Jim Warman said the team, formed by engineers, fire protection experts and historians, is needed because the hotel is a historic structure.

"So we don't require something that would change the historic fabric of the building," Lt. Warman said.

Largo Fire Rescue oversees fire protection at the hotel because the department manages the Belleair Bluffs Fire Department, which serves Belleair.

Richard Wilhelm, chief executive officer of Trust Hotels, which manages the Biltmore, insisted the hotel is safe.

"We go overboard with our risk management and fire, life safety programs," Wilhelm said.

He listed several safety measures already in place, including an extensive sprinkler system installed by the Army Corps of Engineers during World War II, a state of the art fire alarm system throughout the property, weekly and monthly risk assessment meetings and 24-hour security throughout the hotel.

He also said the hotel is built of heart pine, which is said to petrify and become fire retardant.

"We would never knowingly jeopardize anybody's safety," said Samuel Downing, chief operating officer of Trust Hotels, at a Town Commission meeting Tuesday to inform officials of the hotel's situation. The hotel's compliance problems date back to over a year ago. Largo Fire Rescue said in a letter to the hotel in October 2004 that persistent problems exist, including blocked access to one of the escape towers, missing sprinkler coverage in certain areas, defective sprinkler heads and smoke detectors and incorrectly placed detectors.

Fire Chief Jeffrey Bullock said the hotel's status as a historic structure has contributed to the lag in compliance. When the fire department first approached the hotel's management, the department was informed the hotel might be demolished.

In recent months, as the possibility of preserving the hotel was floated, the city sought a way to get the hotel to comply with fire codes while protecting the hotel's historic integrity.

In January 2005, the hotel's management informed Largo Fire Rescue it had a plan to bring the hotel into compliance.

Downing wrote the fire department in October 2005 that the hotel had completed a number of improvements, including reworking the main kitchen alarm system, replacing failed or missing smoke detectors and replacing 160 of the 260 sprinkler heads. He added that the hotel's prospective new owner could take care of smoke alarms in the guest rooms during renovations.

A Dec. 17 inspection by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, however, revealed some serious violations still exist.

The inspection found at least six fire extinguishers with expired or missing inspection tags, an expired fire sprinkler inspection report, an exit sign that was not illuminated and a lack of smoke detectors for the hearing impaired.

From Dec. 29 to 31, Largo Fire Rescue personnel had to monitor the hotel because management had not contracted with a third party to monitor signals on the fire alarm system, as required by law.
 


http://www.tbnweekly.com/content_articles/010506_bee-02.txt    October 5, 2006  Belleair Bee

Biltmore to be inspected for fire code compliance
By BRITTANY FENSKE

BELLEAIR – Largo’s fire chief and management of the Belleair Biltmore Resort and Spa spoke to the Town Commission Tuesday night during discussion of the hotel’s compliance with the state fire code.

Fire Chief Jeff Bullock told the commission that the department would like to see an overall assessment of the hotel and bring it to full compliance of the fire code.

The fire department has given the hotel 30 days to build a team of engineers and inspectors that would assess the building.

“We are following code and we would do this for any other business or hotel in our town or yours,” Bullock said. “The hotel must meet the intent of the code, and it’s time for us to get in and make that assessment.”

The assessment will be paid for by the hotel owners. The companies the hotel chooses to hire must be approved by the fire department.

“We are absolutely open to the Largo Fire Department, and we care about the safety of our guests and will do everything we can to maintain a safe environment,” said Richard Wilhelm, CEO of the Belleview Biltmore.

Regarding the pending review of the Biltmore demolition permit applied for by Urdang and Associates, resident Rae Claire Johnson asked why the Planning and Zoning Board and the commission are both going to review the application before the town’s Historic Preservation Board. The Planning and Zoning Board will meet on Monday, Jan. 9, and the commission meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 17. No Historic Preservation Board meeting has been scheduled.

Town Clerk Donna Carlen said that the meeting dates have been reviewed and approved by Town Attorney Nancy Stroud.

Town Manager Steve Cottrell said that the Historic Preservation Board had reviewed the application when it was incomplete.

“I think they should review the complete application before the commission meeting,” Johnson said.

The commission agreed to address the issue with Stroud.
 
 


Hotel and Fire Representatives Address Commission    Clearwater Gazette January 5, 2006


By Renee Burrell

Belleair – Per the request made by mayor George Mariani, at Belleair’s December 20, 2005 town commission meeting, representatives of Largo Fire and Rescue (LF&R) and the Belleview Biltmore Resort were present at a special meeting Tuesday. The representatives explained their positions concerning the fire department’s proposal to create a team of experts to assess the hotel and bring it into complete fire code compliance.

Sam Downing, chief operating officer of Belleview Biltmore Resort Ltd and Vice President and COO of Trust Hotels, said, “First and foremost let me lay to rest miscommunication from news articles. Rest assured that we do everything in our power to insure the safety of our guests and staff.”

Downing described the hotel’s relationship with LF&R as a working, cooperative one. He explained that the hotel was not entirely up to snuff three years ago when they acquired it.

Richard Wilhelm, CEO and Managing Director of Belleview Biltmore Resorts and President and CEO of Trust Hotels said, “Our staff is well trained. We have a risk management team that meets weekly. We have very strong concrete fire exits that are kept clear and lit. We have a state of the art zoned fire alarm system.”

LF&R hasn’t been the only agency to inspect the hotel. Said Wilhelm, “We have liability insurance that inspects the hotel each year and we have workman’s compensation insurance that inspects twice a year. The truth of the matter is that the Belleview is an extremely sound hotel.”

LF&R Chief Jeff Bullock told the commission that LF&R had inspected the hotel in November which resulted in a decision to give the hotel 30 days to assemble a team of experts -- architects and structural engineers-- to give their expertise and join with the fire department in “…developing a timeline for a comprehensive plan to bring the hotel into compliance with Florida code.”

Bullock said that the state established code has a section, which gives considerations to historical structures, but that it doesn’t negate mandatory safety measures. “We’re following the code as we would do for any hotel,” he said.

Bullock said the timeline is important because, “We didn’t want them to throw money at a property that may be demolished.”
According to Downing, the hotel has contracted with a structural engineer and an architect that has worked on the hotel in the past as part of the team LF&R is requesting them to engage for their expertise.

Last year, the hotel was nominated for placement on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of 11 most endangered places. The Clearwater Gazette contacted the Trust inquiring if they would be taking part in the Belleview’s assessment.

John Hildreth Director Southern Office, National Trust for Historic Preservation said, “The National Trust is not involved with the team coming in for the assessment. We are very encouraged to see that work is progressing toward the preservation of the Belleview Biltmore. It is our strong belief that the property can be sympathetically restored as an economically viable hotel.

“Once the Belleview is rehabbed, we hope it will join our Historic Hotels of America Program. Such an institution can contribute significantly to the sense of place that Belleair has,” said Hildreth.

“Our web site www.nationaltrust.org has information about the Belleview Biltmore's inclusion on our 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list, as well as links to information for historic homeowners. We also have information on our Historic Hotels of America there.”

National Trust Historic Hotels of America (HHA) has identified 210 quality hotels that have faithfully maintained their historic architecture and ambience. To be selected, hotels must be at least 50 years old, listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places or recognized locally as having historic significance.

The Belleview Biltmore is 108 years old and has been listed in the registry since 1979.




 

 

 



http://www.tbnweekly.com/editorial/readers_poll/content_articles/123005_pol-02.txt   Belleair Bee Letter to the Editor December 30, 2005

Save the past for the citizens of today and future
Editor:
As a native of Pinellas County, proud graduate of Largo High School and ardent student of history, I cannot state in stronger terms how critically important it is that the Town of Belleair do everything in its power to save and restore the Belleview Biltmore Hotel.

The town of Belleair would not exist were it not for the Belleview Biltmore. Henry Bradley Plant established what would become your fine town when he ambitiously constructed the hotel in the 1880s. Not only is the Belleview Biltmore the root of your community, it is perhaps the most famous structure in the entire state. As I am sure you know, “the White Queen of the Gulf” has played a crucial role in Floridian and American history, having hosted countless celebrities and even military troops during the Second World War. It is, by many accounts, the largest inhabited wooden structure in the world.

I cannot fathom my home state without the Belleview Biltmore. Unfortunately, that is precisely what Urdang and Associates (the current owners) have in mind. Even though the Biltmore is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as well as with the National Trust, these listings only “encourage” preserving the grand hotel. She is not legally safe from demolition – yet. Belleair Mayor George Mariani, Town Manager Steve Cottrell and the town commissioners still need to deny the redevelopment/demolition permit application to save the hotel.

Tell Urdang and Associates to leave the Belleview Biltmore alone. Since I live out of town, I will not be able to attend meetings, but I encourage all citizens to come to all Belleair town meetings in January – including the planning and zoning board meeting on Monday, Jan. 9, at 5:30 p.m. The board will review the application at this time. Please come out and encourage the board to save the Biltmore forever.

In an age and area which is so devoid of history (witness the recent sale of Calvary Baptist Church), the Biltmore must remain. It is the only connection we have to those who went before us, and the lone light to what the future portends.

I respectfully call on the citizens of Belleair to do the right thing and save the Belleview Biltmore Hotel. I will thank you, the people of Florida will thank you, and your children and grandchildren will thank you for the wise decision you made.

Mark B. Horner


http://www.clearwatergazette.com/20051215/belleair.html   Clearwater Gazette   December 15, 2005

Belleair Town Council News

By Renee Burrell

Belleair - While many towns are winding down town business for the holidays, Belleair's commission and boards are keeping busy, reviewing the application for demolition of the Belleview Biltmore Resort, taking steps to audit the town's comprehensive plan, and researching whether petitions concerning zoning submitted last fall are valid or not.

A regular election will take place Tuesday March 14, 2006 for the purpose of electing two commissioners. Candidates wishing to run for town council need to make him or herself known to the town clerk between December 14, 2005 and January 23, 2006 by 1 pm.

Though the historic preservation board will not meet again until January 24, planning and zoning board members will be busy as they were charged by town commissioners at the town meeting December 6 to review the permit application for demolition of the hotel.

Throughout the meeting Mayor George Mariani several times rallied for both town boards to be involved with scrutinizing the application, even though Town Manager Steve Cottrell relayed that Attorney Nancy Stroud advised that the historic preservation ordinance and board have no bearing on the application for demolition as it is a building issue.

"The application process for the permit is a different review than that of the historical preservation ordinance," said Cottrell. Cottrell pointed out that the historic preservation board does not need to evaluate the application, nor does planning and zoning because the commission has the power to approve or deny the application.

Commissioner Gary Kattica asked, "If this is complete, can they demolish the hotel?"

"It's up to you," replied Cottrell.

Rae Claire Johnson of Belleair, one of the few citizens attending the meeting asked if the application states what the hotel owners intend to do with the land if the hotel is razed.

"Fill it with sod and keep it green space," answered Mariani.

More discussion concerning land use came up during the town manager's report.

Cottrell asked the commission to give their input on the four major issues up for audit in the town's comprehensive plan. Cottrell and staff attended the county's November 2 Evaluation Report Analysis (EAR) workshop and identified the major items tagged for audit. "Are you satisfied with these four? Are there any other issues to incorporate?"

The commission members agreed with the major issues, two of which directly deal with redevelopment of the hotel and golf course, but directed Cottrell to get the town's planning and zoning board to give their recommendations.

There was little input from citizens regarding the EAR process at the meeting.

Johnson suggested that someone from the historic preservation board be added to the committee involved with the EAR process. "The more the merrier," quipped Mariani.

Town attorney, David Ottinger, reported his endeavors to resolve the petition issue. Last fall, 400 Belleair residents signed petitions demanding that the buck stops with residents before any zoning and land use changes occur. The County Supervisor of Elections has verified those petitions. If enacted, two charter amendments will bring all zoning and land use changes up for citizen vote.

Kattica expressed his concern that some of the residents who signed the petitions thought they were doing so to save the hotel, not to have all zoning issues put to their vote.

Ottinger said he is researching the matter of the petitions with the circuit court to determine their validity and if they need to appear on the March General Election ballot. He said, "I understand that these were given in good faith. We are in the process to find out if they are valid."

Belleair will hold its next town commission meeting Tuesday, December 20 at 7:30 pm. The next planning and zoning meeting will be held January 9, 2006 at 5:30 pm.


http://www.clearwatergazette.com/20051215/belleairp.html   Clearwater Gazette  December 15, 2005 

Belleair Planning and Zoning Board Approves Major Issues

By Renee Burrell

Belleair - Like everywhere in Pinellas County, the town of Belleair is experiencing growing pains. The town's planning and zoning board members are working to control them along with the town commission. .

The challenge for elected officials is to control the town's growth and keep distinctive features intact. In order to maintain the town's unique setting, it is important for the community to plan ahead to create their future town environment; and promote the interests of the citizens at-large.

Every seven years Florida cities and towns are required to review their comprehensive plan through an Evaluation and Appraisal Report (EAR) per the State Growth Management Act of 1985.

The comprehensive plan is a valuable tool for town government and the private sector because the plan acts as an articulation of policy from the town commission, a description of the vision for the future, a catalyst for policies and as a guide for development.

Town Manager Steve Cottrell said when he addressed the planning and zoning board Monday, "The EAR process is an audit of the comprehensive plan. We need to amend it, enhance it and analyze it for its effectiveness."

Cottrell told the board that the town intends to hire a consultant to assist with the report which must be completed by August 2006.

Before that deadline, a letter to the Department of Community Affairs defining what major issues were agreed upon is due mid January 2006. Cottrell asked the board to concur with the major issues identified by his committee or make modifications.

Previously at the December 6 town council meeting, Mayor George Mariani and the town council agreed to all four major issues up for audit: historical preservation and redevelopment of the hotel; the impact if redevelopment of the hotel and golf course land occurs; quantity and quality of water, and the infrastructure.

Planning and zoning board member Gloria Burton stated she felt that the impact of re-development of the hotel was the utmost major issue. "I don't see how this town can evaluate any development whether on the hotel land or any other property unless we conduct a study on the serious impacts on the infrastructure, services and transportation."

Efforts to amend the plan to allow for rezoning are purported to protect the town's open space and limit land use. Said Cottrell, "Developers will come here as they are throughout the county picking off parcels---every golf course, every trailer park and apply pressures to get them. Future buyers may petition the town to have the course re-zoned to be consistent and in keeping with the zoning around it."

Board member Brian Bataglia said, "It's unrealistic to think it [De Bartolo type development proposal] could not happen again. The town needs to anticipate and prepare for it."


http://www.tbnweekly.com/content_articles/121505_bee-04.txt    December 15, 2005

Biltmore told to clean up its act

BELLEAIR – After receiving complaints from nearby residents and the management of Belleair Country Club, the town has cited the Belleview Biltmore Resort and Spa for code violations regarding its dilapidated roof and related problems.

Building official Fred Hawes sent Vincent Sanfilippo of Belleview Biltmore Resort Ltd. a notice of violation on Dec. 5 stating that “numerous violations” of the town code were found during a recent Biltmore inspection.

Town Manager Steve Cottrell said some residents and country club management have complained about debris from the damaged roof tarp littering the golf course and surrounding areas, and getting jammed in lawn maintenance equipment.

While the deteriorating Biltmore roof has been an ongoing concern, Cottrell said the town has tried to be sympathetic to the resort’s long-running insurance claim dispute.

In a letter to Hawes, Belleview Biltmore Chief Operating Officer Samuel Downing claims the hotel has spent in the neighborhood of $600,000 in tarping and re-tarping.

“It is our understanding that negotiations are currently in process with another potential purchaser of the hotel,” Downing said, “and that it is the intent of the prop