BELLEAIR —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 email@example.com or 445-4155.