Thursday, October 18, 2018
Business

Builder Mike Cheezem still has eye on Belleview Biltmore

BELLEAIR — St. Petersburg developer Mike Cheezem says he's not ready to walk away from his contract to buy the Belleview Biltmore Hotel.

Belleair town commissioners last week voted 3-2 to postpone by six months a decision on a new zoning category that would have paved the way for demolition of the former hotel and redevelopment of the site.

Cheezem wants to build condos or townhomes. His contract includes a six-month due diligence period he had planned to use to gather input from residents and other stakeholders about a development proposal before closing on the property.

Though most of the 200 audience members who packed City Hall last week appeared to be pushing for the deteriorating structure's renovation, Cheezem noted that several of the 40 people who spoke publicly did not live in Belleair. He said a lot of town residents appear to support a new direction for the Biltmore property.

The Biltmore, Cheezem said, just doesn't have the traffic or nearby amenities to sustain it as a hotel.

"The fact is that even if the money could be raised to renovate that and it could be perfectly restored, I feel you'd end up with a 400-room museum that somebody's going to have to pay for. I think the only practical answer is to move forward in a positive way to say how can we preserve that important heritage and history while allowing the redevelopment of the site," he said.

"If the issues can be worked out," Cheezem said, "we'd still be interested in participating in that redevelopment."

It appears he is in for an uphill battle.

Built by Henry Plant in 1895, the 400-room, all-wood resort housed presidents, celebrities and generations of Pinellas County residents and guests before it closed in 2009. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Diane Hein, president of Save the Biltmore Preservationists, a grassroots group of residents and hotel admirers fighting for the hotel's restoration, said in an emailed statement that two preservation architects have confirmed that renovation is possible. The Biltmore has been on the "11 Most Endangered" lists of both the national and Florida branches of the Trust for Historic Preservation.

She pointed out that Belleair passed a historic preservation ordinance in 2005.

The ordinance says any developer who wants to raze a historic structure must appear for quasi-judicial hearings before the town's historic preservation board and town commissioners, and obtain a special certificate of appropriateness. The stringent demolition certificate criteria require commissioners to consider questions such as whether the structure is the last of its kind or its demolition would affect the character of the surrounding neighborhood.

The ordinance also lets the commission approve a demolition permit but defer its effective date for a year while the commission "takes such steps as it deems necessary to preserve the structure," such as consulting with civic groups, interested citizens and public or private agencies.

"It was designed to protect the historic and iconic Belleview Biltmore so developers like Mr. Cheezem would not destroy this hotel as he wants to do," Hein wrote. "Belleair needs to enforce its own preservation law as well as its comprehensive plan to protect itself and its hotel from demolition."

Vice Mayor Stephen Fowler has made similar arguments.

In successfully motioning to delay the rezoning action last week, Fowler called for an injunction to block the hotel's Miami owners, Daniel and Raphael Ades, from trying to sell the Biltmore to a party that wouldn't restore it, which he said would violate Belleair's preservation code.

He said he believes the Ades brothers violated a part of the ordinance that bars the owners of historic structures from withholding routine maintenance, effectively resulting in "demolition by neglect." In such cases, the town can require the owner to take steps within 30 days to fix the problem.

Town Attorney Dave Ottinger said Monday that officials are "looking into the possibility" of a lawsuit, but "haven't made a decision on whether the town has a basis for such action or not."

Meanwhile, Ed Armstrong, attorney for the Ades brothers, has written a letter to Coral Gables architect and preservationist Richard Heisenbottle, who missed his Oct. 31 deadline to raise the last $200,000 in earnest money he needed to buy the hotel and save it from demolition. The letter threatened legal action if he continues to issue news releases full of "false claims" or otherwise interfere. The letter includes an email showing Heisenbottle had promised to back off after his latest purchase attempt fell through.

Cheezem said his firm, JMC Communities, is still "assessing where we are and keeping our options open" regarding the Biltmore redevelopment, and that it would be "premature" to say how long he's willing to wait before moving on.

Town Manager Micah Maxwell said he's hopeful.

"We're happy to have (Cheezem) still involved," Maxwell said. "Obviously, we have a six-month time period here. That's either going to work for him or not. So I guess we'll see."

Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or [email protected] To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

Comments
Attorney Mark Stopa’s foreclosure cases are halted but clients’ checks are being cashed

Attorney Mark Stopa’s foreclosure cases are halted but clients’ checks are being cashed

TAMPA — A bankruptcy judge has ordered a temporary halt to all state and appellate court proceedings in which suspended foreclosure defense attorney Mark Stopa and his former law firm are counsel of record.The emergency order, effective until Nov. 6,...
Published: 10/18/18
HSN to cut hundreds of workers as it merges with QVC under new ‘QXH’ business unit

HSN to cut hundreds of workers as it merges with QVC under new ‘QXH’ business unit

ST. PETERSBURG — Hundreds of HSN employees are losing their jobs as their parent company combines the local shopping network with long-time rival QVC under one operation with shared resources.HSN and QVC will maintain their brand identities, but are ...
Updated: 2 minutes ago
After hauling away nearly 1,000 tons of dead fish, Pinellas County sees Red Tide scourge easing

After hauling away nearly 1,000 tons of dead fish, Pinellas County sees Red Tide scourge easing

Pinellas County is nearing 1,000 tons of total collected dead fish since Red Tide exploded into the Gulf coast last month. But based on an update to local tourism officials Wednesday, the smelly situation has improved."We are in a good place with win...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Man files suit against Diocese of St. Petersburg saying a Tampa priest sexually abused him in the 1980s

Man files suit against Diocese of St. Petersburg saying a Tampa priest sexually abused him in the 1980s

ST. PETERSBURG — A former parishioner of Christ the King Catholic Church in Tampa, now a lawyer and magistrate in the Virginia Supreme Court, has filed suit against the Diocese of St. Petersburg alleging that he was sexually abused as a child by a no...
Published: 10/17/18
Canada now world's largest legal marijuana marketplace

Canada now world's largest legal marijuana marketplace

MONTREAL (AP) — Ian Power was among the first to buy legal recreational marijuana in Canada but he has no plans to smoke it. He plans to frame it.Canada became the largest country with a legal national marijuana marketplace as sales began earl...
Published: 10/17/18
They’ve met 475 Tuesdays in a row to help real estate pros rebound from the housing crash

They’ve met 475 Tuesdays in a row to help real estate pros rebound from the housing crash

TAMPA — A decade ago this fall, the U.S. economy was in crisis. The investment firm Lehman Brothers collapsed in the biggest bankruptcy in U.S. history. Major banks were about to fail. The stock market plunged. And in Florida, "real estate stopped co...
Published: 10/17/18
Dr. BBQ opens to the public today. Here’s a look.

Dr. BBQ opens to the public today. Here’s a look.

ST. PETERSBURGDr. BBQ needed a beer. Mission accomplished: A sip of Green Bench’s Dr. BBQ Pale Lager dispatched, he was ready to start the tour. See that teal tufted couch against that wall? It’s like something from Girl & the Goat in Chicago. The wo...
Published: 10/17/18
Report: Tampa drivers pay different insurance rates based on ZIP code

Report: Tampa drivers pay different insurance rates based on ZIP code

It can be tough to figure out why insurance companies charge some more than others for auto coverage. But a recent analysis by the Consumer Federation of America suggests that a driver’s neighborhood could be a factor. The analysis, released Monday, ...
Published: 10/17/18
As drug prices soar, drugmakers keep setting records for campaign donations

As drug prices soar, drugmakers keep setting records for campaign donations

Before the midterm elections heated up, dozens of drugmakers had already poured about $12 million into the war chests of hundreds of members of Congress.Since the beginning of last year, 34 lawmakers have each received more than $100,000 from pharmac...
Published: 10/17/18
Mum’s the word but Murman’s a player in departure of Glazer Children’s Museum leader

Mum’s the word but Murman’s a player in departure of Glazer Children’s Museum leader

TAMPA — Jennifer Stancil was looking forward to Halloween and the role she would play in a new downtown event celebrating the spooky holiday."WE ARE SO EXCITED to be a partner with the Riverwalk for Halloween," Stancil, president and chief executive ...
Published: 10/17/18