BELLEAIR — The historic Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa may become a senior health care facility — if a deal pans out for a Tampa-based nonprofit.
Over the next few weeks, Senior Care Group plans to explore the feasibility of restoring the Biltmore and converting it into a multi-use facility for seniors, said Kevin McGuinness, president of the company's real estate development arm, Senior Care International.
McGuinness and Senior Care board chairman David R. Vaughan met with Belleair's mayor and town manager Monday to discuss their ideas. And according to Mayor Gary Katica, "They said all of the right things."
But the news raised questions about the complexity of pulling off such a project. And the thought of reviving the nearly 114-year-old hotel as a senior facility doesn't sit well with some local preservationists.
Deputy Mayor Steve Fowler said the company may face some "big hurdles" changing the land use of the property to accommodate a health care facility instead of a hotel.
Five years ago, when the hotel was at risk of demolition, the town adopted a historic preservation ordinance to protect the Biltmore, which was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.
Local historian Mike Sanders said he supported adapting the hotel to save it, but he wasn't in favor of converting the entire structure into a health care facility.
Rae Claire Johnson, who heads Friends of the Belleview Biltmore, vowed to fight Senior Care's plan.
"I would re-energize Friends of the Belleview Biltmore to fight it because I don't think it's the best thing for the town," Johnson said.
She also said the hotel, with its long hallways and massive ballrooms, simply wouldn't be a practical home for seniors.
McGuinness said he has a letter of agreement with KAWA Capital Management, which has an option to buy the Biltmore. The hotel's assets also include an off-site golf club and the Cabana Club on Sand Key.
Daniel Ades, principal of KAWA, previously has said his company was mainly interested in the golf club.
Ades did not return calls for comment, but McGuinness said KAWA has until Jan. 4 to complete its due diligence.
If KAWA buys the properties, and if Senior Care determines it's a sensible investment, Senior Care would purchase the hotel from KAWA, he said.
Senior Care owns, operates and manages more than 25 facilities nationwide, including Lakeshore Villas in Tampa and The Bridges retirement community in Riverview.
McGuinness said Senior Care is looking at housing five levels of service within the converted hotel: independent living, assisted living, memory impaired care, rehabilitation and skilled nursing. He's not sure whether Senior Care would need to build another structure to provide some of those services.
Some people have questioned the stability of the structure and whether it can be saved at all.
"Anything can be done," McGuinness said. "It just becomes a question of money. The reason most people wanted to tear the building down is because it's a terribly inefficient building from today's energy codes."
So far, it appears that the hotel is generally stable, but uneven, he said.
"We would try our very best to keep the hotel in the state it is in now," he said.
During the renovation, Senior Care would level the floors, fix the hotel's dilapidated roof and replace its aluminum siding with fiber-cement siding, he said. Some interior remodeling also would be necessary.
There would probably be at least two casualties: the pagoda entrance and an outdoor pool.
McGuinness acknowledged that the renovated structure "may not have that Victorian pizazz it had 100 years ago."
Earlier this year, Senior Care Group made news when former president Robert D. Vaughan resigned after the company revealed that he had been convicted in 1998 of downloading child pornography. He serves as an adviser now, McGuinness said.
The mortgage on the hotel is held by former owner Urdang & Associates. Three years ago, Latitude Management Real Estate Investors, formerly known as Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, bought the hotel's assets for $30.3 million.
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Lorri Helfand can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4155.