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Belleview Biltmore owners want to build townhomes on site

BELLEAIR — The owners of the Belleview Biltmore are keen on building an 80-unit luxury townhome community on the 22-acre site where the Belleview Biltmore now sits.

Such a community is one of few practical options, said Matthew Cummings, a consultant for the owners, during a presentation at the Belleview Biltmore Golf Club this week. And if that plan becomes a reality, much of the 114-year-old hotel would be razed.

The three-story homes, with two-car garages, would incorporate the hotel's Queen Anne style of architecture and possibly elements of the Biltmore, like the Tiffany-style windows in its Tiffany Ballroom, said Cummings, who also owns a 3 percent interest in the hotel.

The way the owners envision it, each of the 2,100-square-foot, three-bedroom two-bath townhomes would sell for about $644,000, Cummings said. It remains to be seen if that's realistic in today's real estate market.

The sites are in a "very prestigious gated community" overlooking a golf course, Cummings told the group. "That particular spot is one of the most valuable spots around for residences."

A small part of the historic hotel — the entrance and a portion of the lobby — may be saved to create a museum, according to Cummings, who said he managed renovations of the Fogg Museum of Art and the Peabody Museum, both at Harvard University.

"I took the job for one particular reason — because I wanted to save the hotel," he told the group of 18 people who attended the dinner and presentation on Monday.

But Cummings said he learned that the cost to restore the hotel — about $100 million or more — is too high. And more significantly, even if the landmark was saved, it wouldn't be viable.

"Every hotelier that we talked with, and we talked with at least 40, and they said the location is terrible," Cummings said.

High-rise condos that block the waterfront view and an adjacent golf course owned by someone else, a private country club, are two of the obvious downfalls, he said.

"When they lost their golf course and they lost their views, that hotel became a hotel in a gated community in a small town," Cummings said.

Several of those who attended Monday's presentation live in the nearby condos. Some said they were open to Cummings' ideas, but would also like to see part of the hotel turned into a small boutique hotel, convenient for friends and family to visit them and members of the adjacent Belleair Country Club.

Condominium resident Ken Keating, 72, said he understood they may lose the "body" of the historic hotel. But, he told Cummings, "You need to keep the soul of the Belleview Biltmore."

Neighbors Bob and Diane Fiedler were impressed with Cummings' presentation.

"As much as I would like to see the whole hotel renovated, it doesn't seem to be financially feasible to do that," Fiedler, 72, said afterward.

Cummings also mentioned possible scenarios for one of the hotel's other assets. Options for the Cabana Club on Sand Key include renovating it and renting it to a restaurateur. The hotel's golf course would remain a golf course, he said.

The previous owner, Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, blamed the failure of its project on lawsuits filed by residents, which made it difficult to obtain financing before the economy crashed.

Cummings told the group he expects similar resistance.

"Developers are known to sue people who sue them," Cummings said. "Legg Mason didn't. I'm not so sure that we wouldn't."

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4155.

>>If you go

Belleview Biltmore presentations

The Biltmore's owners will conduct two more presentations about options for the historic hotel property. These events, which include a cocktail reception and dinner, will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. tonight and on Oct. 26 at the Belleview Biltmore Golf Club at 1501 Indian Rocks Road. The cost is $25. Reservations are requested. Call (727) 581-5498.

Belleview Biltmore owners want to build townhomes on site 10/19/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 19, 2011 6:42pm]
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