Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Architect believes Belleview Biltmore can be saved


Dreams of restoring the Belleview Biltmore are not dead despite sweeping statements by a representative of the group that owns the 114-year-old hotel.

This month, consultant Matthew Cummings said that even if the economy wasn't tanking and even if the cost of restoring the Belleview Biltmore wasn't astronomical, running a hotel on the site would be impossible.

But Richard Heisenbottle, the Coral Gables architect who worked for the Biltmore's previous owner, insists that renovating the historic building is still a worthy project.

"Ultimately, no matter what, it can be a very successful hotel — in the right hands, with the right ownership, with the right marketing, with the right flag," said Heisenbottle, whose firm RJ Heisenbottle Architects is known for historic preservation projects.

Cummings said at least 40 hoteliers told him the location is "terrible" for a hotel.

However, Heisenbottle said he's been talking with four hotel groups that are interested in plans to restore it.

This month, the current owners' vision for the property became clear. At dinner presentations at the Belleview Biltmore Golf Club, Cummings said a luxury townhome community was the best option for the site.

The hotel has been doomed for decades, he said, since condos rose and blocked the view of the Clearwater Bay and since the hotel lost access to golf courses next door. Then it simply became a hotel in a gated community in a small town.

But, just a few years ago, that wasn't the case, Heisenbottle said.

In 2007, the previous owner, Latitude Management Real Estate Investors, formerly known as Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, bought the hotel and its assets for $30.3 million. The costs to renovate the resort and its golf club and its beachfront Cabana Club were estimated at $145-million or more.

Research done for the previous owner by PKF Consulting, an international firm based in San Francisco, supported the owner's vision, Heisenbottle said.

"The project was desirable. The project was viable. The project was justifiable," Heisenbottle said.

Cummings, who said he has a 3-percent interest in the hotel, discounts PKF's study.

"They're the ones that said it was worth $30 million," he said.

Heisenbottle also insists that hotels in remote locations can do well if they're marketed properly. The Biltmore is well-suited for the convention center and wedding markets, he said. "I remain convinced that properly marketed it can be a fabulous success story."

Former Biltmore manager Martin Smith said the hotel's successes and failures over the past couple of decades were linked more to management philosophies and dire headlines than to location.

Built by railroad magnate Henry Plant in 1897, the hotel has changed hands numerous times over the years. It was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

Between 2003 and 2005, under the management of Trust Hotels, Smith said the hotel saw "dramatic increases every year."

It began to falter following reports that developers planned to raze the hotel, he said. In the spring of 2005, DeBartolo Development had the property under contract and the owner of the hotel, a Pennsylvania investment management firm, applied for a permit to raze the landmark.

"Obviously it becomes a challenge when someone says they're going to buy it and level it and the owner does not have a rebuttal," said Smith, who now serves as managing director for Scrub Island Resort in the British Virgin Islands.

Heisenbottle thinks the hotel's stumbling blocks relate to current economic challenges, not its future viability. "The problem is you're trying to do it a very difficult time and you're trying to compete with other opportunities that are much easier to do," he said.

The previous owners said lawsuits filed by neighboring residents delayed the project and made it impossible to get financing before the economy took a dive.

Nearly a year after the property was sold to a group of Miami investors, why is Heisenbottle still invested in the future of the Biltmore?

"I believe it is one of the best projects that my firm has ever done," Heisenbottle said.

The ownership group, which is pitching 80 townhomes on the property, will have its share of challenges beyond the current housing market.

The property is zoned for a hotel. Not only would town leaders have to approve a zoning change, they would also have to grant approval to demolish the hotel, protected by the town's historic preservation ordinance.

Heisenbottle urged residents not to succumb to a rash decision.

"This has been the heart and soul of Belleair since 1897," said Heisenbottle. "You don't make these decisions lightly."

Lorri Helfand can be reached at or (727) 445-4155.

Architect believes Belleview Biltmore can be saved 10/29/11 [Last modified: Saturday, October 29, 2011 2:40pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Shakeup on Adam Putnam campaign


    In a sign of unsteadiness for what  had  looked like a strong-out-of-the-gate Adam Putnam campaign, the Republican frontrunner suddenly fired his campaign manager and political director. Hard-charging Campaign manager Kristin Davis and political director Jared Small were two of the three outsiders to join …

    Putnam campaigning in Destin the other day as part of his 22-city bus tour
  2. Rays let early lead get away again in loss to Angels (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — As pleased as the Rays were to win consecutive series against the contending Red Sox, Indians and Yankees and to get briefly back over .500, there was a lot of talk in the clubhouse before Monday's game against the Angels that it was time to do better.

    Tampa Bay Rays third base coach Charlie Montoyo (25) high fives designated hitter Corey Dickerson (10) as he rounds third on his lead off home run in the first inning of the game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Angels at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Monday, May 22, 2017.
  3. Tampa man arrested for killing man in his USF-area home


    TAMPA — A Tampa man was arrested Monday in the death of man found killed at a home in the University of South Florida area last week, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

    Kadeem Dareem Archibald, 26, was arrested Monday on a  second degree murder charge in the University Area killing of Khando Kerr. [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
  4. Report: Trump asked intel chiefs to push back against FBI collusion probe after Comey revealed its existence


    President Donald Trump asked two of the nation's top intelligence officials in March to help him push back against an FBI investigation into possible coordination between his campaign and the Russian government, the Washington Post reports, citing current and former officials.

    From  left, CIA Director Mike Pompeo; Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats; and National Security Agency Director Adm. Michael Rogers take their seats on Capitol Hill on May 11 before  testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on major threats facing the U.S. [Associated Press]
  5. For Gov. Rick Scott, 'fighting' could mean vetoing entire state budget

    State Roundup

    Every day, Gov. Rick Scott is getting a lot of advice.

    The last time a Florida governor vetoed the education portion of the state budget was in 1983. Gov. Bob Graham blasted fellow Democrats for their “willing acceptance of mediocrity.”