Wednesday, August 15, 2018
News Roundup

Architect who wants to save Belleview Biltmore announces contract to buy historic hotel

BELLEAIR — Three months after the owner of the historic Belleview Biltmore filed a request to raze most of the 115-year-old hotel, Richard Heisenbottle, a Coral Gables architect who wants to restore it to its former grandeur, announced Monday he has a contract to buy it.

Heisenbottle's company, Belleview Biltmore Partners LLC, signed the purchase and sale agreement with the owner, BB3 Holdings LLC on Friday, according to Heisenbottle and current owner Daniel Ades. Ades declined further comment.

"We're going forward with great confidence," Heisenbottle said. "We're going to need everybody in the community's support and commitment to make this a reality."

The agreement gives Heisenbottle's group six months to perform due diligence and close on the purchase. Heisenbottle said he could not disclose the purchase price.

Heisenbottle's firm is known for its renovations of landmark historic properties in South Florida, including the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts, Colony Theater and Freedom Tower.

The current Biltmore owners, Miami investors including Ades and his brother, Raphael, bought the hotel, its golf club and its beachfront Cabana Club on Sand Key for about $8 million in December 2010.

The 260-room hotel, known as the "White Queen of the Gulf," has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1979. Since 2004 it has been at risk of demolition at least three times.

Monday's news came as a relief to those who want it preserved.

"It's very exciting and beyond wonderful that the hotel is going to be restored again," said Diane Hein of Save the Biltmore Preservationists Inc.

Rae Claire Johnson, head of Friends of the Belleview Biltmore, said Heisenbottle is the most experienced suitor the hotel has had in quite a while.

"I'm glad it's in Richard's hands," said Johnson.

Belleair's deputy mayor, Stephen Fowler, said he is "thrilled" and he pledged his support.

Heisenbottle is confident his team will secure financing to restore the hotel and its assets — projects that could cost more than $145 million.

Heisenbottle worked for the previous Biltmore owner, Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, which bought the hotel and its assets for $30.3 million. That company's plans to restore the hotel never came to fruition.

In line with Legg Mason's original vision, Heisenbottle and his team plan to restore virtually all of the massive wooden structure, which closed in summer 2009 and has been visibly deteriorating. The hotel's spa and pagoda-style entrance, which do not contribute to the hotel's historic designation, will be removed.

Heisenbottle's team also wants to build a new 153-room east wing in the style of the old hotel and restore historic cottages on the property. Their plan includes more improvements to the Biltmore's golf club and the development of the Cabana Club property into a 38-room boutique hotel.

Heisenbottle's partners are real estate developer Hector Torres, who couldn't be reached for comment, and tourism professional Charles J. Kropke, both from South Florida.

Kropke co-owns Coral Gables-based Dragonfly Expeditions, a company that runs cultural, ecological and historical tours in South Florida and the Caribbean. Kropke said he sees great potential in the Biltmore.

"We can basically market all of the Tampa Bay region as a mecca for corporate tourism," he said.

State records show that in 2005 and 2006, Kropke was an officer for the World Literacy Crusade of Florida, a tutoring program that uses the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology.

But Kropke said he has no links with the Church of Scientology. He said he's a Catholic and didn't even realize he was listed as an officer of the World Literacy Crusade. For a few months, he said, he was involved with another organization called Girl Power, a company that is affiliated with the World Literacy Crusade.

Kropke said his partner Torres is "very high profile in the city — he has built one of the most beautiful additions to the Miami skyline," the 67-story Marquis Residences & Hotel Tempo.

In October, Heisenbottle announced he had a plan to save the Biltmore, but he had remained virtually mum since then.

Belleair Mayor Gary Katica praised Heisenbottle's work. For a while, Katica said, he was unsure about the fate of the Biltmore.

"I'm much more optimistic about it now," Katica said. "I think it's time and I'm just very hopeful."

But he won't believe it until he sees "boots and shovels on the ground."

"Then we'll know it's for real," he said.

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Lorri Helfand can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4155.

Comments
One dead, several wounded after Pasco drug deal ends in gunfight

One dead, several wounded after Pasco drug deal ends in gunfight

HUDSON — A drug deal gone bad Wednesday night turned into a gunfight that left one dead, multiple people wounded and led to a car crashing into an apartment, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.Multiple shooters were involved in the incide...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Rays journal: Offense finally shows up in 6-1 win over Yankees

Rays journal: Offense finally shows up in 6-1 win over Yankees

NEW YORK —  The Rays were looking for something to spark their once-again stagnant offense, and it came in somewhat unexpected ways in a 6-1 win over the Yankees on Wednesday.Rookie INF/OF Brandon Lowe, who didn't have a hit in his first 1...
Updated: 3 hours ago
As the Rays turn: Tommy Pham activated, Jake Faria demoted

As the Rays turn: Tommy Pham activated, Jake Faria demoted

OF Tommy Pham only needed seven innings in leftfield and four at-bats for short-season Class A Hudson Valley on Wednesday to determine his fractured right foot was healed and he will rejoin the Rays for Thursday's matinee at Yankee Stadium.Pham was i...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Rays core that finishes season will be one that starts 2019, Stuart Sternberg says

Rays core that finishes season will be one that starts 2019, Stuart Sternberg says

NEW YORK — No, the Rays won't sit tight the whole off­season without changing their roster. That's not their style. There's going to be a trade or two. They'll dump somebody whose salary exceeds his value. With only maybe $30 million or so...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Marc Topkin’s takeaways from the Rays’ win over the Yankees

Marc Topkin’s takeaways from the Rays’ win over the Yankees

1. Welcome back, Kevin Kiermaier. For one night, anyway, the slumping centerfielder looked like the kind of game-changer the Rays expect, rapping a few hits, racing around the bases and roaming the outfield, making leaping catches and laser-like thro...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Couple looks to plant new South Tampa church at the Tampa Garden Club

Couple looks to plant new South Tampa church at the Tampa Garden Club

Pastors Chris and Erica Allen know many millennials feel disconnected from the Christian church. "For a lot of folks, church hasn’t seemed relevant to their lives," Erica Allen said. "That’s why we don’t expect people to come to us. We want to come t...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Editorial: Journalists are friends of democracy, not the enemy

Editorial: Journalists are friends of democracy, not the enemy

It is real news that the Hillsborough County School District said this week it will accelerate testing for lead in drinking water and release the results after the Tampa Bay Times reported testing would take years and that until we asked families wer...
Updated: 6 hours ago
As Jonchuck nears trial, defense takes novel approach to gain any advantage

As Jonchuck nears trial, defense takes novel approach to gain any advantage

In the coming trial of a father accused of tossing his 5-year-old daughter off a bridge to her death — a crime for which he faces the death penalty — nothing is normal.That has certainly been true for the flurry of motions filed by defendant John Jon...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Remember Trevor Dooley? His stand your ground case returns to court for appeal on Tuesday

Remember Trevor Dooley? His stand your ground case returns to court for appeal on Tuesday

TAMPA — Remember the case of Trevor Dooley?He’s the Valrico man who fatally shot one of his neighbors back in 2010 during a fight over a skateboarder on a basketball court. He later unsuccessfully invoked Florida’s stand your ground self-defense law....
Updated: 7 hours ago
Keswick coach Phil Hayford back on the field after spring’s gruesome leg injury

Keswick coach Phil Hayford back on the field after spring’s gruesome leg injury

It's going to take more than a nasty leg injury to keep Keswick Christian coach Phil Hayford off the football field. Hayford, 70, was injured in April when he got too close to a player during a drill. The cleat from one of his players peeled off the ...
Updated: 8 hours ago