BELLEAIR — The buildings have no roof shingles, the paint is peeling and the carpet is worn. Inside, there is a noticeably musty smell.
But the more than 500 people who gathered Sunday at the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa didn't care about the current condition of the facilities. They were there to celebrate the rich history of the hotel and raise money for a good cause.
Sunday marked the final event before the historic hotel closes for a three-year renovation. "Back to the Future," a benefit for the Upper Pinellas Association for Retarded Citizens, featured tours of the hotel, themed ballrooms with dancing, live bands and an auction.
When members of the UPARC Board of Trustees learned the hotel was slated to close for renovations, they approached Martin Smith, managing director and vice president of the resort, and asked if they could host a party on the eve of its closure.
"What a fun opportunity for us to showcase the history of this hotel," said event co-chairman Chris Daily. "The response has been fabulous."
Known as "The White Queen of the Gulf," the hotel was built in 1897 for transportation magnate Henry B. Plant. It was purchased in 2007 by Legg Mason Real Estate Investors Inc.
Renovation plans include taking the hotel back to the way it looked in the late 1930s, both inside and out, Smith said.
"The biggest change people will notice on the outside is that there will 700 parking spaces underground and a 22-acre park surrounding the hotel," he said. "Back in 1897 when the hotel was built, there were no automobiles."
Sunday's event raised more than $75,000 for UPARC, and Smith said he promised the board that the first fundraising event held when the hotel opens again will also benefit the agency.
John and Mariette Holcombe of Indian Shores and their daughter, Tracy, 32, attended the event. John Holcombe is a board member, and Tracy is a UPARC consumer who currently works for the agency as a cleaning person.
"I like UPARC," she said. "They have helped me a lot."