Former employees of the Biltmore urge restoration, not demolition, of historic Belleair resort

BELLEAIR — As the fate of the Belleview Biltmore hangs in the balance, a former employee of the historic resort is trying to round up others who worked there.

He's turning to cyberspace to pull it off.

Oliver Kugler, who was sales and marketing director at the Biltmore from 1992 to 1998, created a Facebook page last month. He wants to get a group of former employees together before the hotel is razed or changed into something else, he said.

It's not clear what's going to happen to the hotel, which turns 114 next month. The new owners, a group of Miami investors, haven't shared their plans. Raphael Ades said he and his partners aren't sure themselves, yet.

Kugler, who lives in Belleair Bluffs, said he'd love to see the Biltmore revived as a hotel again.

"I'm just not sure if it's realistic based on what it would take to see that place fixed up," said Kugler, 49, who now works for Provident Hotels & Resorts and is director of sales and marketing for Sunset Vistas Beachfront Suites on Treasure Island.

Several of the 18 former workers who joined the Facebook group so far have similar sentiments. Some are even more hopeful that it will be restored.

"It's just such a beautiful hotel and it has so much history behind it," said Kristie Denbo, who worked as catering manager and convention service manager from 1993 to 1997.

Denbo, who lives in Largo, was in Belleair last month and caught a glimpse of the "shambles" it's in, she said.

The hotel's roof has been in disrepair since the storms of 2004. Layers of shingles have chipped away.

"I hope the company becomes as passionate about it as other people have in the past and it tries to do the best in restoring it and bringing it back to life," said Denbo, 40, who still works in sales at a Clearwater Beach hotel.

Another woman who joined the page, Terri Anello, tried to sneak a peek of the hotel last weekend. The security guard at the gate to the neighborhood where the hotel is located wouldn't let her in because the resort is shuttered, she said.

The hotel closed in June 2009.

"It's just sitting there rotting," said Anello, 40, who lives in Clearwater. "That's not good news. Hopefully, the new owners will do something with it. I would hate to hear of it being torn down."

Anello and other workers said they grew attached to the hotel, despite some of the inconveniences that came with aging structure.

Anello worked the front desk from 1995 to 1996, and in group sales from 2002 to 2003.

She said the hotel had its "challenges with termites."

The bulk of the structure was dense heart of pine, difficult to infiltrate, she said, but the bugs seemed to fancy the trim.

Anello, who now works for a company that investigates indoor environmental issues, also recalled how the fifth floor was closed, and how some local birds and raccoons called it home.

Kugler recalled how "fuses would blow" during some of the big conventions. The hotel's electrical system couldn't handle all those blow dryers whirring to prepare for the big event.

The former workers also remarked about the charm of the hotel, which was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

Denbo said she was intrigued by the underground tunnels originally used to move luggage and supplies and the secret wooden staircases to all five stories. Her favorite room was the Candlelight Ballroom, with its large oak bar and sweeping view of the property.

Denbo, who booked weddings there, also admired the character of the hotel's individual rooms.

"Creating someone else's fantasy was so much fun and matching the rooms for these weddings was grand because every room is so different," Denbo said.

The hotel, built by railroad magnate Henry Plant, opened in January 1897. Since then, it had several owners, many pumping millions into expanding and renovating the hotel.

Ades and his partners bought the hotel Dec. 20. And for now their plans are a mystery.

"I truly hope this company has a good plan for it," Denbo said. "If they do preserve it, they'll have staff lined up. There's so many people that love that property."

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

On the Web

Want to check out the Belleview Biltmore alumni Facebook page?

Visit tinyurl.com/246knz6 or search for "Belleview Biltmore (Mido) Resort Hotel Alumni" on Facebook.

Historical highlights

1895: Railroad tycoon Henry B. Plant begins construction.

Jan. 15, 1897: The hotel opens.

1919: John McEntee Bowman buys the hotel and adds the name Biltmore.

1942-44: U.S. Army Air Corps moves 3,000 servicemen into the hotel, using it as an auxiliary barracks.

1946: Bernard Powell, Nora Mae Peabody and Roger L. Stevens buy the Biltmore and re-establish the hotel as one of Florida's grand resorts

1990: Hideo Kurosawa of Mido Development buys the hotel and calls it the Belleview Mido.

1997: The Jetha Corp. buys the hotel, returns the name to the Belleview Biltmore and renovates the hotel.

2003: A company run by Pennsylvania investor Scott Urdang becomes the resort's general partner.

2007: Legg Mason Real Estate Investors buys the hotel with plans for $100 million makeover.

Dec. 20, 2010: Miami investor Raphael Ades and his partners buy the Biltmore.

Former employees of the Biltmore urge restoration, not demolition, of historic Belleair resort 01/01/11 [Last modified: Friday, December 31, 2010 6:53pm]

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