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Belleair leaders hire consultant to help determine Biltmore hotel's fate

BELLEAIR — A study of the historic Belleview Biltmore property may reveal what the future holds for the decaying landmark.

Tuesday, Belleair leaders selected a consultant to study whether the 114-year-old hotel can be preserved and to determine what type of projects would be most successful on the site.

The town chose Las Vegas-based StoneCreek Partners LLC from a pool of 10 candidates. The study, estimated at $55,000, will consider whether the Biltmore can be fully or partially renovated or if it makes more sense to build a new hotel there. It also will look at the feasibility of other options for the site, including commercial uses or multifamily or single-family homes.

Town Manager Micah Maxwell and Town Attorney David Ottinger whittled down the candidates to two, StoneCreek and RERC Strategic Advisors, whose team included the former owner's architect, R.J. Heisenbottle Architects, and others familiar with the Biltmore.

Commissioners were impressed by both candidates. But they ultimately chose StoneCreek, citing its independence and experience, which includes studies of various revitalization projects and historic hotel properties.

Raphael Ades, one of the current owners of the Biltmore, previously had offered to pay for the town's study. And commissioners were pleased with the offer until Tuesday night, when they learned it may come with some strings.

Ades and his Miami partners had estimated that a study would cost about $30,000, according to a memo submitted to Town Hall in April. Last month, officials say, the owner offered about $25,000 toward the study.

At Tuesday's meeting, several commissioners bristled when the owner's representative, Matthew Cummings of Klecker Cummings, asked for a break in exchange for footing the entire bill for the study.

"We would be willing to pony up those costs but we would want a little something in return," Cummings told town leaders.

He asked for a credit on unpaid fines. The owner owes more $147,250 in fines levied by the town because of the hotel's dilapidated roof, which was damaged during the 2004 hurricane season. It was then owned by Urdang & Associates, which sold the hotel and its assets to Latitude Management Real Estate Investors for $30.3 million. Ades and his partners bought the hotel for about $8 million in December

"Today is the first day I'm hearing quid pro quo," said Commissioner Kevin Piccarreto, balking at the owner's offer to pay if the city relieved its fine.

Piccarreto said he might consider some remedy, but this was not the time.

Deputy Mayor Stephen Fowler was also dismayed to hear the offer as town leaders were poised to choose the consultant.

"This is an 11th-hour presentation. We should have been aware of this from day one," Fowler said.

Minutes later Cummings offered to put up the $25,000 free and clear. He said his client would be willing to offer additional funds later in lieu of a credit toward unpaid fines.

At the next meeting, commissioners will discuss whether they want to accept those additional funds to pay for the study or choose another source from within the town budget.

Cummings asked for understanding, saying the roof problems weren't his client's fault.

"We inherited a mess when we bought this," said Cummings, who is doing his own, unrelated feasibility study for the owner.

Fowler took issue with Cummings' comment.

"You didn't inherit that mess," Fowler said. "You purchased it with your eyes wide open."

Cummings, who was hired by the owner about a month ago, describes himself as a problem solver who wants to determine the best use for the property.

"We're just hoping the studies come back and prove we can preserve as much as possible," Cummings said. "But it has to be financially feasible. It's up to the studies to tell us what we can do that is good for the town and is good for us."

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

Belleair leaders hire consultant to help determine Biltmore hotel's fate 06/15/11 [Last modified: Thursday, June 16, 2011 6:42pm]
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