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Belleair rejects plan to make Biltmore hotel into senior health facility

BELLEAIR — A company isn't giving up on its quest to convert the Belleview Biltmore into a senior health facility, even though town leaders rejected its request to allow such a thing in Belleair.

At a town work session last week, Belleair leaders chose not to change the town's development code to include such facilities as a permitted use.

"We're going to take a step back and reorganize and see what the future holds," said Kevin McGuinness, president of Senior Care Group's real estate development arm.

He said the company is "still very much interested for multiple reasons." Company leaders think it's a good business opportunity and they still have a heartfelt desire to save at least part of the Biltmore, he said.

No formal vote was necessary on Tuesday, but town commissioners said there simply isn't a need for a senior health facility in the town or at the Biltmore site. Some town leaders reiterated their opposition on Wednesday.

"Belleair is a residential community, and a health care facility is really out of character for our neighborhoods," Commissioner Tom Shelly said.

Deputy Mayor Stephen Fowler acknowledged that times are tough. But he thinks the resort may again draw the attention of hotel investors. And converting the resort into a multiuse senior facility "would have been a short-term fix for the hotel and a long-term problem," he said.

Mayor Gary Katica said the Biltmore property, with its 22-acre site and majestic views, is simply not the place for an assisted-living facility.

"My hope is someone comes and proposes something that keeps part of the Biltmore," Katica said.

Residents who spoke at the meeting also were unanimously against a senior facility on the site.

The Biltmore, which was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, closed to the public in June 2009.

Even before a group of Miami investors bought the hotel in December, Senior Care Group expressed a desire to convert the hotel into a multiuse facility with independent living, assisted living, memory impaired care, rehabilitation and skilled nursing.

Senior Care Group planned to preserve about a quarter of the resort, including two restaurants and the Tiffany and Starlight ballrooms. Other parts of the hotel would be razed and replaced with a modern facility that resembles the historic resort, McGuinness said.

Reconstruction is necessary for much of the hotel for a variety of reasons, he said. Among them, the hotel's multilayer roof can't be repaired, its walls have no insulation and must be removed, and its electrical wiring isn't up to code.

His Tampa-based company still plans to wait in the wings. McGuinness said it's unlikely that anyone else will come in and do anything more on the Biltmore site, which is currently zoned as a hotel.

He said Senior Care Group has extensively researched the property and found two plans that make financial sense: razing most of the historic resort and turning it into a multi-use senior facility, or demolishing the whole structure and building condominiums. And his company is not in the condo building businesses.

"The inevitable sense of circumstances surrounding this is that nothing is going to happen," he said.

Meanwhile, according to Town Manager Micah Maxwell, Belleair may do a study of its own to investigate the financial feasibility of running the Biltmore as a renovated hotel. The study also would look at other possible uses for the property and what the impact of those uses would be on town finances, the environment, neighbors and traffic. The current owners, a group of Miami investors, have expressed an interest in funding the study.

Commissioners will discuss the issue at the town's May 17 meeting.

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

Belleair rejects plan to make Biltmore hotel into senior health facility 05/04/11 [Last modified: Thursday, May 5, 2011 5:14pm]
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