BELLEAIR — The owner of the Belleview Biltmore has made the town an offer, with no strings attached this time.
He plans to fund the entire cost of a city feasibility study to determine how the 114-year-old structure could be used.
The decision came days after a representative told town leaders that the owner of the hotel would be willing to cover the whole cost of the study if the town gave him a break on fines owed for the dilapidated roof.
Why the change of heart?
"In the long run, it really isn't that much money," said representative Matthew Cummings. "If it's going to make everything run smoother, the hell with it."
Last week, the town chose Las Vegas-based StoneCreek Partners LLC, which plans to charge the city $55,000 for the two-month study to determine whether the historic hotel can be preserved and which types of projects would be most successful on the site. The hotel's owner will have no involvement in the study except for footing the bill.
"I said the only person they can talk to in our company is the caretaker of the building because he knows the history of the hotel," Cummings said. "I don't want them to know any of our ideas, and I don't want to know any of their ideas until they get published."
Last week, Cummings had told town leaders that the owner would pay $25,000 toward the study, but if the town gave Raphael Ades, one of the members of the investor group that owns the hotel, a $30,000 break on code fines, he would pay the rest, too.
The owner owes more than $147,250 in fines levied by the town because the hotel's roof was damaged during the 2004 hurricane season, six years before Ades and his group of Miami investors bought the Biltmore.
Town leaders bristled at the proposal for a quid pro quo arrangement. Residents weren't thrilled either. They called Mayor Gary Katica and confronted him on his daily walks, urging him not to budge.
Katica said it took several calls to Ades to persuade him to cover the whole bill.
He said he told Ades, "You're just creating a monster, when this is to your benefit."
On Monday, Ades called him to say he would pay the whole cost, no strings attached.
Lorri Helfand can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4155.