BELLEAIR — Owners of the Belleview Biltmore say hopes of saving it from demolition are dead after an architect who had pledged to renovate the historic landmark missed his Oct. 31 deadline to buy the property.
For more than a year, officials say, Richard Heisenbottle had been trying to raise $200,000 in earnest money to purchase the property from Miami investors Raphael and Daniel Ades. Despite their hesitation, consultant Bob Smither said, the Ades brothers had given Heisenbottle a 30-day extension as recently as last month.
Heisenbottle did not return a call seeking comment.
"The owners have been exceptionally gracious giving Mr. Heisenbottle multiple extensions to come forward with a viable business deal. He simply hasn't performed," said the Adeses' attorney, Ed Armstrong of Clearwater. "Further, Mr. Heisenbottle agreed in writing that if he did not meet the Oct. 31 deadline that he would cease his interest in the property. It's time to move on."
Now, Armstrong said, the owners are "moving full speed ahead" with plans to raze the hotel and replace it with a project that will restore the property to tax-generating status.
In August, they proposed 32 townhomes and 136 condos, but only hotels and single-family homes are allowed under the parcel's current land use and zoning designations and height restrictions, as well as the town's comprehensive plan.
After some prodding from Town Manager Micah Maxwell and City Attorney David Ottinger, commissioners voted 4-1 to allow the staff to explore changes to city codes that would allow other types of development on the property. Stephen Fowler dissented.
Those proposed changes could come before the planning/zoning board and commissioners as early as this month or December.
"The town needs to decide what or if they want to change any land development code items and, if so, what they want to change them to," Maxwell said. "I think the owners are waiting to see what we do."
The hotel, known as the "White Queen of the Gulf," housed presidents, celebrities and generations of Pinellas County residents and guests. It closed in 2009.
Smither, the consultant, said studies have shown it would cost "millions of dollars" to renovate the hotel. Given the Biltmore's proximity to beachside and other hotels, he said he thinks anticipation of poor foot traffic contributed to Heisenbottle's inability to get financing.
Armstrong has said that the owners consider the massive wooden structure "too far gone" to be rehabilitated.
"We're excited to move forward and have our request heard," he said. "The status quo is detrimental to everyone, and we think there's a better way to move forward."
Mayor Gary Katica said he's just eager to see the city stem bleeding from $500,000 a year in lost taxes and $300,000 in utility and other fees.
For five years, he said, the city has started its budget with a "minus $800,000," costing each household about $400 a year.
"To me it's sad if the locale can't be restored because it was not only the pride of Belleair but it was also our quickest way to get back our tax revenue and utilities," he said. "A restoration would've been quicker than a demolition and site planning and all that's going to have to go on. That might take five to seven years.
"It's gone on too long now," though, Katica said, "and the town is being hurt by it. We'd like a solution one way or the other."
Keyonna Summers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4153. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.