BELLEAIR — Community members voiced their displeasure at a Town Commission meeting Tuesday night after hearing about the possibility of turning the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa into a senior health facility.
Senior Care Group, a Tampa company, proposed a plan to retool the historic hotel into a multiuse senior center. However, the company has recently been in the news for its involvement in the abrupt closing of a St. Petersburg assisted living facility.
Kevin McGuinness, the company's director of real estate development, pitched the project to a crowd of more than 50 residents and the Town Commission. He explained his company's desire to create a facility that features assisted living, independent and skilled-nursing services.
The plan does not call for a complete restoration of the existing structure. According to the presentation, areas that would be restored include the resort's Tiffany ballroom and the spa area. Demolition and new construction would be required for most of the rest of the property.
McGuinness estimated the cost of the venture to be about $60 million. He called the company's interest in the Biltmore a labor of love, noting that a similar facility in a different location would be much cheaper.
"If it's the general sentiment that we're not wanted, then we'll move on," he said. "It'll be a lot cheaper for us to go elsewhere."
Commissioners weren't allowed to officially comment on the matter, as rezoning issues would have to be resolved before they seriously discussed the idea.
Resident Karla Rettstatt, a former town commissioner, said the community would benefit more from a restoration of the resort instead of a senior home, particularly because of the tax revenue that would come to Belleair if it reopened as a hotel.
"It would be a shame to miss out on that revenue," she said.
Longtime resident Lou White said having the Biltmore as a hotel would be best for Belleair.
"If it can be renovated as a wellness center, it can be renovated for a hotel," she said.
McGuinness said Senior Care Group would be willing to discuss paying taxes to benefit the community.
Residents also questioned the company's history.
The company operates Palazzo Di Oro, a St. Petersburg assisted living facility that recently — and unexpectedly — told residents it is facing foreclosure.
Senior Care Group also faced federal allegations of Medicare fraud at two facilities it owns in North Carolina, agreeing earlier this year to pay a nearly $1 million fine to settle the case.
McGuinness said the Palazzo Di Oro foreclosure case stems from problems that resulted when the bank that financed the purchase of the St. Petersburg building went out of business.
He said Senior Care Group only owned the facilities in North Carolina, and that the rehabilitation company that operated the centers was accused of fraud. He said Senior Care Group, being the holder of the facilities' license, had to pay the fine.
Senior Care Group does not own the Biltmore. A group of Miami investors has owned the hotel since December.
Belleair's leaders are disheartened by the shape that the Biltmore is in, because water seeping in through the dilapidated roof has led to extensive damage to the 114-year-old hotel.
Belleair has discussed taking legal action to force the owners to start making repairs.