In the next few weeks, the small town of Belleair will find out what one of its biggest destination points could look like.
The Belleview Biltmore, bought last year by a California-based developer, needs a lot of work. But after saving the historic landmark from the wrecking ball, builders hope they can get a little help from town leaders to move things along.
And so far, it appears they've got support from at least two of the town's top officials.
"I sure hope things work out," said Mayor Gary Katica, who said he couldn't discuss the plan in detail because the Town Commission's quasi judicial hearings limit what he can say publicly.
"The planners have gone through and looked at the plan and it seems pretty reasonable to our planning department, so we're hopeful," City Manager Micah Maxwell said.
After paying $30.3-million in June for the site, Los Angeles-based Legg Mason Real Estate Investors said they are prepared to turn it into a four- or five-star resort.
To do that, they will need Belleair planners and commissioners to agree to a few things that the town's building code doesn't typically allow.
First, they need to build a little higher. Then they want to eliminate some parking spaces. Finally, they'd like to add a few additional key accessories that aren't part of the actual hotel.
The Belleair Planning and Zoning Board on Monday will make recommendations to the plan, which then goes to the Town Commission the following week. Both meetings are expected to draw big crowds because of the building's significance. Although there are opponents — some say the buildings will be too high — it appears a majority of the town's 4,100 residents support it, the mayor said.
Here's a look at what the developer needs to move forward:
Height: The developer wants to build a 60-foot-tall east wing hotel annex that will include 176 rooms. The code allows for 32 feet, but Legg Mason officials say they need five stories. Plus, they say, it would be roughly the same size as the Biltmore. They also need an extra 7 feet in height for the 20,000-square-foot spa they want to build on the west side of the hotel where the tennis courts are now. Finally, the builder wants about 9 feet extra for a pool-side cafe, which they say is needed to match the architecture of the Biltmore.
Parking: Legg Mason also wants to reduce the parking space length from the town code mandate of 20 feet to 18 feet. Additionally, they want a break from the minimum 2,075 parking spaces that such a project needs, according to the code. They're looking to build roughly 650 spaces, most of them underground. Developers argue that more spaces aren't needed because people won't use all the facilities at one time. If they do, then the resort's nearby golf course parking lot could be used for valet parking in the evening, boosting the total spaces to 907. Land where parking is currently located will be landscaped to create a "park-like area to make the place feel special," said Cyndi Tarapani, vice president for Planning Florida Design Consultants, which is working with Legg Mason.
Miscellaneous: The town has a rule that any "accessory" has to be in the main hotel. However, the developer doesn't want to attach the spa and pool-side cafe to the Biltmore. The hotel currently has a cafe next to the pool, but the developer wants to replace it.
Some of the builder's other plans for the $100-million project include creating a 13,000-square-foot ballroom and adding more banquet, meeting room and convention space. The spa plans to include 13 treatment rooms, a fitness center, salon and aerobics room.
The main 820,000-square-foot hotel will be painted white, have a green roof and feature a Victorian-style spread with 274 rooms. The 22-acre site will feature a two-floor underground parking garage and landscaping and walking trails will replace the parking lots.
The developer also plans to demolish the pagoda entrance and build an entrance consistent with the architecture of the rest of the resort.
In all, the plans are in stark contrast to several years ago when then-potential buyer DeBartolo Development planned to raze the hotel to build 180 condos.
If approved, the resort would close next May and reopen in January 2012.