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Feasibility study on restoring Belleview Biltmore Hotel frustrates officials

Belleair officals want to know whether it’s financially feasible to restore the Belleview Biltmore.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

Belleair officals want to know whether it’s financially feasible to restore the Belleview Biltmore.

BELLEAIR — For years, town leaders have struggled to protect the Belleview Biltmore, challenging developers who wanted to raze the vacant 114-year-old hotel.

But faced with a decaying landmark and a sputtering economy, town leaders wanted to make sure that it is even financially feasible to restore the hotel, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

About two months ago, they commissioned a study by a Las Vegas-based firm to find out. What they've gotten so far, they say, is delays, excuses and a draft report with few specifics about the hotel's viability.

And on top of that, the report by consultant StoneCreek Partners LLC misspelled the name of the historic hotel 131 times, calling it instead the "Bellevue Biltmore."

Mayor Gary Katica labeled the mistake "amateurish" and said he expected more details in the report.

"I hope this company has something else coming," Katica said. "They came so highly recommended."

According to the website for StoneCreek Partners LLC, the company regularly works with project developers and property owners in preparing feasibility studies for leisure venues.

Miami investor Raphael Ades and his partners bought the Biltmore and other hotel assets for about $8 million in December. They didn't participate in the town's study, but they donated $55,000 to Belleair to cover the bill.

Contacted by phone in California, Donald J. Bredberg, managing director of StoneCreek Partners LLC, said he is eager to provide whatever information town leaders need.

"We're always delighted to add anything to the analysis that people think is necessary," Bredberg said.

And as for the spelling error, Bredberg said he was traveling and unable to catch up with his editor to correct the mistake before sending the study to the town.

"I thought it was more important to get the report out," Bredberg said.

The report pins the success of a historic renovation on several factors, including a couple that are iffy: offering a golf rounds deal with the nearby Belleair Country Club and getting municipal property taxes waived.

Tom duPont, president of the adjacent country club, wouldn't say whether his private club would support a golf rounds deal.

"We don't have a position on it and we're not willing to take a position at this time," duPont said. "If somebody wants to approach us, the door is always open."

The property may not be eligible for hefty property tax breaks, either, and whether there is even support for them is not clear. Katica scoffed at the assumption that the city would waive property taxes. Deputy Mayor Stephen Fowler said he'd be open to waiving city property taxes on improvements to the hotel if the structure is preserved.

The town's historic preservation ordinance provides exemptions for a portion of property taxes on residential properties, said Town Manager Micah Maxwell, but those tax breaks don't apply to the Biltmore.

The study was also supposed to evaluate the feasibility of various uses for the property and determine their impact on the community. Uses mentioned in the study include a partial renovation and spa facility, a new conference-oriented hotel, and single-family or multi-family homes.

But Katica and a consultant for the owner of the Biltmore said the study failed to address one of the most important factors: how those projects would affect the town.

"The real problem here is they didn't answer what the town was looking for in any way, shape or form," said Matt Cummings, a consultant for the owners.

Town Commissioner Tom Shelly said the majority of Belleair residents want to see the Biltmore restored. He was encouraged that the report shows hotels on the site would be viable, based on calculations of the value of specific types of projects.

A restored hotel would have a "net present value" of about $13.2 million, according to the study. Another project that involves demolishing the Biltmore and building 37 single family homes would have a net present value of about $12.6 million. And a partial renovation, destination spa and single-family homes project would be valued at about $5.4 million.

Maxwell, the town manager, said he got the runaround when he tried to obtain the report, which was due Sept. 8.

"They have not returned a lot of phone calls and e-mails," Maxwell said.

Bredberg said the study involved detailed analysis and he didn't want to submit the report until he was finished.

E-mails to and from the consultant show repeated requests from Maxwell for the report, a draft of which was sent to the town on Sept. 20.

Town leaders awaited delivery of a final draft in time for a meeting on Tuesday. A brief summary and a similar version of the report labeled "Discussion Draft" were e-mailed to the town Monday. Town leaders were forced to cancel Tuesday's meeting because the report arrived so late, Maxwell said. They now plan to discuss the study on Oct. 18.

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

By the numbers

$13.2 million: A restored hotel's "net present value."

$12.6 million: Net present value for demolishing the Biltmore and building 37 single family homes.

$5.4 million: Net present value for partial renovation, a destination spa and a single-family homes project.

StoneCreek Partners LLC

By the numbers

$13.2 million: A restored hotel's "net present value."

$12.6 million: Net present value for demolishing the Biltmore and building 37 single family homes.

$5.4 million: Net present value for partial renovation, a destination spa and a single-family homes project.

StoneCreek Partners LLC

Feasibility study on restoring Belleview Biltmore Hotel frustrates officials 09/29/11 [Last modified: Thursday, September 29, 2011 8:23pm]
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