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Historic Belleview Biltmore's owners seek to demolish it

BELLEAIR — Owners of the Belleview Biltmore hotel have applied for a permit to raze most of the historic hotel.

"The building cannot be restored as a hotel according to hotel developers we have talked to across the country," the owners wrote on a form aiming to remove the town of Belleair's historic designation for the property.

The application packet, which was filed Friday afternoon, also includes a request to demolish the resort's cottages.

Local historian Michael Sanders was disturbed by the news but not surprised, since a representative for the owners had been touting plans to build townhomes on the site for months.

"That's very distressing," Sanders said. "I still think it could be a viable destination hotel."

Exactly how much of the hotel the owners plan to save is unclear. Matthew Cummings, a representative for the owner, said they hope to preserve a small part of the 115-year-old Biltmore, including the hotel's original lobby and the floor above it.

One of the forms submitted Friday says, "The configuration of the remaining structure is to be determined."

"As you're trying to preserve it, you may find there's parts you can't preserve," Cummings said.

The packet didn't include formal plans describing what the owners want to build on the property. One form lists "residential new construction" as the proposed use.

Cummings said they're still formalizing those plans. Last month, he said they may build as many as 180 townhomes or more there. On Monday he said they're still not sure how many homes they'll build or whether their plans will include condominiums.

The owner of the hotel is BB Hotel LLC, a group of Miami investors who bought the hotel and its assets for about $8 million about a year ago. Cummings has 3 percent interest in the company, according to documents filed at Town Hall.

The owners may have an uphill battle, even though many residents seem to have lost faith in the possibility of Biltmore's preservation.

In 2005, when the Biltmore was at risk of being destroyed, the town adopted a historic preservation ordinance to protect the hotel, which was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

The ordinance puts a strong burden on the owner seeking to demolish a historic structure to show that all alternatives have been exhausted.

The town hasn't had a chance to review the application packet and officials are not sure if it's complete, said Town Manager Micah Maxwell. If not, officials will request additional information from the owners. The request to demolish the hotel and any other submissions will go before town boards first. So Town Commissioners may not make a decision until at least April.

And depending on what decision they make and what plans the owners submit for the property, a final decision on the Biltmore's fate could be months away.

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

Historic Belleview Biltmore's owners seek to demolish it 01/09/12 [Last modified: Monday, January 9, 2012 6:47pm]
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