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Rot in Belleview Biltmore worse than thought

BELLEAIR — Water has seeped inside the historic Belleview Biltmore and apparently caused extensive damage.

Some of the damage is so severe that it has compromised structural elements of the 114-year-old hotel, according to a city consultant's report.

The hotel's dilapidated roof has been a bone of contention for years. Some were concerned that water was leaking through holes in the roof, which has been in disrepair since the storms of 2004 when the hotel had a different owner.

But a couple of town leaders said they were surprised by the extent of the damage outlined in the report by Clearwater-based McCarthy and Associates. The report includes dozens of pictures of buckling overhangs, water stains and rotting wood.

"I knew there were some areas that were problematic, but I didn't realize how bad or how extensive it was," said Deputy Mayor Steve Fowler.

The report examined damage in the east, west and south wings of the hotel and in its fitness centers and ballrooms and found varying degrees of deterioration. Some areas, it said, will eventually have to be removed and rebuilt if the hotel is restored. Others may need to be reinforced.

Problem areas were initially identified by touring the outside of the hotel. Those areas were examined from inside to determine the extent of the damage.

The report cautions the survey was not intended to be a "comprehensive inspection or a structural analysis of the entire building."

The previous owner, Latitude Management Real Estate Investors, had reassured town leaders that there were no major leaks, saying it patched holes and did other work to make sure water wasn't seeping inside.

But the report found that water has seeped through numerous holes in the roof and through holes in the walls created by missing air conditioning units. Ultimately, it said, something must be done to stop the leaks and the damage.

"Eventually, the progressive deterioration will render the building unsafe and could affect the feasibility of restoring it someday," the report said.

Some of the more severe damage appears on the fourth and fifth floors of the west wing, where huge spans of ceiling and walls have peeled away. The hotel closed to the public in 2009.

The town fined the previous owner $250 a day for roof damage and those fines, inherited by the new owner, have accrued to more than $118,000. Raphael Ades and other Miami investors bought the hotel and its assets in December for about $8 million. Ades didn't return a call for comments Friday.

McCarthy and Associates did not answer specific questions about the report Friday because Belleair Town Manager Micah Maxwell asked the consultant not to. He said he wanted town leaders to get briefed on the report first. The consultant will be at Tuesday's work session to discuss the issue with officials.

The survey was conducted in response to residents' complaints about the hotel's dilapidated roof, he said.

Mayor Gary Katica said he found the images of the hotel disheartening.

"It really looks ugly," Katica said. "I hope it's not past the point of diminishing returns."

But Fowler, who heads Fowler Associates Architects, said he thinks the old hotel, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, can still be saved.

"I am of the opinion that the skeleton is still really strong. And some of the appendages are weak," Fowler said. "The new owners can make it happen."

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

If you go

Town leaders will discuss the Belleview Biltmore report at a work session at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Belleair Town Hall, 901 Ponce de Leon Blvd.

Rot in Belleview Biltmore worse than thought 02/25/11 [Last modified: Friday, February 25, 2011 8:05pm]
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