Even in its sad state of disrepair, Belleair's shuttered Belleview Biltmore Hotel remains one of the grande dames of Florida architecture. While the hotel has faced demolition several times in recent years, Coral Gables architect Richard Heisenbottle has emerged as the property's best hope of avoiding the wrecking ball and being restored. Heisenbottle blends a reputation as an innovative architect with a passion for the historical significance of the Biltmore, and this may be the last viable shot at saving it.
Built by railroad tycoon Henry B. Plant in 1897 and spread over 4 ½ stories and 820,000 square feet, the Biltmore is the largest wood frame structure in Florida and recalls an era of old-money elegance. The hotel's guest list includes presidents such as Barack Obama, George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford, and other figures such as Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and Bob Dylan. The Biltmore is on the National Register of Historic Places, but restoring the "White Queen of the Gulf" has proven to be a yearslong struggle.
With a crumbling roof and other problems, the Biltmore was closed in 2009 and marked for demolition. Now Heisenbottle and other investors have come forward to sign a purchase agreement with the hotel's latest owner, BB3 Holdings LLC. Heisenbottle has six months to secure financing and design the building's restorations. Good intentions could still collide with balance sheet realities; the project could cost more than $145 million.
Local preservationists have fought the good fight. Heisenbottle and his team may be the last best hope.