Monday, January 22, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Too late to save the Biltmore

The historic Belleview Biltmore hotel in Belleair that once counted presidents, dignitaries and celebrities as guests is in irreversible decay. Its wood floors slant, and black mold creeps up walls and ceilings. When it rains, water pours through the damaged roof. It may have been possible a few years ago to renovate Florida's largest wooden structure building as local preservationists hoped, but that opportunity has passed. A respected St. Petersburg developer has signed a contract to buy the property, and the Belleair Town Commission should endorse zoning changes this week that will begin clearing the way for residential redevelopment and for the hotel to be demolished.

For years community activists have pursued a valiant preservation fight for the once elegant, historic landmark hotel built by Henry B. Plant, which opened in the late 19th century with guests arriving by railroad car. A building of rare historical significance, with Tiffany glass and a massive ballroom that was the site of glittering galas and society affairs, it is a significant loss to Pinellas history. Despite being a drain on the town's tax rolls, public officials have been reluctant to approve the razing of a hotel that counts Barack Obama, Babe Ruth, Margaret Thatcher and Henry Ford among its guests. But the commission has no real option left.

An engineering firm that has analyzed the condition of the building during each of the last three years says the hotel is so dilapidated that 25 percent would have to be demolished and a "significant portion" repaired, including leveling the floors. To say it's a wreck inside doesn't begin to describe the decaying conditions, where mold has overtaken full rooms. Absent very deep pockets with no interest in return on investment, renovations would be cost-prohibitive. A hoped-for purchase by a Coral Gables architect — one in a long line of people who promised to save the structure — has not come through.

Blame the loss of the Biltmore on its negligent former owners. Its roof was severely damaged during the 2004 storm season. Tarps used to keep out the elements tore away without being replaced. The insidious water seepage caused progressive deterioration from the top floor to the floors below year after year. The hotel sits on prime land for development that could add to the tax rolls, and it is harming the property values in the neighborhood and stands as a dangerous eyesore.

Commissioners will take up zoning changes on Tuesday. That should begin the process of eventually allowing demolition of the Biltmore and the property's residential redevelopment by JMC Communities, whose projects have helped revitalize downtown St. Petersburg and Clearwater Beach. The Biltmore's time has passed, and the dream of preservation is too expensive to come true.

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Editorial: Look hard into Tampa Bay and Pinellas CareerSource CEO, and get to the bottom of the numbers and the money

Editorial: Look hard into Tampa Bay and Pinellas CareerSource CEO, and get to the bottom of the numbers and the money

Something is seriously amiss at Tampa Bay’s two CareerSource agencies, which receive millions in federal and state money to match unemployed workers with local employers. First, the agencies appear to be taking credit — and money — for job placements...
Updated: 5 hours ago

A Chicago Tribune editorial: Shut down this shutdown habit

"Shutting down the government of the United States of America should never ever be a bargaining chip for any issue. Period. It should be to governing as chemical warfare is to real warfare. It should be banned."— Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., addressing ...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Editorial: Beware of social media targeting kids

Editorial: Beware of social media targeting kids

Ignoring all available evidence that screen time and social media exposure can be harmful to kids, Facebook recently unveiled a new messaging app targeting children under 13. It’s yet another battlefront for parents who have to constantly combat the ...
Published: 01/21/18
Editorial: Too soon for Tampa Bay to settle for buses over light rail

Editorial: Too soon for Tampa Bay to settle for buses over light rail

The good news on the transportation front is that Tampa Bay’s government and business leaders are working together like never before to connect the region’s largest cities, attractions and employment centers with a more robust mass transit system. Th...
Published: 01/20/18
Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

The smiles, applause and at least one hug belied the grim impetus for a gathering last week at a neighborhood center in Tampa — the Seminole Heights killings.The Tampa Police Department held a ceremony to thank those who helped in the investigation t...
Published: 01/19/18
Updated: 01/21/18
Editorial: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

Editorial: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

The death last fall of a 20-year-old Florida State University fraternity pledge revealed pervasive dangerous behavior within the school’s Greek system. Andrew Coffey, a Pi Kappa Phi pledge, died from alcohol poisoning after an off-campus party, and a...
Published: 01/19/18

Editorial: Confronting racial distrust in St. Petersburg, one conversation at a time

The St. Petersburg Police Department’s heavy presence in Midtown on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the community animosity it stirred have raised a familiar, troubling question: Can St. Petersburg’s racial divisions ever be reconciled?That big ideal ...
Published: 01/19/18
William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

A surge of Democrats seeking local legislative offices and hoping for a "blue wave" in the 2018 election continued last week, led by Bob Buesing filing to run again versus state Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa.In addition:• Heather Kenyon Stahl of Tampa has...
Published: 01/19/18

Editorial: State’s warning shot should get attention of Hillsborough schools

The state Board of Education hopefully sent the message this week with its warning shot about the slow pace of the turnaround at Hillsborough County’s low-performing schools.The board criticized the school system for failing to replace administrators...
Published: 01/18/18
Updated: 01/19/18
Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

The Florida Legislature’s abrupt move to strip the University of South Florida St. Petersburg of its hard-earned separate accreditation and transform it back into a satellite of the major research university lacks detail and an appreciation for histo...
Published: 01/18/18