Friday, June 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: With Supreme Court ruling, Florida should collect sales tax from online retailers

Editorial: With Supreme Court ruling, Florida should collect sales tax from online retailers

It turns out the U.S. Supreme Court has a better grasp of the economic realities of the 21st century than Congress or the Florida Legislature. The court ruled Thursday that states can require online retailers to collect sales taxes even if the retail...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Editorial: Congress should ban splitting kids, parents

Editorial: Congress should ban splitting kids, parents

The shocking scenes of immigrant children crying after being taken from their parents at the border exposed a new level of cruelty by the Trump administration, and though the president reversed course Wednesday, Congress needs to end the shameful pra...
Published: 06/21/18
Sessions kickstarts action on marijuana

Sessions kickstarts action on marijuana

Good job, Jeff Sessions! It seems the attorney generalís misguided attempts to revive the unpopular and unjust federal war on marijuana may be having the exact opposite effect ó prompting a new bipartisan effort in Congress to allow states to legaliz...
Published: 06/18/18
Updated: 06/21/18
Editorial: A court victory for protecting Floridaís environment

Editorial: A court victory for protecting Floridaís environment

A Tallahassee judge has affirmed the overwhelming intent of Florida voters by ruling that state lawmakers have failed to comply with a constitutional amendment that is supposed to provide a specific pot of money to buy and preserve endangered lands. ...
Published: 06/18/18
Updated: 06/20/18
Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Innocent children should not be used as political pawns. That is exactly what the Trump administration is doing by cruelly prying young children away from their parents as these desperate families cross the Mexican border in search of a safer, better...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/19/18

Editorial: ATF should get tougher on gun dealers who violate the law

Gun dealers who break the law by turning a blind eye to federal licensing rules are as dangerous to society as people who have no right to a possess a firearm in the first place. Yet a recent report shows that the federal agency responsible for polic...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/18/18
Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

The new grass-roots effort to put a transportation package before Hillsborough County voters in November faces a tough slog. Voters rejected a similar effort in 2010, and another in 2016 by elected officials never made it from the gate. But the lates...
Published: 06/15/18
Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Forty years ago today, Nelson Poynter died. He was the last individual to own this newspaper, and to keep the Times connected to this community, he did something remarkable. He gave it away.In his last years, Mr. Poynter recognized that sooner or lat...
Published: 06/15/18

There was no FBI anti-Trump conspiracy

The Justice Department released Thursday the highly anticipated report on the FBIís handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe and other sensitive issues in the 2016 election. It is not the report President Donald Trump wanted. But there is enough i...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Voter purge may be legal, but itís also suppression

The Supreme Courtís ruling last Monday to allow Ohioís purging of its voter rolls is difficult to dispute legally. While federal law prohibits removing citizens from voter rolls simply because they havenít voted, Ohioís purge is slightly different. T...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18