News that an investment group is interested in buying and redeveloping the Belleview Biltmore hotel property — but not in saving the historic hotel structure itself — has spurred some creative thinking by the Belleair Town Commission. Commissioners have decided to explore the idea of offering financial incentives to attract parties interested in owning and restoring the hotel. It's a proactive step as options for saving the treasured landmark appear to be dwindling.
Two Miami investors, Daniel and Raphael Ades of Kawa Capital Management, are working on a deal to buy the Biltmore property from its current owner, who apparently lacks the financial capacity to redevelop the land and restore the hotel as promised. The Ades brothers have toured the property and have brought in experts to look at it. Just over a week ago, they met with city officials and wanted to know what kinds of development the town would allow on the property.
Mayor Gary Katica said he told them that developing the 136-acre golf course is "off the table" because people bought homes and condominiums on the golf course, and officials should not allow it to be converted to something else.
But for those with a sense of history, it is the shuttered old hotel that is the greatest concern. Built in the late 1800s, the enormous wooden structure is on the National Register of Historic Places. Its size and its dilapidated state present a challenge that the Miami investors aren't interested in tackling, but they appear willing to take on a partner if one can be found to restore the hotel.
Belleair Deputy Mayor Stephen Fowler doesn't want to leave that option to chance. At last week's Town Commission meeting, Fowler urged the town to look into offering tax incentives that might attract investors with the money and expertise to rehabilitate the hotel.
It has become common for cities and counties to offer financial incentives — usually tax rebates — to companies that promise new jobs. The state even offers matching money when the companies meet certain standards spelled out in state law. Belleair's situation probably wouldn't fit that model, but the commissioners directed Town Attorney David Ottinger to explore incentive options.
Meanwhile, town officials should encourage the Ades brothers to visit a commission meeting and share with the community the information they have gleaned from engineers and other experts who have toured the hotel. With the building in an alarming state of decay, and with the Florida economy still sputtering, is it time for the community to revise its expectation that the entire building can be saved?
For now, the idea of incentives at least offers a ray of hope.