Re: Belleair pushes for roof fix | Story, Aug. 5
Committed amid rough economy
Over the past three years, Latitude Management Real Estate Investors has worked tirelessly and spent a great deal of money on behalf of the Belleview Biltmore. During this time, we have reached out to the community and kept the public informed through a transparent process. We remain committed to this unique property that is so much a part of the community.
While there has been a great deal of support at the government level, we were repeatedly attacked and delayed by special interest groups whose legal challenges and campaigns of misinformation served only to delay the project and increase its cost.
We now find ourselves in the midst of the most serious economic downturn in recent memory, which has affected the hospitality industry even more than many other assets. Exacerbating the situation is a virtual vacuum of liquidity in the commercial real estate market.
We understand that there are concerns about the physical condition of the historic property. We share the concern to maintain the historic structure that has such a great legacy. Indeed, all of our plans contemplate retention and improvement of this asset. During our ownership, we actively worked on patching leaks from the roof in order to help preserve the structure. As part of the closing process in June 2009, engineers reviewed the building's condition, and we have retained on-site 24-hour personnel monitoring the asset. We have worked with the neighbors and been sensitive to their needs while consistently cooperating with all governmental agencies to ensure that the property was preserved for the next stage of its history.
While we all want to move the project forward as quickly as possible, we must also realize that it is a large, complicated undertaking, and even in good times, that is not easy. We continue to actively explore options to move the project to the next level, and we ask your patience while we navigate these difficult times.
We appreciate and share in your concern for the property, and we are working hard to find a resolution.
Joseph Penner, portfolio manager and Latitude representative
Decaying hotel a depressing sight
Where are the Friends of the Biltmore and Save the Biltmore folks now? After vociferously campaigning to save the Belleview Biltmore Hotel, they are as scarce as hen's teeth. Now, the "White Queen of the gulf" has turned into the white elephant of the gulf.
I live across the road from the hotel and look at the decomposition daily. Some folks want to blame the town of Belleair for the fact that the renovation has not begun, when in fact the town issued seven variances and approved the project presented by Legg Mason (now Latitude Management Real Estate Investors). The town also extended the deadline for pulling permits and the deadline for fixing the roof for one year. Some folks want to blame the litigants who brought lawsuits against the hotel owners, which delayed the project. The courts ruled in favor of Legg Mason.
The economic problems in the country started long before the lawsuits were filed. Maybe the plans to renovate were too grandiose. In the meantime, demolition by neglect continues, the town is losing tax dollars as well as water and sewer fees, and property values are declining, with no plans in place to begin renovation.
Maybe it's time for the Friends of the Biltmore and Save the Biltmore to resurface, and instead of carrying placards that read "Save the Hotel," they might carry ones that read "Renovate the Hotel Now." It would be a shame for this hotel to mimic the Vinoy Hotel in St. Petersburg and sit boarded up and decaying for years to come. I think Belleair Mayor Gary Katica was correct — we were sold a bill of goods.
Lil Cromer, Belleair
Council ignores planning rules
I attended the recent Clearwater City Council meeting where Clearwater Christian College's development plan was reviewed, and I was appalled at the actions of Mayor Frank Hibbard and the council members. They showed utter disregard for the provisions of the city's comprehensive plan designed to preserve wetland habitat and safeguard wildlife.
The college's plan is in direct violation of the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission's Bald Eagle Management Plan, and the list of city comprehensive plan items it contradicts took three minutes to read — just their titles, not their full text.
It was the council's job to vet this plan before passing it on to permitting agencies, and it failed in that regard. Members' questions were designed to give them any excuse to pass the plan, not to elicit information about its details or the likely results of completion.
Their cavalier dismissal of planning rules is too often what happens during such a hearing, but rarely is it quite this blatant. It demonstrates why Amendment 4, the Florida Hometown Democracy amendment on the Nov. 2 statewide ballot, is so popular and is necessary.
Clearwater residents tempted to wave away this important local issue as the whining of a bunch of enviros owe it to themselves to visit the city's website and view the video of the hearing to understand how their elected officials are failing them and compromising the integrity of local natural resources.
Jan Allyn, Largo