1. Business

Once destined for the wrecking ball, the Belleview Biltmore is reborn as an elegant boutique hotel

Color guard members with the United States Air Force, out of MacDill Air Force Base, attend the public unveiling on Wednesday of the Belleview Inn, the surviving part of the historic Belleview Biltmore, which in its heyday hosted such celebrities as Babe Ruth, Marilyn Monroe and the Duke of Windso. It was unveiled to the public on Wednesday in Belleair. The hotel's lobby and 35 rooms have been preserved at a cost of $13 million as part of the new Belleview Place carriage home community with prices ranging from $709,900 to $2.168 million. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]
Published Dec. 5, 2018

BELLEAIR — In its day, it was known as the Queen of the Gulf, a magnificent 400-room hotel that played host to presidents, celebrities and the not-so-famous who helped develop Florida's west coast.

But a series of owners, including one that sold off its prime waterfront and another that added Japanese pagodas, sent the Belleview Biltmore into a long decline. If finally closed in 2009, seemingly destined for the wrecking ball.

Instead, the Biltmore has been reborn as the Belleview Inn, a boutique hotel that preserves the lobby, 35 rooms and much of the grandeur of its illustrious namesake.

"It just feels fabulous,'' developer J. Michael Cheezem said today at ribbon-cutting ceremonies for the inn. "It feels like a 100-year-old new building.''

Said to be one of the world's largest wooden structures, the original hotel had so deteriorated by the time Cheezem's JMC Communities bought it several years ago that it was considered beyond saving. But Cheezem decided to preserve the 38,000 square-foot heart of the original 820,000-square-foot hotel as the historic and social centerpiece of his new Belleview Place carriage home community.

To that end, the 1,750-ton salvaged section of the Biltmore had to be turned 90 degrees and moved 230 feet on computerized dollies to its new location at the head of Belleview Boulevard. Workers refinished the original plank floors and reinstalled Tiffany-era glass ceilings as part of a restoration estimated to cost as much as $13 million.

Guests can now walk across the broad front porch and into an elegant lobby with twin fireplaces, a grand piano and a view of the spacious lawn and pool. On the walls, paintings by artist Christopher Still pay homage to the history of the Biltmore, built in 1897 by Henry Plant as part of a network of railroads, steamships and hotels that transformed many areas of Florida

Dressed in a top hat and morning suit from the 1890s, Still lauded both Plant and Cheezem as guests milled about before the ceremonies.

"How could someone imagine that in 1897 someone would cut through the wilderness of Florida to build a luxury hotel and that a man would later pick it up, turn it around, move it the length of a football field and so lovingly restore it to its grand beginning?'' he asked.

The inn contains many nods to its past, including photos of famous guests displayed in the Morton Room, named for Plant's son and the namesake of Morton Plant Hospital. Among the guest were Mr. Rogers (who also gave swimming lessons at the Biltmore); Bob Dylan, Babe Ruth, Marilyn Monroe and George H.W. Bush, whose state funeral began almost simultaneously with the ribbon-cutting.

The inn does not have a restaurant, but guests can buy Dove bars, goat cheese and other edibles in Maisie's Market. The wife of Morton Plant, Maisie is pictured fingering an exquisite strand of pearls that her much older husband obtained in 1917 in exchange for a mansion on New York's Fifth Avenue.

The inn opens to the public Saturday, and is fully booked for the night. The 35 restored rooms, with introductory rates starting around $175, feature several floor plans and views, including of the golf course that used to be part of the Biltmore hotel property. Guests will have access to the amenities of the Sandpearl Resort on Clearwater Beach.

Dignitaries touring the inn on Wednesday included Karla Rettstatt, deputy mayor of the town of Belleair. She and many other residents were skeptical the Biltmore could be saved in any form.

"I hoped, I worried and I honestly never thought it would it would ever come to fruition,'' she said. "The commission, the town, the residents are thrilled with what Michael Cheezem has done with this hotel. Belleair wouldn't be here, Morton Plant (Hospital) wouldn't be here without the hotel.''

Contact Susan Taylor Martin at or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.


  1. The lobby bar at the Current Hotel on Rocky Point in Tampa serves eclectic cocktails and locally brewed coffee. SARA DINATALE  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Take a look inside Tampa Bay’s newest boutique hotel.
  2. The Florida Supreme Court building in Tallahassee. SCOTT KEELER  |  Times
    The Tampa Bay Partnership, Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and Tampa-Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. filed a brief in the Florida Supreme Court.
  3. Tech Data's headquarters in Largo. TD AGENCY  |  Courtesy of Tech Data
    Largo’s Tech Data would be the fourth in as many years, though the potential sale seems far from a done deal.
  4. Former WTSP-Ch. 10 news anchor Reginald Roundtree, shown here with his wife Tree, filed a lawsuit Friday against his former employer alleging he was fired because of age discrimination and retaliation. [Times file] WTSP  |  FACEBOOK
    The suit comes after a federal agency took no action on age discrimination complaints he had filed.
  5. Guests of the Flying Bridge at the Tradewinds Resort, which is now under new ownership. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Times]
    The new owner says he plans to keep its management and 1,100 employees.
  6. The University of South Florida has earned national accolades for its push to raise graduation rates. Student loan debt in Florida is so crushing that it makes it hard to afford a house.
    Staggering debt loads make it hard to buy a home.
  7. The “nakation” — aka clothing-optional tourism — is becoming one of the fastest-growing segments of the travel industry. Shirking that outer layer at nude beaches and resorts and even on clothing-optional cruises has become the vacation choice du jour for hundreds of thousands of free-spirited Americans. AP Photo/Caleb Jones
    It’s certainly bringing in big bucks in Florida, where the state’s tourism department reports that nude recreation made a $7.4 billion economic impact in the Sunshine State last year.
  8. Bay area gas prices increased by double digits since last week, according to AAA, The Auto Club Group. Pictured is a man in St. Petersburg filling up in 2017. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times (2017)] SHADD, DIRK  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Oil refineries’ seasonal maintenance, as well as wholesale gas prices, pushed prices higher.
  9. Former Morgan Stanley investment broker Ami Forte has been permanently barred from working in the broker-dealer industry as a result of thousands of improper trades that were made in the accounts of Home Shopping Network co-founder Roy Speer during the last months of his life. (AP photo | 2016) TAMARA LUSH  |  Associated Press
    Financial regulators barred brokers Ami Forte and Charles Lawrence as a result of more than 2,800 trades on Roy Speer’s accounts in 2011 and 2011.
  10. A conveyor belt takes bags of food from ghost restaurants to a room where delivery drivers pick up orders at Kitchen United's Chicago location on Aug. 29, 2019. Kitchen United, a start-up that builds kitchen commissaries for restaurants looking to enter new markets through delivery or take-out only, has plans to open 40 more kitchens in cities across the U.S. through 2020. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford) TERESA CRAWFORD  |  AP
    Owner Michael Kudrna launched the four spinoffs earlier this year in a matter of weeks as he races to keep his Chicago-area business ahead of a growing trend.