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Condo construction to begin this fall on Belleview Biltmore Hotel site

BELLEAIR — With half of the 26 condo units already sold, construction will begin in October on the first of four mid-rises planned for the site of the Belleview Biltmore Hotel.

JMC Communities announced Thursday that it also will spend $13 million to move and convert part of the original building into a boutique hotel.

Ranging up to 3,676 square feet, the two- and three-bedroom Belleview Place condos start in the mid $600,000s. That includes the initiation fee for a golf and social membership in the Belleair Golf and Country Club, which has a full-service restaurant and bar, a resort-style pool, a fitness center and a marina.

"We are very pleased to be 50 percent sold in that first building, and these are firm contracts, not reservations,'' Mike Cheezem, JMC's chief executive officer, said Thursday. When completed in three years, Belleview Place will have a total of 104 condos in four buildings as well as 28 two-story carriages houses with double-car garages.

Built in 1897 by railroad magnate Henry Plant, the iconic hotel was often billed as the world's largest occupied wooden structure. Its guest list included Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Bob Dylan, Margaret Thatcher and Barack Obama.

But the hotel's fate was sealed when previous owners sold off the golf course and waterfront property to pay bills. The number of guests plunged, the rambling structure fell into disrepair and JMC Communities bought it last year for $6.2 million.

Cheezem said he is preserving a 38,000 square-foot section of the hotel including the lobby, where rail passengers disembarked on one side and carriage passengers on the other. Renamed the Belleview Inn, it will be moved to "the terminus of a new boulevard where we are 90 percent complete putting in date palms and flowering bushes,'' he said. "It gives you that Old Florida feeling as you drive up.''

The inn will have an ice cream parlor, a "Tiffany Room'' incorporating some of the hotel's original Tiffany stained glass and a history room telling the stories of Plant and his hotel. It will also include what Cheezem calls a "small, beautiful venue'' that can accommodate up to 75 guests for weddings and other functions.

"That inn will really become the social center for the Belleview Place community and for a lot of homes in the area,'' Cheezem said, noting that there are several hundreds houses nearby.

Like the Biltmore, the inn and surrounding residences will have white exterior walls and green gable roofs.

Past projects of St. Petersburg-based JMC include the Florencia and Ovation condo towers and Rowland Place mid-rise in downtown St. Petersburg, and the Sandpearl Resort and Belle Harbor condominiums on Clearwater Beach.

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

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