A portion of the Belleview Biltmore’s new roof, including the Starlight and Tiffany ballrooms and main kitchen is photographed near completion. The re-roofing has gone down to the original beams and joists, with the old roofing removed.
BELLEAIR – After years of deal, no deal, speculation and the rumor mill on constant overdrive, the sale of the historic Belleview Biltmore Resort and Spa to Legg Mason Real Estate Investors will reach fruition within weeks.
Closing on the sale is targeted by the end of this month.
Included will be the purchase of the hotel, Belleview Biltmore Golf Club on Indian Rocks Road and Belleview Biltmore Beach Club on Sand Key.
“We have engaged numerous consultants and historic preservation experts in order to develop a restoration and rehabilitation plan for the property,” said Joseph Penner, managing director of LMREI, in a press release issued Monday. “Our goal is to present a clear and detailed plan to the local government and community as soon as possible.”
Currently owned by Belleview Biltmore Resort Ltd., the resort is managed by TRUST Hotels & Resorts. Richard Wilhelm is president and CEO of TRUST Hotels.
“I have a passion for these properties, and I am delighted Legg Mason is coming in to restore the hotel,” Wilhelm said. “I am delighted for Bernie Powell (former owner) that the hotel will be protected.”
Wilhelm said he is confident the future of the Belleview Biltmore will be “very positive for all – the hotel, Legg Mason and the community.”
Already under way are permanent, high quality repairs to the badly deteriorated hotel roof, which sustained extensive damage when Hurricane Jeanne blew through in 2004.
“We are doing a quality job on the roof that will last for 40 years,” Wilhelm said. “We have pulled off up to seven layers of roofing, down to the bare beams and joists in several large areas.”
New roofing over the Tiffany and Starlight ballrooms and the amphitheatre are finished, complete with green shingles, a trademark of the Biltmore in its glory days.
Wilhelm is apologetic that the resort’s neighbors have endured years of unsightly temporary roof fixes as the litigation with the insurance company stalled in the court system.
“I feel bad for them, and I apologize,” said Wilhelm.
The town recently granted the hotel a 120-day reprieve to complete roof repairs before it slaps management with a $250-a-day fine for code violations.
Interviewed by phone from his California office Tuesday, LMREI’s Penner said no decision has been made whether to keep the resort open once the renovation process begins, or close it down during construction. Penner said he looks forward to bringing their vision for the Biltmore to Belleair, though that vision is still coming into focus, with much to be discussed.
“This is a very large project, so we want it to be well thought out,” Penner said.
He added that the pagoda entranceway will not be part of the hotel’s future appearance.
Wilhelm predicts that once it is restored to its original grandeur, the Belleview Biltmore will be admired both nationally and internationally once again.
“It will look great,” he said. “Properly managed, this is an incredible marketing opportunity in the hospitality industry ... This whole community is going through a Renaissance and personality conflict ... By 2009-2010, I am confident this whole area will see a complete transformation to a high-level destination.”
As a new chapter in the saga of the Belleview Biltmore begins, LMREI is on the same page as those who’ve fought to save Henry Plant’s beloved White Queen of the Gulf from demolition.
“We know that the Biltmore has been an integral piece of the community’s history and we look forward to working with the city on a plan that preserves it for future generations,” said Penner. “It’s always nice to have a project like this that is creative and historical. It will be a positive and fulfilling experience.”