Gov. Charlie Crist, left, chats with Joe Penner, managing director of Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, during a visit Monday to the Belleview Biltmore Resort.
BELLEAIR – The Belleview Biltmore Resort is no longer one of the nation’s 11 most endangered historic sites, and the unique structure made entirely of native Florida pine will have a decidedly “green” future.
Gov. Charlie Crist Monday shared in the celebration with Biltmore supporters, historic preservationists and a gathering of elected officials on the scenic back porch, which was the original entrance of the hotel Henry B. Plant built in 1896.
Invited to the event by Amy Spencer, director of membership at the Belleview Biltmore Golf Club and a personal friend, Crist praised efforts by the Biltmore’s new owners, Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, to seek LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, while also protecting its historic integrity.
“What you’re doing, Joe, is exactly the right thing,” Crist told Joe Penner, LMREI’s managing director, “preserving the Biltmore for future generations to enjoy.”
Noting that Florida is vulnerable to the effects of dramatic climate change, the governor emphasized the importance of protecting the state’s natural beauty, which plays a crucial role in its most valuable economic asset – the tourism industry.
“My focus is on Florida,” Crist said. “The Belleview Biltmore is a fixture in this community and its preservation is crucial to our cultural legacy. It’s our duty to take care of national historic sites.”
Asked if he had ever stayed at the Biltmore, Crist replied, “You mean overnight? No, but I’ve been here on many occasions.”
Looking typically tanned and dapper in a blue business suit, the governor warmly greeted several Belleair citizens, members of the town commission and county representatives in attendance with handshakes and hugs.
With the Biltmore lingering under threat of demolition for the past few years, John Hildreth of the National Trust for Historic Preservation announced that the Biltmore will be removed from the trust’s Most Endangered Places list, where it was placed in 2005, and will serve as what he called “a national model” for others.
“We celebrate the change in status of the Belleview Biltmore,” said Hildreth. “The Biltmore is now in the hands of people who want to do the right thing … though it took a circuitous route to get to this point.”
In his remarks, Penner vowed that once the Biltmore’s $100-million restorative makeover is complete, it will retain its elegance and grandeur.
By implementing water-efficient landscaping, energy-efficient equipment and other environmentally-friendly enhancements to achieve LEED certification, Penner said the Biltmore’s operational costs will go down in the long run.
Penner estimates that LMREI will file its site application plan with the town of Belleair in the next two to three weeks and, once approved, will apply for construction permitting – a process he said could take from 6 to 12 months.
In a best-case scenario, outside site work could begin in the first quarter of 2009, Penner said, with the hotel closing in early summer 2009 and reopening for business two years later in 2011.
Asked to answer lingering skeptics who doubt the Biltmore truly will be restored for future generations to cherish, Penner said, “We are trying to do something good for the community. We buy properties that are troubled and fix them. Maybe the day the hotel opens, people will believe it.”