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Hotel sale closing not expected until fall
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Artist rendering courtesy of JMC COMMUNITIES
The proposed Inn to be built on the Belleview Biltmore property will incorporate much of the history of the current hotel.
BELLEAIR – In January when developer Michael Cheezem entered into an agreement to buy the Belleview Biltmore hotel it was widely reported that he wanted a six-month “due diligence” period to gauge community interest and whether or not whatever plans he developed for the property would be doable.

That would put the closing date for the sale around the end of July. Cheezem said it isn’t going to happen that quickly.

“We have longer than six months on our deal,” he said. “We will be closing once all the approvals we need are in place; there is no deadline. It could close in the fall, around October or November.”

The approvals required are permits for just about everything he proposes to do to the property.

“We are going to need our site plan approved, everything including the inn. And we’re going to need approval for a demolition permit as well,” he said.

The site plan involves construction of a number of condos and townhouses, centered by a 30-room inn. There would be four condo buildings, each about 84 feet tall and 28 two-story townhouses about 30 feet tall.

Before any of that can get approved the current hotel building must be demolished, and here is where it gets complicated.

There can be no demolition permit issued without a certificate of appropriateness, required by the hotel’s status as an historic property. But there can’t be a certificate issued without approval of the site plan. And no site plan can be approved without the mixed-use zoning for the property.

“There cannot be application even filed because there is no mixed-use zoning in existence,” said Town Manager Micah Maxwell. “The zoning has passed first reading but until it passes second reading it doesn’t exist.”

Maxwell said the second reading approving the new mixed-use zoning category will be at the commission meeting on June 17. He said it is likely Cheezem is ready to apply for permits once the zoning is passed.

“I’m sure they are probably working on it,” he said. “I haven’t seen anything yet but it would make sense if they believe we’re going to pass it to be ready to make application.”

Cheezem said he and others at JMC Communities are going to be spending the next month concentrating on exactly what it is they are going to do once they buy the property. He said he’s pleased with community reaction to his plans.

“I’m really appreciative of the support that we’ve received from the community and the surrounding neighbors,” he said. “I think a key component to the progress that has been made is the dedication to preserve in a realistic and sustainable way the history and the heritage of the hotel with the creation of the inn.”

The inn, Cheezem said, would be a place where social gatherings and weddings could be held.

“It will become another focal point for the entire Belleair community, where people can come and stay at the inn and learn about the history of the hotel,” he said.

Cheezem said some of the pieces of the existing hotel would be incorporated into the new inn, including some of the Tiffany glass ceiling, the oak floors and doors and moldings.

“What we are proposing is a beautiful inn, front and center on a beautiful boulevard driving up the property,” he said.

As for the idea that the existing hotel, once called the Jewel of the Gulf, could be saved, Cheezem didn’t mince his words.

“Right now it certainly is not a jewel; it is an eyesore and a nuisance,” he said. “The memory of what it was is certainly something important in the area’s development and history and many people have fond and important memories.”

But, said Cheezem, those times are gone, never to come back.

“It represented a different era and a different way of life. It is impossible to re-create in today’s world,” he said. “The world has changed, that property has changed. It is a residential community now; the railroad is long gone. It can’t work anymore as a hotel. What we are

proposing is the next best thing.”

The later closing date makes a deal made by the Belleair Country Club look good. The club proposed to pay the town $14,500 as their share of the lien against the hotel property. That amount represents 11 percent of the total lien. The club intends to buy 2.3 acres of the hotel property.

The $14,500 was their share as of April 1. Now that the closing won’t happen until October or November that share would be considerably higher as the penalty of $250 a day continues to accrue against the Ades brothers, current owners of the hotel property. City Commissioners unanimously agreed to accept the club’s proposal. The rest of the lien would have to be collected from the Ades brothers or Cheezem once that deal is closed.

Another bump in the road for Cheezem is the pending lawsuit in federal court aimed at preventing the demolition of the hotel. The suit, which has yet to be served to the town, contends that in changing the zoning for the property the town acted illegally and did not hold a quasi-judicial hearing as required. The town has denied that and Attorney David Ottinger questions whether or not the federal court has any jurisdiction over the matter. Cheezem says it won’t stop his plans.

“We’re going full speed ahead and we don’t think the legal challenges will hold up redevelopment of the site. It may delay it, but it won’t stop it.”

With the plans made, and renderings published, it appears obvious that Cheezem is committed to buying the property and any doubts he may have had about it are gone.

“That’s correct. We’re moving on to buy it,” he said. “It is the right thing to do and it is one that we have strong community support about doing it. This is a win-win for everyone.”
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