The Belleview Biltmore hotel has been granted an historical tax exemption, which the new owners must apply for once refurbishment is done.
BELLEAIR – The ordinance granting the Belleview Biltmore hotel an historic tax exemption passed on second reading and now it will be up to the new owners of the property to apply for that exemption and negotiate its terms with town officials.
The ordinance was passed at a special Commission meeting on Sept. 4 and the final vote was identical to the 3-2 vote that passed first reading two weeks ago. Belleair Mayor Gary Katica and Commissioner Kevin Piccarreto voted against the ordinance, Commissioners Tom Shelly and Michael Wilkinson and Vice-Mayor Stephen Fowler voted for it.
Unlike two weeks ago there was a sparse turnout of residents and only a half dozen of them spoke to the issue; all were in favor of the ordinance.
Resident Lavonne Johnson urged the commissioners to vote in favor of the measure.
“When an opportunity arises you take the chance or you get nothing,” she said. “The opportunity is now, give life and rebirth to the hotel.”
Laurie Adams agreed.
“This is not a stimulus tax break,” she said. “We would just be adding commercial properties to the residential exemption we have now. I have faith that you will negotiate a good deal and even if these guys don’t get the money, others may be encouraged by this exemption.”
Resident Petey Henning spoke to critics of the location of the hotel. “This doesn’t have to be on U.S. 19 to be viable; there is a market for this,” she said.
Then it was the commissioners turn to speak. Mayor Gary Katica, who voted against the ordinance two weeks ago, took offense to how people had been characterizing him.
“My opinion has always been the Belleview Biltmore is best for our town. I’m not against it, I’ve always supported it,” he said. “But I must protect the town’s finances. Forty-one towns and cities in this country are bankrupt right now because of deals like this.”
Commissioner Kevin Piccarreto said the ordinance was confusing.
“I’m uneasy that there isn’t enough protection in this ordinance,” he said. “Here we are again tonight making changes on the fly. I’d like to see a successful hotel on that site but why are we under the gun tonight. We have to do due diligence.”
Voting for the ordinance was Commissioner Michael Wilkinson.
“We have the historical ordinance to encourage development of residential properties. Now we’re being asked to extend it to commercial properties. I don’t want to stand in the way,” Wilkinson said.
Fowler agreed, laughing.
“What he said,” he said.
Commissioner Tom Shelly, who proposed the motion approving the exemption, called the hotel “the best possible plan."
“There is no downside for us and we can negotiate the terms of this deal once the hotel is built,” Shelly said.
That is in fact what will happen next. The new owners will have three years to complete the refurbishment of the property, then they must apply for the tax exemption. Once that happens, the negotiations begin. To be decided is whether or not the exemption will be for the maximum 10 years, or something less, whether the amount of the exemption will be for 100 percent of the improvement costs, or something less. The town also can impose or negotiate other terms and conditions.
Hurrying out to catch a plane after the vote was prospective owner Richard Heisenbottle. With a smile he said he was pleased with the outcome.
“I’m ecstatic,” he said. “We got support from the town on what I think is a motherhood and apple pie issue. We can now take our tax savings and move forward.”
If the deal turns out to be for 10 years at 100 percent of the cost of improvements, the tax saving is estimated to be more than $4 million.
The deadline for the Heisenbottle group to close the deal on the property is sometime in September.
Budget hearings begin
Belleair commissioners agreed tentatively, with little discussion, to set the millage rate at 5.9432 which is the same as last year. A second and final public hearing on the budget will be held Sept. 19 at 6:30 p.m. The total budget for Belleair is $18.3 million.
One of the cost cutting measures this year is to eliminate the Sunday telephone operator. Records show that on a normal Sunday the operator fields only three calls. The new system will have the calls routed to the message managers of the appropriate department. Emergency 911 calls automatically go to the sheriff’s call center. Elimination of the Sunday service will save $5,700 annually.
New vehicle for Parks and Recreation
Commissioners gave the green light for the town to purchase a new Ford Explorer at a cost of just over $21,000 to be used by the Parks and Recreation Department. The vehicle replaces another that was demolished in a crash recently. The driver of the other vehicle was cited by police for making an illegal turn which caused the crash.
Expensive lawn work
It is getting expensive to cut the lawn at 1750 Indian Rocks Road in Belleair. For the past year the owner of the vacant property has not responded to the town’s notice that the lawn be mowed and edged, the weeds removed and shrubbery trimmed.
Each time the owner neglected to take action the town moved in to do the job and billed the owner $450 for the work.
Mayor Katica said, “It is too bad that house is right at the southern entrance to our town.”
Police Chief Tom Edwards told the commissioners that repeated efforts to track down the owner, Crystina Bekier of New Hampshire, have failed.
“We even had to call India to try to find the property manager,” he said.
Town crews will now go ahead and do the work and another $450 will be charged to Bekier’s account. If she doesn’t pay then a lien will be filed against the property.