A damaged ceiling in the Biltmore is collapsing because of water damage with mold all around.
BELLEAIR – The man whose company has done three detailed structural inspections of the Belleview Biltmore hotel says the condition of the property is getting worse.
Michael McCarthy, the president of McCarthy and Associates, Consulting Engineers of Clearwater, said his company did the inspections in 2011, 2012 and just recently in 2013. The first two inspections were done for the town of Belleair and the last one for the Ades Brothers, the current owners of the property.
“It has gotten progressively worse,” he said. “It is at the point now where a significant portion of the building will have to be torn down if anyone wants to try to save it.”
McCarthy led a tour of the property for several reporters on Tuesday, Dec. 10. He said the damage is primarily water damage caused by rain beating into the unprotected upper floors of the building.
“At first most of the damage was in the upper floors,” he said. “The next time the water had come through to the lower floors and now it is damaging the ground floor.”
The hotel, which was built in the late 1800s, has been closed since May 31, 2009. The owners at the time, Legge Mason, had planned to rebuild the property but lawsuits drained them of their resources and they sold the property to the Ades brothers of Miami.
Since then the brothers have been unable to sell the property to anyone who intends to rehab it. They now have plans to demolish the building and build a number of townhouses on the site. A zoning change is going through the system at town hall that will enable them to achieve their goal.
Mayor Gary Katica, who went on the tour with McCarthy, said he expects the zoning change will be approved.
“It will now go before the Planning and Zoning Board who will look it over and then they will forward it on to the commission for a final decision,” he said. “I think the commission will be quite flexible on it. We’d all like to see the place saved, but when you see it as we did today, with the commentary from the structural engineer, you realize it will be tough.”
During the tour reporters were allowed to go on the first four floors of the five-story main building. Katica was appalled with what he saw.
“I had never seen the destruction on the second, third and fourth floors,” he said. “It was my first time up there, the first time they opened it up and it was a horrible sight to see. The ceilings falling down, the mold and the water, it was not a pleasant experience.”
McCarthy said the internal damage to the hotel goes from top to bottom. It all began with the storms in 2004, which blew the roofing shingles off the building. The owners, not willing to spend the estimated $4 million for a new roof, covered the damage with blue tarps.
Bob Johnson, the caretaker of the property, said the tarps would rot in the hot Florida sun and they would have to be replaced.
“We replaced them three times,” he said. “Each time it cost $100,000 to do it.”
Katica said during those times residents of the RPD, surrounding the hotel, would bring scraps of the blue tarps to commission meetings as proof that something had to be done.
McCarthy said his firm was able to rehab a similar neglected hotel property in Newcastle, N.H.
“It was older and had been closed down and neglected for a long time,” he said. “But it wasn’t in the shape this is in. The water is the enemy here.”
All through the hotel plaster was falling off walls. Places where the water came in were tainted with black mold. Some places had so much water the wooden slats holding up the plaster on the walls and ceilings had collapsed, and in one room a makeshift trough, made of two by fours and covered in plastic, ran from a hole in the roof, through a bedroom and out through a window. The water came in, and the water was channeled out.
Some of the rooms were used as storage, one of them filled with television sets, another with mattresses. Throughout the musty smell was constant.
McCarthy said there were three levels of damage in the hotel and each had to be addressed differently.
“The severe damage is damage done by exposure to the water for a long period of time. Repairing that would mean demolishing it,” he said. “Moderate damage could be repaired with structural supports, and the light damage, stains and rust could be fixed.”
He estimated about 25 percent of the hotel has suffered severe damage and would have to be replaced. He said there is significant black mold in those areas.
McCarthy said he had no idea how much it might cost to fix the property, but Katica said he has seen estimates of $196 million.
Katica then repeated what he has said on other occasions; the town has to move on.
“We can’t carry the annual loss of $800,000 in lost taxes over this property,” he said. “Unless an angel appears with $150 million, then we have to move on.”
As for what Belleair residents might think or say if they had been on the tour, Katica didn’t hesitate to offer his opinion.
“They would be shocked, they would be absolutely shocked at the destruction there,” he said. “The natural destruction caused because there was no roof. It was a very sad sight.”