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End of an era
Belleview Biltmore’s fate is becoming apparent
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Matt Cummings, managing member of the Belleview Biltmore ownership group, stands in front of the historic, deteriorating hotel. The owners plan to ask for a demolition permit in January.
BELLEAIR – The year 2012 could finally see a resolution of the fate of the Belleview Biltmore Hotel.

The hotel has been closed and deteriorating for years and has upset town officials, nearby residents, historical proponents and the owners themselves. But the day of reckoning appears near.

The town recently received a consultant’s report that outlined what would happen if the owners decided to demolish the building and build upscale townhouses as they have indicated.

Town Manager Micah Maxwell says the report was necessary because of the historic nature of the property.

“The town has never gone through such a demolition before,” he said. “New rules were passed four years ago which requires a certificate of appropriateness so we had to know where we stood and what the correct action would be.”

That certificate would require the owners to meet certain standards and answer certain questions before being allowed to proceed. Nothing in the report has discouraged the owners, according to the managing member of the ownership group, Matt Cummings.

“We realize how much work there is to demolish an historic property. So it will take time. We have put our intentions through an exhaustive legal review and hopefully we will have all that done in January and we can begin the process,” he said.

What the owners, the Ades brothers of Miami, intend to do with the property is no secret. They are proposing to tear down the existing structure and build townhouses. They intend to save part of the hotel and re-create other parts. The townhouses will contain an artifact from the hotel, likely a pane of stained glass from the Tiffany Ballroom ceiling. How many townhouses there would be is now under review. They will likely seek permission to build more than the 83 mentioned in the initial plan.

Cummings says it is now practically a certainty they will proceed to seek permission to move on with that plan. He says there is no way the hotel can be salvaged.

“We’ve talked to hoteliers from New York to Los Angeles, in Europe, everywhere and they are just not interested,” he said. “It will be close to $200 million by the time this is finished to fix this hotel up. And history indicates that whoever puts up that kind of money will lose in the end. They will end up selling for pennies on the dollar.”

Cummings has said they aren’t interested in selling to anyone who doesn’t intend to keep the property as a hotel.

“We got an offer recently, for a lot more than we paid, but the buyer wanted to build 500 apartments on the site. We figured that the plan would never pass and the property would revert back to us anyway. By that time six months would have passed and nothing would have been done. We weren’t interested in that.”

Maxwell says the consultant’s report does outline some hurdles that the hotel owners would have to overcome, but he says they could do it.

“When you look at the list of items you will see there are some difficulties. How many remains to be seen, I just can’t answer that at this point.”

Maxwell added that time is something that will have to be taken into account.

“The demolition process is something that is likely a three-month, maybe a four-month process. And if they also apply for a zoning change, which would be necessary if they want to build townhouses, then it could take a year.”

Maxwell said the application for demolition must go to the building department, the Historical Preservation Committee and then the Town Commission for final approval. The application for a zoning change must do all that plus a stop at the Planning and Zoning Committee before getting to the commission.

“We have to make sure the neighbors aren’t impacted during demolition, by any hazardous material for example,” he said.

By all accounts all that will happen in January. Town officials are poised and expect to receive permit applications. Mayor Gary Katica has said he and most of the commission members are resigned to the fact that the old hotel will have to go. The owners, according to Cummings, claim they too are sad to see it go, but “when you check the real facts there is just no alternative. We have come to this conclusion sadly; we’re going to try to move ahead and try to get something done,” he said.
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