BELLEAIR – The Belleview Inn, the centerpiece of the Belleview Place development, is open.
Two years in the making the ribbon was cut Dec. 5, marking the official preservation of 38,000 square feet of the original Belleview Biltmore Hotel.
The years of debate, lawsuits and meetings over the fate of the historic hotel came to an end in 2016 when the Belleair Commission gave the green light to developer Mike Cheezem of JMC Communities to demolish the hotel, which was built in 1897.
Cheezem’s plan was to build townhouses and condominiums on the site; soon after he came forward with the idea of saving the original wing of the old hotel. His idea seemed almost impossible.
He proposed to raise those 38,000 square feet of buildings, rotate them and move them 300 feet to the center of his planned development. The impossible turned into the possible and the job was done, a job according to Cheezem, is the largest moved structure in the world.
The new inn contains 35 rooms. Guests will walk on the original flooring salvaged from the old hotel. They will dine under the original stained glass in the Tiffany room and walk up the original grand staircase in the lobby.
The history of the place was not lost on Cheezem, who in his remarks prior to the official opening, leaned quite heavily on the past and the vision of Henry Plant who built the original hotel as a place for the guests of his railroad. The original Belleview Biltmore Hotel was built in 1897.
“I’m thrilled to be part of his vision,” said Cheezem. “This was the lifeblood of the town of Belleair and of the state. It is a living piece of history.”
Cheezem recalled why Plant brought guests to the hotel.
“To experience the natural beauty of this area,” he said. “To provide a restful place to have a moment with the people we love.”
Among the dozens of people milling about in the lobby was Belleair Commissioner Michael Wilkinson.
Wilkinson admitted he was sad to see the original hotel go, but he was pleased at what he was seeing at the opening of the new Inn.
“It is amazing, amazing,” he said. “It has exceeded what I thought it would be. It has captured the essence of the original hotel and it should do well, I hope it does.”
“They have saved all they could historically, making this an important piece of history,” he said.
Then the event was moved outside unto the veranda of the building. It was a sunny, but cold day by Florida standards. The wind was blowing but that didn’t stop the official words of welcome from Belleair Deputy Mayor Karla Rettstatt.
“This day has finally arrived, we can now stop wondering and we can’t be more thrilled,” she said. “The original hotel brought so much here, residents, sports, the hospital and in 1925 the incorporation of the town. The hotel could tell plenty of stories.”
“Then along came this knight in shining armor,” she said referring to Cheezem. “This has been a great partnership, this property is magnificent.”
Guests in the inn, which does not have its own kitchen, will be able to eat next door at the Belleair Country Club and charge it to their room. They also will be able to use the facilities of the Sandpearl Resort on Clearwater Beach, including its own private beach. The Sandpearl is a partner property of the Belleview Inn.
Then the ribbon was cut, the hotel officially opened and a new chapter in the history of Belleair begun.