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Photo from Tampa Bay Times
This is the original beautiful Belleview Biltmore Hotel in 2015 before massive demolition took place in 2016 all to make massive profits in its destruction.
The public had been erroneously told repeatedly that the hotel was too old to be saved, and yet every effort has been made by the current owner to salvage its individual bricks and sturdy heart of pine wood, piece by piece, to be resold by salvage companies. These historic pieces would then be incorporated into other buildings or homes and even ball point pens! A far cry from the historic Biltmore. Lies were told repeatedly to the public by a financially-crazed developer, all in the name of making money.
The two lawsuits that were filed in order to help save the Belleview Biltmore Hotel have been voluntarily dismissed by the plaintiffs. They were both initially filed in January 2015. The reason for these dismissals is that most of the hotel unfortunately has been demolished. Please note that the Belleview Biltmore WAS saved in 2007 when an investment/realtor company, Legg Mason, purchased the hotel and had grand plans to restore it. However, due to a number of factors including private Belleair citizens filing lawsuits to protest certain building designs resulting in a delay and then the Great Recession of 2008, the investor lost its mortgage. They sold to a company at a huge loss, whose purpose was to resell it at a huge profit. They never had any plans to restore it. Another developer/architect R.J. Heisenbottle did have a contract on the hotel to restore the hotel, but unfortunately with the recession failed to find investors and lost the contract after six months.
After the hotel was closed in 2009, and the contents sold off by the 2007 realtor/investor in 2009, the Town of Belleair never fully enforced their Historic Preservation Ordinance (a LAW) that they passed in 2005, especially the "demolition by neglect" portion. As a result the former owners allowed the hotel to deteriorate in the rain, wind and outdoor elements: Belleair officials just STOOD BY AND DID NOTHING TO STOP THE DETERIORATION except some worthless daily fines that the owner legally maneuvered themselves out of. So the Belleview Biltmore appearance continued to deteriorate making it more difficult for an investor to purchase the hotel, even though the hotel was able to be restored. Therefore the Town of Belleair broke the clause in their law "DEMOLITION BY NEGLECT." They never enforced their own town code like they would have made home owners repair their roofs for example or lawns being cut etc.
When the condominium leaders around the Biltmore saw the deterioration, and potential loss of their property value, they started pressuring Mayor Gary Katica to tear the hotel down. Mayor Katica CAVED in as did his other Commissioners to vote to ultimately allow the demolition. The condo leaders failed to properly announce meetings for the condominium residents, and there was NEVER a formal paper vote among condominium owners to see if each and everyone wanted to tear down the hotel!
Condominium owners wrote to us at Save the Biltmore complaining that they no one ever told them the new condo towers would be as high as 80 foot tall obstructing precious views! No one ever told them this new condo project would taken ten years to complete! There were only scattered and many times unannounced meetings by the condo leaders; all designed by the condo leaders to demolish the Biltmore by NOT giving truthful information or taking a formal vote.
With so much pressure on Mayor Katica from the condo board leaders, he gave in from political pressure, in order to be re-elected which he was in 2015. This led the way for demolition of the Belleview Biltmore.
The Belleair Country Club also wanted condominiums built in place of the Biltmore so they could increase their membership which was falling because more people are NOT playing golf and not joining country clubs. By having more condominiums in place of the Biltmore, this would increase the population of wealthier people who could join the Belleair Country Club making it more financially successful.
By the way, the current owner Mike Cheezem of JMC Communities is a member of the Belleair Country Club!!
What are the chances of Mr. Cheezem saving the measely 10% of the Biltmore anyway? He says a lot of things. For example he promised that he would save part of the wonderful historic Clearwater Beach Hotel, and yet he failed to do so. He has stated that he has respect for the history behind these wonderful structures, and yet he continues to work to tear them down. Mr. Cheezem originally said that even saving a tiny portion of the Biltmore is not even possible but his current comments appear to be just a "bait and switch" for him to continue his demolition.
Already walls and a fire escape have fallen through the roof of the historic beautiful Carriage Porch into its interior. Mr. Cheezem said he would save the Carriage Porch and move it to form part of his boutique hotel. We wonder at this point if saving the broken down Porch is even possible at this point. The disregard for the porch roof shows his disdain for saving parts of the hotel.
Now that Mr. Cheezem has the approval of Belleair Commissioners to demolish the Belleview Biltmore, why should he keep his word to save any part of it? It will be just an added expense and time. What would motivate him to do so?
Rick Gonzalez, an architect, known for his historic renovation, recently sent an email to preservationists:
"That small wing will not survive a rotation and a relocation. It will most likely collapse and eventually a small replica of a building will be built and after a few years of losing money it will be converted into a clubhouse for the condos. I don't see a five story building rotation and 550 ft moving working."
A TV segment on local NBC news showed photos taken by a drone of the current "state" of the semi demolished Biltmore. The woman representing JMC Communities and Mike Cheezem made some most insulting and arrogant comments about what the original builder of the hotel, Henry Plant, might have said with the new development. We will not quote her, however, our view is that Mr. Plant would be horrified at the MUTILATION done by these financially-crazed developers to the historic and beautiful 1897 Belleview Biltmore Hotel, the White Queen of the Gulf.
So please connect the dots as to the politics and financial gains that will occur now that most of the Belleview Biltmore is destroyed.
From the Tampa Bay Times August 18, 2016
said he is preserving a 38,000 square-foot section of the hotel including
the lobby, where rail passengers disembarked on one side and carriage
passengers on the other. Renamed the Belleview Inn, it will be moved to "the
terminus of a new boulevard where we are 90 percent complete putting in date
palms and flowering bushes,'' he said. "It gives you that Old Florida
feeling as you drive up.'' The inn will have an ice cream parlor, a
"Tiffany Room'' incorporating some of the hotel's original Tiffany stained
glass and a history room telling the stories of Plant and his hotel. It will
also include what Cheezem calls a "small, beautiful venue'' that can
accommodate up to 75 guests for weddings and other functions. That inn will
really become the social center for the Belleview Place community and for a
lot of homes in the area,'' Cheezem said, noting that there are several
hundreds houses nearby. Like the Biltmore, the inn and surrounding
residences will have white exterior walls and green gable roofs."
Please read The Tampa Bay Times article on May 24, 2015:
"JMC is preserving roughly 10 percent of the hotel — the original lobby and three floors of rooms above.
It will be remodeled into a 33-room boutique inn with an ice cream parlor, a bar, room for weddings and functions, and displays of photos and memorabilia. Like the Biltmore, the inn and surrounding condos will have white exterior walls and green gable roofs.
Even saving that much is tricky. It involves raising a four-story structure up on jacks, rotating it, hauling it the length of a football field, and plopping it back down on a new foundation. That job alone will take weeks.
"It's expensive to move it, but we felt it was critical," Cheezem said. "With the photographs and artifacts, you'll get a great sense of what the resort was like when it was functioning. That will be worthwhile."
Does Mr. Cheezem really believe this! We do NOT. 90% of the hotel has been destroyed by him! So many lies were told to the public about the condition of the hotel, and we know of course now from the demolition, that the heart of pine wood was still strong enough to support the hotel. At this point, all we can do is hope and pray that Cheezem keeps his word.
Belleair town officials, the condo leaders, the Belleair Country Club, Mr. Cheezem and Pinellas County Commissioners all played a deliberate role and colluded in the destruction of this beautiful historic 1897 Victorian hotel...all for high profits.