The future owners of the Belleview Biltmore properties appearing before the Belleair Town Commission April 17 are, from left, Richard Heisenbottle, Charles Kropke and Hector Torres.
BELLEAIR – Unlike most Belleair Town Commission meetings dealing with the Belleview Biltmore Hotel, the meeting April 17 was described by one observer as a “love-in.”
When the commission unanimously granted the potential new owners of the property a 1-year extension on the building development plan, the audience, which had packed Town Hall, stood and applauded.
The development plan is what developers must submit for all development activities. It includes variances and other items that may fall outside the normal building codes. According to Town Manager Micah Maxwell, to have such a plan approved is a long, expensive process for both the developer and the town.
Daniel Ades, one of the current owners of the property had written the commission asking for a 1-year extension on the building development plan. That would allow the new owners to avoid having to start all over again. There was little doubt the request would be approved.
Richard Heisenbottle, the Miami architect who has been involved with the Biltmore for years, having once developed a restoration plan for former owners Legg Mason, was at the meeting and introduced his two partners, South Florida tour operator Charles Kropke and developer Hector Torres.
They received applause from the crowd and were given unlimited time to speak about their plans.
Torres paid tribute to the crowd saying, “This is a loving room and we thank you for your welcome. We believe in the Biltmore and we are investing heavily in it, but it is the momentum provided by you that has moved the project on.”
He spoke of Richard Heisenbottle as a man with a passion for the project.
“I have to tell you it isn’t about money with Richard,” he said. “He put his hand into his pocket to begin the process of making this a world class luxury resort, right here for the elite. It is just what Henry Plant wanted when he built this in the first place.”
Then Kropke outlined the group’s specific plans and how it intends to market the property and make it successful when others couldn’t.
“We’re targeting the corporate incentive market,” he said. “That is a strong powerful industry where large corporations will be looking for a world class facility at which they can reward their most valued employees or clients. That’s how this hotel will make it. We plan to make this one of the most profitable hotels in the state of Florida.”
Several people from the audience spoke in support of granting the development extension. Linda Brinkman was the most vocal.
“We need to move forward,” she said. “We need to make this dream come true for the town of Belleair. We have to take charge and put it in our own hands.”
Other questions surrounding the potential sale were answered during the evening. When asked, Heisenbottle said his group was buying all three Biltmore properties; the hotel, the golf course and the Cabana Club. It had been said that the current owners, the Ades brothers would continue to run the golf course for a year after any sale. Heisenbottle said that was not true. Once the sale was complete, the Ades brothers would be out. For that he got a round of applause. The Ades brothers made it clear they were not interested in restoring the hotel and if they couldn’t sell it they would tear it down and build townhouses on the property.
Kropke called the 22-acre site, “Twenty-two valuable acres which any developer would want to use for condos.” But he said their dream was to restore the property.
Resident Sam Casella has been hired to help find financing for the project. He promised to bring details to the commission workshop meeting on May 1. He did say his plan includes getting public money to show other investors confidence that an investment in the project would be a good one.
Resident Jim White had hoped the town would create an economic development committee to help the new owners find money. But after much discussion that idea was defeated 3-2. Vice Mayor Stephen Fowler and Commissioner Michael Wilkinson voted for the idea. Fowler was most vocal in his support but was ultimately voted down. Commissioner Tom Shelly noted that Pinellas County has economic development resources already in place to help the new Biltmore owners.
When it was announced that a contract to purchase the hotel was in place, Heisenbottle and his partners said they hoped to have their due diligence done in six months before they closed on the deal. That timeline is still in place, although Heisenbottle has said he hopes it can be finished before then.
Kudos for Carlen
Town Clerk Donna Carlen was the recipient of hug after hug after hug. The town has just declared by proclamation that the week of April 29 to May 5 would be Municipal Clerks Week. Once the proclamation was read Mayor Gary Katica said, “Before we take a vote on this I want each commissioner to go give Donna a hug.”
Dutifully each took their turn with a hug for Donna. Town Manager Micah Maxwell didn’t join the parade saying with a smile, “Donna works for me; I don’t think a hug would be appropriate.”