Richard Heisenbottle, one of the prospective new owners of the Belleview Biltmore Hotel, speaks to the Belleair Commission May 1.
BELLEAIR – If Belleair residents are going to keep up on the latest activity involving the Belleview Biltmore Hotel they are going to have to learn two new terms – CRA and TIF.
A CRA is a Community Redevelopment Area. A TIF is Tax Increment Financing. The prospective owners of the Biltmore want both. They want to be designated as a CRA so they can get TIF.
It unravels this way; a municipality can designate a particular area of town as needing special help to redevelop. That usually means a slum area that needs to be rehabilitated. But it also can mean a blighted area, a place not as bad as a slum, but not far off. That is what the prospective owners of the Biltmore have suggested is the case with the hotel property. They asked the Town Commission on May 1 to designate the property as a CRA so they can then apply for TIF. In fact, they are asking the commission to help pay for the restoration of the historic property with tax money.
Here is how it works. At present the assessed value of the hotel property is $8 million. If it is declared a Community Redevelopment Area, and Tax Increment Financing is granted, then the assessed $8 million will be frozen for all intents and purposes. If the assessed value of the property goes up in future years, the difference between the $8 million base assessment and the new assessment goes into a fund which can only be used to help pay for the restoration work on the hotel. So for example, if the hotel is refurbished and restored and in 2015 the assessed value becomes $20 million, then the actual tax on $12 million would go into a fund to help pay for the work on the hotel. The actual number is about $11,000 for every $1 million assessed.
Sam Casella, a former city planner who now works for the prospective new owners of the property, pointed out to the commission that the TIF only takes the tax portions that would go to the town and the county. Taxes headed for special districts such as the school or fire district would not be affected.
Commissioners seemed to welcome the proposal. Some were concerned that the 30-year term of the deal might be a bit long. Casella told them that if loans were paid off before 30 years, then there would be no need to continue with the deal.
Getting the property designated as a Community Redevelopment Area is a process that will ultimately end up at the county level for approval. The first thing that must happen is the town must decide if there is a “finding of necessity” in the case of the Biltmore. In order to do that evidence must show that the buildings are deteriorating, a possible danger, and that the area is “blighted” which would involve the condition of parking, lighting or overall deterioration to the property.
Casella pointed out that the McCarthy report, the consultant’s study into the state of the property, clearly shows demolition by neglect, which he said, should help in getting the CRA designation.
Town Manager Micah Maxwell pointed out that Casella’s presentation would be taken into account when staff puts together its proposal to the county, but that staff and the commission had the final say in what that proposal contained.
When that discussion about the Biltmore ended another one began when Mayor Gary Katica asked Richard Heisenbottle, one of the prospective new owners, when “there might be boots on the ground and shovels in the ground.”
Heisenbottle replied, “That is the 64 million dollar question.” He said he reviewed the latest construction schedule last week.
“Everything has to fall into place. If it does then we should be able to start construction in January 2013.”
Katica didn’t like that answer.
“We are about to have another hurricane season and another thunder and lightning storm season. What are you going to do about protecting the hotel during that time?”
Heisenbottle then pointed out that he and his partners do not own the hotel.
“There are no protective measures until we own it. For now we must follow procedures and get ownership,” he said. “When we close we will be ready to go immediately.”
When asked if the project was feasible, Heisenbottle didn’t hesitate.
“Yes we can rehab it, no ifs, ands or buts,” he said. “We have five months to be in a position to close, perhaps six months. That is what the investment bankers are working on now. We’re talking around $80 million so it is a big undertaking.” Earlier Casella said the entire project would cost in excess of $200 million.
Regarding the McCarthy report, the commission learned that the report signaled out 19 violations of the town’s Historic Preservation Ordinance. The violations involve the state of the hotel and the owners’ inaction in fixing the problems. Maxwell told the commissioners that the Ades brothers, the current owners, would be given 30 days to clean up and repair the property, or at least begin the process, or they could be taken to court. If found guilty of the violations then heavier fines could be imposed. Even if the current $250 a day were imposed for each of the 19 violations that would mean the fines would be $4,750 a day. Mayor Katica noted, “That should get their attention.” The owners already owe more than $200,000 in fines because of the deterioration of the property.
The commissioners agreed that they should take the court action if necessary. Katica was the most adamant.
“Unless we take a firm stand there will be nothing left of the hotel. It is time to put our foot down,” he said.
The Biltmore will again be the topic of conversation at the May 15 commission meeting. Maxwell said he should have the results of the finding of necessity for the CRA by then. The new meeting time for the regular commission meetings will be 6:30 p.m.
Employee of the Month
Solid Waste employee Curtis Hayes has been named Belleair’s Employee of the Month.
Assistant Town Manager J.P. Murphy told the commission that Hayes stayed for four and a half hours after his shift was over to make sure 4 tons of yard waste was removed from one of the streets. If he had not acted, the waste would have been there all weekend and would likely have been scattered around in the Saturday storm that hit the area.
“We really thank Curtis for his work,” Murphy said.
Commissioner Mike Wilkinson said he has known Hayes for many years, “We’re lucky to have him,” he said.
As Employer of the Month, Hayes receives a $10 gift card to a local business.