Citizens hoping to save the Belleview Biltmore Hotel implored city commissioners Tuesday night to help keep the historic structure away the wrecking ball.
The hotel's owner, Miami-based Kawa Capital Management, operating as BB Hotel LLC, has applied for a demolition permit with plans to build town homes on the 21-acre property.
The proposal brought about 200 people to the commissioners meeting, where a consultant's report on the hotel was discussed. Many demanded that the 115-year-old structure be renovated and preserved for future generations.
“This was the queen of the Gulf,” LaVonne Johnson, a Belleair resident, told commissioners. “You're guardians of this. I don't know where your heart is. You've got to help us.”
A spokesman for BB Hotel said the Biltmore's location – inside a gated community, with no golf course or water view – gives it no selling point. He also said it will cost at least $120 million to renovate the hotel.
“It's not feasible to save it,” said Matt Cummings. “We've talked to hoteliers all around the world for the past year and every one comes back and says, 'We know about the hotel, we've seen it, we're not interested.' “
Those hoping to save the hotel believe it “definitely can be restored and renovated for probably about half that money,” said Karmen Hayes, who is part of the nonprofit Save the Biltmore Preservationists group.
As part of its development plan, BB Hotel wants to build Queen Anne-style town homes and turn one of the existing buildings into a museum.
Some citizens believe that is the owner's right.
“This is simply a private property rights issue,” Joe Paige, of Clearwater, told commissioners.
Before the hotel can be torn down, the proposal must be approved by the city's historic preservation board and zoning board before returning to the city commissioner for a vote. If those hurdles are passed, the demolition could begin in April.
The Biltmore, the largest wood-frame building in Florida, was built in 1896 but had fallen into disrepair under its previous owners and was shut down. Known as “the white queen of the South,” the hotel has hosted presidents and other celebrities and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.