The Belleview Biltmore Resort and Spa was a historic resort hotel located at 25 Belleview Boulevard in the town of Belleair, Florida, United States. The 400,000 square feet (37,000 m2) hotel structure was the last remaining grand historic hotel of its period in Florida that existed as a resort, and the only Henry Plant hotel still in operation when it closed in 2009. The building was noted for its architectural features, with its unique green sloped roof and white wood sided exterior, and extensive hand crafted woodwork and Tiffany glass inside. Constructed of native Florida pine wood, it was said to be the largest occupied wood frame structure in the world during its heyday.
The Belleview Biltmore is situated along the eastern shores of Old Clearwater Bay, with views of the bay and the barrier islands which border the Gulf of Mexico. The hotel was built in 1897 by railroad tycoon Henry B. Plant and was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places on December 26, 1979.
The hotel closed in 2009 and thereafter the property deteriorated from neglect. Despite the venerable hotel's historic designation and efforts by preservation groups to save it, various proposals to restore the property as a resort hotel were unsuccessful and the owners began demolition in 2015 for planned condominiums.
The hotel property consists of over 160 acres (65 ha), including swimming pools, a beach club, restaurant, and a golf course. The hotel itself is located on 20.203 acres (8.176 ha) and has ballroom facilities and is a popular location for weddings and other gatherings.
The Belleview Biltmore has hosted many famous people, dignitaries and world leaders through the years, including U.S. Presidents Barack Obama, George H. W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, and Gerald Ford, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the Duke of Windsor, and celebrities such as Joe DiMaggio, Babe Ruth, Thomas Edison, and Henry Ford. The hotel is thought by some to be the site of ghost sightings and other paranormal events. The Hotel was featured in a segment on the Weird Travels series on the Travel Channel television network in the U.S., which was filmed in March 2004 by Authentic Entertainment.
The Belleview Hotel, as it was initially known, was constructed by Henry B. Plant as a resort destination to boost tourist travel on his railroad line serving the west coast of Florida, which he had acquired in 1893 as part of his expanding Plant System network of railroads. The Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, which absorbed the Plant System lines in 1902, continued to operate the Pinellas Special (trains nos. 95 and 96) train from New York City to a siding on the hotel's property in the 1920s.
During World War II, the hotel served as lodging for servicemen who were stationed at Macdill Air Force Base in Tampa. In the 1970s and 1980s, the aging hotel began to decline as changing travel patterns and intensified competition from newer beach-front motels caused significant losses.
In preparation for his 1976 Rolling Thunder Revue tour, musician Bob Dylan spent much of April rehearsing at the Belleview Biltmore with his troupe. Band members included Roger McGuinn of The Byrds, violinist Scarlet Rivera, and folk queen Joan Baez. Dylan would eventually play two shows on the 22nd in the hotel's Starlight Ballroom.
A Japanese company, Mido Development, purchased the hotel in 1991 and made many repairs and additions, including a new spa area and entrance, later selling the property to hotelier Salim Jetha in 1997. The addition was made to create a more modern appearance upon entry, At the same time, the fifth floor of the building was closed off and left in a varying state of disrepair.
In 2001, attempts were made to restore common areas and guest rooms continuing on to 2004. During the summer of 2004, the hotel suffered a glancing blows from hurricanes Jeane and Francis, causing severe damage to an already deteriorated roof, setting the plans to fully restore the building into limbo. Tom Cook Construction Inc. was hired to place protective coverings over the building while plans were made to replace this existential part of the building. In late 2004, DeBartolo Development Group offered to purchase the property from Belleview Biltmore Resort, Ltd., then owned by Urdang and Associates, to demolish the hotel structure and replace it with retail shopping and condominiums. The proposal was withdrawn in January 2005, however, after public outrage over the plan, the developers citing lack of public support. However, in April 2005, published reports said that the DeBartolo group was once again planning to purchase the hotel, and had it under contract with Urdang and Associates, raising concerns among historic preservationists when it was disclosed that DeBartolo had filed a demolition permit application with the Town of Belleair (where the hotel is located) to demolish the Belleview Biltmore.
Preservationists argued that measures to protect historic structures should be adopted by Pinellas County or the Town of Belleair, citing hotels elsewhere of similar age which have been successfully restored while offering updated services and amenities, such as the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island in Michigan, the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego, and the Williamsburg Inn in Williamsburg, Virginia.
On March 9, 2007, the St. Petersburg Times reported that Legg Mason had entered into a purchase contract for the hotel, with the intent of preserving it. "Executives with Legg Mason Real Estate Investors would not disclose the proposed purchase price or the closing date, but said in a written statement they had a contract to buy the resort and intend to preserve the 110-year-old hotel," the Times reported. Legg Mason engaged the services of historic preservation architect Richard J. Heisenbottle, FAIA to prepare restoration and re-development plans for the project. In May 2008, the Town of Belleair approved Heisenbottle's plans to restore and expand the hotel, which included a new spa and underground garages, following purchase of the property by Legg Mason Real Estate Investors (now Latitude Management Real Estate Investors) for $30.3 million.
On January 29, 2009, it was announced that the resort would close at the end of May for the three-year, $100 million renovation project, reopening in 2012, the hotel's managing director said. Following the hotel's mid-2009 closing, however, an attorney for owner Latitude Management said that the renovation work has been stalled due to litigation by nearby residents, who object to some aspects of the re-development plans. Meanwhile, the Belleair code board voted on November 2, 2009, to begin fining the owners of the now-closed hotel $250 per day for failure to repair the hotel's "dilapidated and deteriorated" roof.
In 2010, the Legg-Mason plan was withdrawn and other investors came forward. The Ades brothers, from Miami, purchased the vacant hotel and indicated in December 2011, that they planned to demolish the hotel and replace it with condominiums. The city government, according to reports, expressed willingness to approve demolition of the hotel.
On January 9, 2012, the owner of the property sought to demolish the hotel to build as many as 180 townhomes on the site.
On December 13, 2013, it was reported that another potential investor, Belleview Biltmore Partners LLC, was negotiating the lease and purchase of the hotel and the golf club, hoping to restore the hotel. Managing Partner Richard Heisenbottle said, "We do not subscribe to the theory that the landmark Belleview Biltmore Hotel & Resort is beyond repair and can no longer be restored."
In 2014, the Belleair Town Commission approved plans by the current owner, JMC Communities, for a $125 million development to tear down all but the original structure's roughly 38,000-square-feet west wing, or 10 percent, after first documenting the hotel's history through photographs and written catalogs. A portion would be converted into a boutique inn with salvaged pieces incorporated into the decor. The inn would then be joined by 132 new condos and townhomes, according to the plans.
On May 9, 2015, demolition began by JMC, whose principal is developer Mike Cheezem.
The Friends of the Belleview Biltmore, an organization fighting to save the historic structure, along with the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, sought an injunction to forestall further demolition. In December, 2015, the Belleair Town Attorney said that all lawsuits had been "voluntarily withdrawn" by the parties, thereby allowing the developer to proceed with continued demolition and construction of new townhomes and condominiums, preserving a portion of the 1897 structure as a small boutique hotel.
On December 21, 2016 the preserved portion of the Bellview-Biltmore Hotel was placed on hydraulic dollies and moved 230 feet. The hotel was placed on a new foundation where it will be re-purposed as a boutique inn.