Steps in saving the Belleview Biltmore Hotel, Belleair/Clearwater, Florida August 30, 2007
There were many factors contributing to the saving of the Belleview Biltmore Hotel in Belleair/Clearwater, Florida. Many people in the community outside our nonprofit preservation Save the Biltmore Preservationists also contributed to either helping with the legal battle or helping gain community support and participation. So when I say "we" in the following text below, some of it will include steps our own nonprofit group did and some steps the community did as individuals. There were hundreds of people in the community involved in saving the Biltmore, some had small roles, and some had larger roles. For ease of reading and understanding the entire saga for the past three years, I use the term "we" very collectively.
Years ago it had been recommended by someone at a Belleair town meeting to write a historic preservation ordinance, however, this was never followed through by the Historic Preservation Board OR the Belleair commissioners so the Biltmore could have been saved permanently years ago! So the big lesson in this long saga is that every city and town needs to have their own historic preservation ordinance written to ensure that their historical buildings are saved.
The first threat to demolish the Biltmore was in November 2004 by the hotel owner. A developer wanted to purchase the land after the hotel was demolished. I launched my http://www.savethebiltmore.com web site a week later! My web site has been dedicated to saving all four wings since its origin. Fortunately the developer withdrew their interest due to a public outcry.
However, in April 2005, the Biltmore was again under threat of demolition by the hotel owner, and AGAIN the SAME developer was in the picture this time with a long five-month contract! Fortunately our large St. Petersburg Times newspaper put the name of my Save the Biltmore web site in their newspaper article about the Biltmore’s possible demolition. As a result hundreds of people came to my web site and dozens of Biltmore supporters wrote me offering to help. Many of their suggestions and comments are posted on my Save the Biltmore Message Board: http://www.savethebiltmore.com/BiltmoreMessageBoard.htm
A small group of us started to work towards saving the hotel via many emails throughout the day and evening. We all played different roles and did different things to help save the Biltmore. Some people donated money, and we were able to insert large full-page newspaper ads and this helped bring out some 400 people at a Belleair town meeting May 3, 2005. These large full-page newspaper ads which ran on both a Sunday and Monday were crucial in helping to gain community support and show Belleair officials the importance of saving the Biltmore. The people who showed up at this meeting were VERY angry that the Biltmore might be demolished, and many people delivered emotional speeches at that commission meeting. There was newspaper and TV coverage of this meeting. Even after this meeting, there was much media coverage of the plight of the Biltmore, magazines, newspapers, TV and radio stations. Our nonprofit group was interviewed a number of times by various media over the past few years.
(By the way the people who are trying to save the "Snack Shack" on Madeira Beach, Florida did the same thing. That is, they placed full-page newspaper ads, and this helped bring over a hundred people to the commission meeting thus showing tremendous community support)
We also had an announcement in the full-page newspaper ads to hold a public meeting in a local restaurant for Biltmore supporters on a Sunday evening. This was held to gain more ideas in person in a public setting where brain storming could occur among the participants. About 60 people showed up at this meeting. We planned on doing petitions that would allow people to vote for any land-use changes, so an attorney was hired to write up these petitions and some 400 signatures were gathered in May/June 2005. The petitions however were never used even though they were submitted. The town of Belleair sued the woman who turned in the petitions, and she did not have the money to pursue the lawsuit. This could have been a crucial step to saving the Biltmore in 2005 if these petitions could have been voted on and passed to give voters the right to choose how their land is to be developed and used. See http://www.hometowndemocracy.com a Florida state-wide effort to let voters choose development in their towns.
In the spring of 2005, we sold yard signs and T-shirts at commission meetings and around town, (also sold from my Save the Biltmore web site) and we had a fund-raising event in May 2005. Dozens of people would show up at the Belleair town meetings wearing their "Save the Biltmore" T-shirts! Some people made signs and banners and hung them in front of their buildings. Posters and flyers were hung in the local area, people spoke at town meetings to protest the demolition and many wrote emails to the commissioners via my "ONE MINUTE EMAIL" campaign from my Save the Biltmore web site. http://www.savethebiltmore.com/BelleviewBiltmoreHotelOriginalPage.htm#HOW
There were so many people who wrote Florida Trust and National Trust from my Save the Biltmore web site that these State and National organizations decided to put the Biltmore on their 2005 lists of 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. One pilot donated his time to fly a banner over Clearwater Beach, see: http://www.savethebiltmore.com/AdAirForce.Com.htm. Some people picketed (legally) and waved signs on street corners and town meetings to "Save the Biltmore "
At Belleair town meetings we gathered email addresses from supporters so I could add them to my Biltmore Update mailing list. We had a recreation vehicle limobus with a large Save the Biltmore banner at all meetings as well as selling Save the Biltmore T-shirts. Our nonprofit directors spoke at commission meetings, and we wrote letters to the town council. I personally wrote many emails to the commissioner, town manager and mayor on various subjects from 2005-2007 to encourage them to save the Biltmore. I also encouraged people to write to the hotel owner and the developer to urge them to Save the Biltmore and supplied sample letters for supporters to send to these developers so they could do this quickly and easily from my web site. We encouraged people to link their web site to my Save the Biltmore web site. Hotel employees in support of saving the hotel organized a "Save the Belleview Biltmore Foot Race Team".
For the past three years as people have signed up to be on my Biltmore Update email list, I have sent out information and news articles. These Biltmore Updates are at http://www.savethebiltmore.com/BelleviewBiltmoreUpdates.htm. Another purpose of these Updates was to encourage supporters to: write the Belleair commissioners either using a sample letter OR their own words and spread the word to friends and the community about the plight of the Biltmore. My Biltmore Updates had sample flyers to download, and supporters could print them out at home or they could take one copy and mass-produce them at the local office store so they could distribute them in their neighborhood. Through my Biltmore Update, supporters could also purchase T-shirts, yard signs and visit our online gift shop to buy our gold or silver Biltmore charm so we could put newspaper ads in to promote saving the Biltmore by raising money.
The town hired a preservation attorney in the spring of 2005 after it had been determined that the Comprehensive Plan of Belleair had been written to help save and preserve the hotel. Belleair's town manager said "The Comprehensive Plan to demolish the historic hotel runs counter to basic town rules.
Town officials now believe they can derail a plan to level the Belleview Biltmore Resort and Spa because the request is incomplete and inconsistent with the town's fundamental rules." The preservation attorney was directed by the town of Belleair to write a historic preservation ordinance, and that ordinance was completed in September 2005. Our nonprofit organization successfully pushed to have an amendment passed to this basic historic ordinance to save the public INTERIOR areas of the Biltmore. Most historic ordinances only have provisions to save the exterior of historic buildings. Because the Biltmore is so charming on the interior with much wood molding and wainscoting, original Tiffany glass, heart of pine wood, beautiful wooden floors, original "wavy" glass windows, magnificent staircases, original bar/restaurant, rooms, both magnificent ballrooms, original lobby, children’s eating area, some original furniture and SO much more, we wanted to make sure the public interior was saved in addition to saving all four exterior wings.
Meanwhile in the summer of 2005, the hotel owner was advised to rewrite their demolition permit application by the preservation attorney because it was inaccurate. The hotel owner continued to INCOMPLETELY fill out all the details correctly; and they were instructed by Belleair to keep rewriting it all summer long in 2005 until the final submission was correct and accurate in October 2005.
Unfortunately the demolition and redevelopment application that the hotel owner wrote was submitted just four hours before the preservation ordinance was to be voted on in October 2005! This same application can be transferred over to the NEW hotel owner who purchased the Biltmore June 20, 2007. This is most unfortunate news of course. However, at this point, the NEW historic preservation ordinance passed in 2005 is supposed to offer much legal protection for the Biltmore.
The Historic and Planning and Zoning Boards in Belleair voted to deny the demolition and redevelopment application by former hotel owner in the fall of 2005. When it came time for the commission to vote on the demolition application, the hotel owner’s attorney asked for an "indefinite continuance" on this application. The town’s preservation attorney suggested to the commissioners to grant the "indefinite continuance" of their demolition application to: 1. give the hotel owner more time to find a buyer and 2. to avoid a lawsuit against Belleair since the commissioners were expected to vote "no" on this demolition application. Also it was feared that the hotel owner would sue Belleair as a result of their denying the demolition permit application. Please note that this demolition permit application was NEVER denied, and it is still outstanding and most likely has been transferred over to the new Biltmore owner June 20, 2007 when the Biltmore was sold. Belleair’s town attorney only wanted a one-month continuance on the demo application but the commissioners decided to listen to the preservation attorney and approved the "indefinite continuance" instead.
In the fall of 2005, the developer’s five-month contract was about to expire. They presented their redevelopment plans at a public meeting in Belleair in September 2005. Their plans were to tear down the north and south wings of the Biltmore and keep the slighter older east and west wings only. The developer also wanted to completely destroy the historic Pelican Golf Course, which was part of the Biltmore, and build homes and a new town center in its place.
Fortunately the St. Petersburg Times and the Belleair Bee announced this September 2005 meeting date in their newspaper when the developer was coming, and hundreds of people came out to protest the tearing down of the two wings and the destruction of the golf course. This was a huge factor in the developer backing away because hundreds of people came out that night in angry protest.
By the way, Belleair is a community of about 4,000 people although hundreds of other supporters from the Tampa bay area also supported saving the Biltmore and wrote my Save the Biltmore web site. I also have many staunch supporters from outside the area in other states and in foreign countries.
The next day after the developer’s appearance in September 2005, the contract expired with the hotel owner, and they did not renew it. The developer was out of the picture thank goodness! It certainly was a long and stressful five months for us and every Biltmore supporter.
After this victory we wrote many people from 2005 until 2007 trying to find investors or hoteliers to purchase the Biltmore to save it. We had about nine serious investors and hotel owners contact my Save the Biltmore web site expressing interest in purchasing the hotel. The town of Belleair also received a few inquiries. We also met with some of the most interested investors. In March 2007 new investors signed a contract to purchase the Biltmore, and they purchased the hotel June 20, 2007. They are coming to Belleair again mid September to present their renovation plans at a Belleair town meeting. They intend to transform the Biltmore into a 4 to 5 star hotel, add a convention center to increase business, and they also say they want to keep its Victorian charm.
The new hotel owners plan on closing the hotel down for up to 18 to 24 months for renovations starting most likely sometime in September, 2007. We are very worried about accidental fires starting. We are working on this to make them and the commissioners aware of the many dangers of fires in vacant hotels and or vacant hotels under renovation. I have already found sixteen incidences of empty historic hotels, some of them burned down completely by fires, and many of them the cause is still unknown.
As you can see by reading the above, through the efforts of my Save the Biltmore web site and tremendous community support and participation, the beautiful Victorian Belleview Biltmore Hotel was saved. The new hotel owners have a wonderful plan for renovation and restoration to return the Biltmore to its former glory days. Our nonprofit organization is very excited in the next phase for the hotel, that is from saving the Biltmore to promotion and preservation. To achieve these goals, we are now offering memberships for our nonprofit at: http://www.savethebiltmore.com/BelleviewBiltmoreMemberships.htm. Memberships are for one year, and members will receive a beautiful certificate with his/her name on it including a fold-over holder along with a choice of many Biltmore gifts. We also have an online gift shop at http://www.savethebiltmore.com/BelleviewBiltmoreStore.htm with many items from Biltmore T-shirts, tote bags to gold and silver charms that help promote the saved hotel.
We also will encourage other towns to write preservation ordinances so their historic buildings may be permanently saved also.
Diane Hein, President
Save the Biltmore Preservationists, a nonprofit organization
Ed Jameson, Vice President
Doug Mann, Secretary/Treasurer
http://www.SaveTheBiltmore.com Copyright, August 30, 2007
Here is a list of the most pertinent pages on my Save the Biltmore web site:
Original web page from 2004 to June 20, 2007 http://www.savethebiltmore.com/BelleviewBiltmoreHotelOriginalPage.htm
Current Events and Alerts http://www.savethebiltmore.com/Index.htm#TODAY'S
Message Board http://www.savethebiltmore.com/BiltmoreMessageBoard.htm
Activities at the Biltmore http://www.savethebiltmore.com/BelleviewBiltmoreActivities.htm
Online Gift Shop http://www.savethebiltmore.com/BelleviewBiltmoreStore.htm
Biltmore Photos http://www.savethebiltmore.com/BiltmorePhotos.htm
Newspaper articles from 1997 to 2004 http://www.savethebiltmore.com/BelleviewBiltmoreNewspapersAndPublications.htm
Help Us Promote the Biltmore http://www.savethebiltmore.com/BelleviewBiltmoreIdeasForPromotion.htm
Biltmore Updates and Newsletter http://www.savethebiltmore.com/BelleviewBiltmoreUpdates.htm
Biltmore History http://www.savethebiltmore.com/BiltmoreHotelHistory.htm
Sign up for email list for Biltmore Updates or Contact Us http://www.savethebiltmore.com/EmailMe.htm