Biltmore hotel owners want to tear it down - WFLA News Channel 8

Biltmore hotel owners want to tear it down

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The White Queen of the Gulf could come down. While preservationists continue their fight to try to save the Biltmore Hotel, the property's current owners are talking to Belleair town officials about tearing it down to build condos and townhouses.

"I guess it's a feeling of emptiness," said Belleair Mayor Gary Katica as he looked up at the building on a recent tour with News Channel 8.  "Presidents stayed here. Everybody came here to see it."

The hotel, built by railroad tycoon Henry Plant, opened to the public in 1897 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

Now its signature green roof is torn apart. The Biltmore's windows are boarded up. The doors have remained locked to the public since the last guests checked out in 2009.

Nearly all of the furniture and fixtures were sold at auction.  Katica says the only valuable property still inside is the stained glass in the Tiffany ballroom.  After years of neglect, ceilings in other rooms are now covered in mold and the floors are crumbling.

Katica says the town loses about $800,000 in tax revenue and utility fees each year it sits empty.

"We've had to lay people off.  We've had to raise the millage rate for years," he explained.

Katica said he hopes an investor steps in soon to restore the property.

"That would be better for the town. That's what I'm most interested in is what's best for Belleair," said Katica.

He admits the prospects look bleak since it would cost more than $150 million to restore the hotel to its former glory.  Katica said residents in nearby condos regularly complain about the blight behind the tall chain link fence.

An attorney for the owners, the Ades Brothers, said they will meet with the Belleair Commission in October.  If they get a "favorable response" they plan to apply for a demolition permit.  Their plans calls for two high-rise condo buildings and 36 townhouses.

"I can't even imagine what it would be like without it," said Katica.  "You know, one thing you learn in life is it's a series of adjustments."

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