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$130M Belleair development ramps up on site of historic Belleview Biltmore Hotel

Once the winter playground for wealthy northerners escaping the cold, the Belleview Biltmore Hotel first opened to the public in 1897. Thomas Edison, Babe Ruth, the Duke of Windsor, many U.S. presidents, and even singer Bob Dylan were among guests of the Clearwater hotel that enjoyed a reputation as the “White Queen of the Gulf [of Mexico].”

Built by railroad magnet Henry Plant, the hotel sat on the bluff overlooking Clearwater Harbor and had distinctive Victorian-era architecture with an iconic New England-style white wood exterior and green-sloped roof, Tiffany-era leaded glass and beautiful oak tongue and groove heart pine flooring.

According to JMC Communities, Plant built the hotel to increase tourist traffic to the area and promote future Florida real estate development, in which he had invested. The site not only had clear views of Clearwater’s harbor, but there was a freshwater spring nearby.

The original hotel had 145 rooms, each with a view of the Gulf, and was constructed with native Florida pine. A second building housed hotel employees during the “four month season.” The hotel was not occupied during the summer until the 1950s when air conditioning was added. Like many similar luxury hotels in the Tampa Bay region, it was occupied by troops during World War II.

After more than a century of activity, the hotel closed in 2009, and began a steady decline toward disrepair, due to age, lack of maintenance and neglect. Its future was uncertain and controversial, with many area residents fighting to see the building preserved and various developers considering its demolition.

In 2015, JMC Communities, led by CEO Mike Cheezem, bought the hotel and 20-acre property for $6.2 million with the vision of creating an upscale residential development of condos and townhomes.

In what Cheezem calls a “win-win” for the hotel’s legacy, JMC Communities invested another $13 million to rescue, relocate and renovate a 38,000-square-foot section of the hotel that included the lobby and 35 guest rooms.  

“The portion we decided to save was the most architecturally striking and had been there the longest and was the best built,” says Cheezem.

Today, the historic structure is part of the Belleview Inn, a new boutique hotel and amenity center that serves as the centerpiece of Belleview Place, JMC Communities new residential community built on the former Belleview Biltmore Hotel site.

“It was just so evident how important it was to preserve all the memories associated with the hotel,” says Cheezem.  This was a popular place for weddings, graduation parties and reunions, and it was certainly a landmark structure that stood out not only for the region but also the whole state of Florida.  

“Back in 1897 this area was just a wilderness and the hotel really was a catalyst for developing the west coast of Florida,” says Cheezem. “People were coming down in their own private railroad cars and staying for the season.”

Plans call for Belleview Place to have a total of 131 residences, a combination of 104 mid-rise condominiums and 28 two-story carriage homes/townhomes. Cheezem estimates the projected value of the new community to be around $130 million at completion.

The first of four condo buildings, the Allamanda, is now under construction and fully sold out, says Cheezem. Sales for the second building, Brightwater, started in March.  

The first residents are expected to move in by early 2018. Residents will have access to all of the amenities in the new development and to the adjacent Belleair Country Club, which features two championship golf courses, a marina, fitness center and resort pool, as well as restaurant and bar.

In addition to JMC Design & Development, key professionals involved in the community’s development include architects BSB Design; civil engineers Florida Design Consultants; and Phil Graham Landscape Architecture.  

Additional professionals include the Tamara Peacock Company, the designer and conceptual architect for the Belleview Inn; Decker Ross Interiors, interior design for the Belleview Place Carriage Homes; Kay Green Design, interior design for the condominiums; and Sims Patrick Studio, interior design for the Belleview Inn.

In a news release about the community, Cheezem says: “No other community in Florida boasts such a fascinating and treasured history and such a unique combination of amenities: a fabulous location on a Clearwater bluff, two championship golf courses and a restored, boutique inn that continues the legacy and elegance of the Belleview Biltmore Hotel.”

Read more articles by Janan Talafer.

Janan Talafer is a feature writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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