Belleair - Per the request made by mayor George Mariani, at Belleair's December 20, 2005 town commission meeting, representatives of Largo Fire and Rescue (LF&R) and the Belleview Biltmore Resort were present at a special meeting Tuesday. The representatives explained their positions concerning the fire department's proposal to create a team of experts to assess the hotel and bring it into complete fire code compliance.
Sam Downing, chief operating officer of Belleview Biltmore Resort Ltd and Vice President and COO of Trust Hotels , said, "First and foremost let me lay to rest miscommunication from news articles. Rest assured that we do everything in our power to insure the safety of our guests and staff."
Downing described the hotel's relationship with LF&R as a working, cooperative one. He explained that the hotel was not entirely up to snuff three years ago when they acquired it.
Richard Wilhelm, CEO and Managing Director of Belleview Biltmore Resorts and President and CEO of Trust Hotels said, "Our staff is well trained. We have a risk management team that meets weekly. We have very strong concrete fire exits that are kept clear and lit. We have a state of the art zoned fire alarm system."
LF&R hasn't been the only agency to inspect the hotel. Said Wilhelm, "We have liability insurance that inspects the hotel each year and we have workman's compensation insurance that inspects twice a year. The truth of the matter is that the Belleview is an extremely sound hotel."
LF&R Chief Jeff Bullock told the commission that LF&R had inspected the hotel in November which resulted in a decision to give the hotel 30 days to assemble a team of experts -- architects and structural engineers-- to give their expertise and join with the fire department in "…developing a time line for a comprehensive plan to bring the hotel into compliance with Florida code."
Bullock said that the state established code has a section, which gives considerations to historical structures, but that it doesn't negate mandatory safety measures. "We're following the code as we would do for any hotel," he said.
Bullock said the time line is important because, "We didn't want them to throw money at a property that may be demolished." According to Downing, the hotel has contracted with a structural engineer and an architect that has worked on the hotel in the past as part of the team LF&R is requesting them to engage for their expertise.
Last year, the hotel was nominated for placement on the National Trust for Historic Preservation's list of 11 most endangered places. The Clearwater Gazette contacted the Trust inquiring if they would be taking part in the Belleview's assessment.
John Hildreth Director Southern Office, National Trust for Historic Preservation said, "The National Trust is not involved with the team coming in for the assessment. We are very encouraged to see that work is progressing toward the preservation of the Belleview Biltmore. It is our strong belief that the property can be sympatheticly restored as an economically viable hotel.
"Once the Belleview is rehabbed, we hope it will join our Historic Hotels of America Program. Such an institution can contribute significantly to the sense of place that Belleair has," said Hildreth.
"Our web site www.nationaltrust.org has information about the Belleview Biltmore's inclusion on our 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list, as well as links to information for historic home owners. We also have information on our Historic Hotels of America there."
National Trust Historic Hotels of America (HHA) has identified 210 quality hotels that have faithfully maintained their historic architecture and ambiance. To be selected, hotels must be at least 50 years old, listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places or recognized locally as having historic significance. The Belleview Biltmore is 108 years old and has been listed in the registry since 1979.
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