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Cabana Club may have date with wrecking ball

A Victorian-style hotel would take its place on Sand Key.

By JOSE CARDENAS, Times Staff Writer
Published February 7, 2008

The Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa's owner wants to build this hotel on Sand Key where the existing Cabana Club stands.
[Special to the Times]

CLEARWATER - The new owner of the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa has filed plans to tear down the resort's beach club on Sand Key.

Gone would be the existing Cabana Club and its two restaurants.

In its place would be a six-floor, Victorian-style boutique hotel with 38 rooms and a new restaurant.

Legg Mason Real Estate Investors bought the Cabana Club in June along with the Belleview Biltmore across Clearwater Harbor in Belleair.

The Los Angeles company filed redevelopment plans for the Cabana Club on Friday with the city of Clearwater. It had already filed plans with the town of Belleair to renovate the main resort.

Clearwater officials could approve the plans as early as April 15. Representatives of Legg Mason said the combined construction cost for both projects could be $150-million. Work could start as early as 2009.

The company, which paid nearly $30.3-million for the historic landmark, hopes guests of the eventually restored Biltmore will have the option to boat across the water and stay at the Cabana Club hotel on the Gulf of Mexico.

"The cabana project is an enhancement to the overall historic preservation that begins in Belleair," said George Rahdert, the St. Petersburg attorney who represents the company. Rahdert also represents the St. Petersburg Times.

"It will allow guests to enjoy our beaches," he said.

The 110-year-old Biltmore is one of Pinellas County's most significant historic structures.

Among other things, Legg Mason aims to make ample restorations to the lobby, the spa, parking lot, ball and dining rooms. The number of rooms would go from 244 to 435.

Across the water, other work at the Cabana Club would include tearing down two restaurants and replacing them with one. The hotel would have cabanas on the western side of the hotel.

Legg Mason promises a "first-class" hotel.

Some Sand Key residents have historically opposed additional development on their island. Though not all neighbors have signed off on the Cabana Club plans, some say the project is acceptable.

"Quite frankly, the new plans have taken into account an awful lot of the issues that we had in mind that initially would not be to our pleasing," said George Mitrovich, president of the Cabana Club Condominium Association.

Though the condo association members' homes are next to the Cabana Club, Mitrovich said the proposed new building will not block the property owners' views of the water.

James Warner, a Realtor and Sand Key resident, said the low density of 38 units should satisfy some critics.

"The issue is going to be view alteration," he said. People "were very vocal the last time. They don't want that building there."

Project architect Richard Heisenbottle said Legg Mason is asking for a variance that would allow six floors.

But even with the variance, he pointed out, the hotel would be shorter than the buildings nearby.

Still, it's not possible to completely address the concerns of people to the east of the hotel whose views would be blocked, Heisenbottle said.

But he added that Legg Mason has made modifications to the plans. They included putting additional space between the hotel and the buildings to the north and south to allow for better views in between.

Others have complained of potential noise when the guests from the Biltmore arrive at the Cabana Club by boat.

To address that, Heisenbottle said, Legg Mason is exploring switching to a different boat slip farther away.

"We are committed to try to work with the neighbors as much as we can and to mitigate the impact of our project," he said.

Jose Cardenas can be reached at or 727 445-4224.

Cabana Club redevelopment

- Six-floor, Victorian-style hotel

- 38 rooms

- New restaurant

- Transportation between the new hotel and the main Belleview Biltmore resort by both van and boat

[Last modified February 6, 2008, 21:35:36]

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