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Hospitality-Tourism
Business Observer Friday, Dec. 6, 2019 1 month ago

Hotel, in shrinking total rooms, grows new obstacles

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Short on modern amenities but long on history, the Belleview Inn represents a unique hospitality marketing challenge.
by: Brian Hartz Tampa Bay Editor

The belle has returned to the ball, and although she’s dropped a few sizes, she looks better than ever.

In December 2018, St. Petersburg-based JMC Communities unveiled its 21st-century, $13 million take on the historic Belleview Biltmore Hotel in Belleair, built in 1897. Renamed the Belleview Inn, the property has been moved 100 yards from its original location and drastically reduced in size — now it offers 35 guest rooms, instead of the 455 it boasted at the height of its glory.  

The Belleview Inn is also the centerpiece of Belleview Place, a new $130 million condominium and carriage home community being built by JMC Communities. Two of the property’s four condo buildings are open, and residents are moving in. The remaining residences should be completed in the spring, says Belleview Inn Manager Ted Palmer, who worked at JMC’s Sandpearl Resort on Clearwater Beach before being promoted to his current post.

'When you’re here, I think you’re here to just kind of decompress, sit outside, read a book — just soak it up.' Ted Palmer, Belleview Inn manager

With its full-service spa and Caretta on the Gulf, a high-end restaurant, the ultra-modern Sandpearl, Palmer says, “has been a huge revenue creator” for JMC Communities. (The firm did $43 million in revenue in 2017, the last time it disclosed revenue figures.) The Belleview Inn “is almost like an amenity of that, a place where you can come and learn about history, take a step back in time.”

Yet about a year after the renovations, several obstacles linger in the effort to build up Belleview's occupancy rates.  

For one, although it’s located on a bluff that's the highest point above sea level in Florida, the Belleview Inn lacks water views due to being moved back away from the shoreline. Essentially, it’s landlocked. And although it offers a luxurious pool, hot tub and croquet lawn, it also lacks a full-service bar and restaurant, making for a unique marketing challenge for Palmer and his team of 15.

“When you’re here,” he says, “I think you’re here to just kind of decompress, sit outside, read a book — just soak it up.”

Palmer admits that occupancy, through mid-November at least, has been slow, but he expects business to pick up in season. “People are not flying in to stay here every single day,” he says, “but we just had a great weekend. Guests will usually check in on a Thursday or Friday and stay throughout the weekend.”

The Belleview Inn, Palmer says, was always going to be an event-focused hotel. Weddings in particular have proven to be a big revenue driver. So much so the sales and catering managers at the Sandpearl, he says, sell the uniqueness of the Belleview when they receive calls about events.

“Honestly, that’s what this place is going to do really well,” says Palmer, 28, who in 2013 moved to Florida from Maine, where he worked for Ocean Properties Ltd., the Portsmouth, N.H.-based hospitality management firm whose portfolio includes the Sandpearl and Belleview Inn.

Another big marketing advantage is the adjacent Belleair Country Club, home to Florida’s oldest golf course. Normally a private club, it has opened itself up to Belleview Inn guests, who can pay extra — around $80-$130 — if they want to play a round.

Mark Wemple. Ted Palmer was promoted to manager of the Belleview Inn in November.

“The golf packages have been very popular,” Palmer says. “In March and April, we had a lot of guests. [Golf] drives a lot of reservations. It’s just a great amenity because the club is private, and this has opened up a door to it.”

Despite the perks, feedback from guest surveys highlights a big gap in calling out the inn’s limited food and beverage options. The property has an on-site shop, Maisie’s Market Place, that sells snacks, coffee, tea, beer and wine, but there’s no formal dining option.

In response, Palmer and his staff offer free shuttle rides to guests who’d like to dine at Caretta on the Gulf. Belleview Inn guests can also park for free at the Sandpearl if they’d like a day at the beach — a big selling point in parking-challenged Clearwater Beach.

There’s no plan to add a full-service restaurant, but in keeping with the property’s throwback vibes, Palmer has and instituted a fully catered piano night from 5-9 p.m. every Saturday.

“We get a little cheese and bread set up and have a beer and wine bar,” he says. “We’ll set up cocktail tables. But that’s the only time we have a fully functioning bar.”

Palmer thinks communal events, such as the piano night, will help generate buzz for the property. Belleview Place residents already treat the inn like a clubhouse, gathering there in the evenings as they stroll the grounds or enjoy the pool. “This is their social hub,” he says. “It’s almost like a gazebo.”

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