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Architect would remake Biltmore

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The Orlando architect for the developers says their plans include using part of the hotel in a town center. By AARON SHAROCKMAN Published August 10, 2005 BELLEAIR – The Tampa builder wanting to redevelop the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa has hired a noted Orlando architect to plan an American-style Main Street fusing vestiges of the landmark hotel with a new town hall, library and park. Don Evans, an architect of megahomes and masterplanned communities across the state, told a Florida building conference audience last month he was designing the remake of the key Belleair properties. Earlier, he shared similar details in a meeting with Pinellas County Property Appraiser Jim Smith and a colleague from Alachua County, the St. Petersburg Times has learned. Evans did not specify where the town center would be built – on the 20-acre hotel property or the larger nearby golf course – or how many homes would be incorporated into the community. But observers say the disclosure, which comes after months of public silence, is the strongest signal yet that DeBartolo Development is serious in its pursuit to redevelop the 19th century resort. The Tampa company said in April it has a contract to purchase the hotel and its 18-hole golf course on Indian Rocks Road. The news also comes as preservationists mount their own campaign to spare the wooden hotel, which already has been named one of the country’s most endangered historic places by the the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The plan elements revealed by Evans could be part of a DeBartolo strategy to win community support, said Frank Maggio, president of First Dartmouth Homes, who originally partnered with DeBartolo to purchase the Biltmore before a deal fell through in January. “If Evans is working with DeBartolo, it would appear to be a viable route that a developer would take to ensure a plan is designed to meet as many needs of the community as possible,” Maggio said. “It sounds as something that may very well be happening.” Speaking last month at the Southeast Building Conference in Orlando, Evans told conference guests of DeBartolo’s plans and his involvement in the project. He later talked about the concept with a Times reporter, before he was stopped by his company’s marketing director. In April, Evans discussed the Biltmore with property appraisers Smith and Ed Crapo over lunch at a meeting of the International Association of Assessing Officers’ Florida chapter, both men said last week. Back then, Smith didn’t know what to make of Evans’ remarks, with all the rumors swirling around the graying hotel. Belleair town officials, meanwhile, say they did not know DeBartolo is considering a new town hall, library and park for the Biltmore site. None are needed, or particularly coveted, both Town Manager Steve Cottrell and Mayor George Mariani said Tuesday. “It would be nice if they would solicit some input,” the town manager said. DeBartolo’s president, Ed Kobel, could not be reached for comment. Evans, of the Evans Group, failed to return several messages. As an architect, Evans, 60, is a highly regarded designer whose work has affected communities big and small, including some in Tampa Bay. “He seems to be like always a step ahead of everyone on innovative thoughts,” said Ron Weisser, president of Lindell Properties in Tampa. “I’ve never seen a project he did that didn’t turn out unbelievable.” Evans has designed town centers in Florida, Texas and Delaware, and homes and communities across the country. In Melissa, Texas, Evans planned an 80-acre downtown with a city hall, library and shops at its heart, said Douglas Box, the town’s administrator. In Harmony, Fla., developer James Lentz is creating an 11,000-acre city off Evans’ plan. “He understood this mission,” Lentz said of the designer. Evans is flashy as far as architects go, colleagues say. He drives a red Corvette. His Web site, www.theevansgroup.com pumps out heavy jazz. He coined terms “good morning room” and “gathering room.” His Orlando headquarters is built like a small town. The main corridor is marked with street signs and called the Boulevard of Dreams. Offices have peaked roofs like homes. Park benches line the way. In 29 years, his firm has won some 500 national and regional design awards. “He’s amazing in terms of creative talent,” Weisser said. The 244-unit Biltmore has been failing financially despite $11-million in improvements, according to its current owner, Urdang & Associates, of Pennsylvania. They want to sell the property for redevelopment. Times staff writers Judy Stark and Chris Sherman contributed to this report. Aaron Sharockman can be reached at 727 445-4160 or asharockman@sptimes.com ARCHITECTURAL PROJECTS Architect Don Evans of Orlando planned mansions for baseball slugger Barry Bonds and pro golfer Ernie Els. Other standout projects: WILDERNESS LAKE PRESERVE, Land O’Lakes: A 680-acre residential development with 1,000 home sites planned. Honored by the Pasco County Building Association with 2005 awards for “Best Streetscape,” “Best Amenities” and “Community of the Year.” CASA LINDA, Pinellas Park: A 7,630-square-foot house that includes a 600-bottle wine cellar, a hidden “safe room,” cypress ceilings, and a two-level theater room, among other touches. HARMONY, Southeast of Orlando: An 11,000-acre community planned for up to 18,000 residents will include a grocery store, school, town center, shops, office space and a golf course. TARPON POINT MARINA, Cape Coral: A six-community development with a mix of single-family homes, condos and resort hotel rooms. Dock space, shops and waterfront dining will center the community. Source: http://www.sptimes.com/2005/08/10/Northpinellas/Architect_would_remak.shtml
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