Biltmore To Begin Repairs With County Coral Gables Funds
By Paola Iuspa
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With funds from Miami-Dade County and the City of Coral Gables just lined up, the Biltmore Hotel is ready to start repairing its tower and shoring up the 76-year-old cupola, declared unsafe almost four months ago.
The work could cost up to $1.8 million and be completed in 6 months, said Gene Prescott, hotel president. While the city committed $450,000, the county approved $225,000 for that job and the hotel plans to pay the rest, he said.
The city, which owns the building, was the grant applicant, said Mr. Prescott. A 99-year lease held by his company, Seaway, began in 1986 under another management firm.
One of the county’s highest points – west of downtown Miami – the 19-story tower is use as a platform for the Coral Gables’ police, fire and emergency communication system antenna, Mayor Don Slesnick said. Used during Hurricane Andrew in 1992, the Gables emergency operation serves other cities as well in times of a disaster, he said.
"That use contributed to the structural damage," Mr. Prescott said.
Mr. Slesnick said it was fair for the county to share repair costs because Miami-Dade benefits from the many regional and international visitors who come to the Mediterranean-style hotel, built in 1926.
"Designated a National Historic Landmark," Mr. Slesnick said, "the hotel attracts people from all over the world." The US Department of Interior designated the building as such in 1996.
National and overseas government groups often choose the Biltmore to hold public policy debates and seminars on socials and economic issues affecting the Americas, he said.
Miami-Dade yearly funds municipal capital improvement projects if they meet requisites based on safety issues or historic preservation, said Javier Alberto Soto, chief of staff to county Mayor Alex Penelas. He said in August he received a $250,000 request from Mayor Slesnick and his office recommended county commission approval. But commissioners two weeks ago approved the lowered amount.
Mr. Soto said his office got similar requests from the City of Miami, which asked for $750,000 to host the ESPN Extreme Games next year but got $475,000, and the City of North Miami, which asked for $1.9 million for a park but got nothing.
"We don’t lobby for any of them," Mr. Soto said. "When they make the request through our office, we advise them to reach out each commissioner and ask for their support."