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Beach community shares excitement, concerns for Belhaven Hotel

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A rendering of the proposed Belhaven Hotel, a four-story hotel with commercial space on the ground floor and an underground parking structure | DBT PHOTO COURTESY FILLAT + ARCHITECTURE

REHOBOTH BEACH — For more than six decades, the Belhaven Hotel, owned by the Papajohn family, was a focal point for downtown Rehoboth Beach. Now, they hope to bring its charm back with a modern flare.

The property is located at 2 Rehoboth Ave. and has been in the family for more than a century; property records trace the family’s ownership to before 1900. John Papajohn and his son Alex, owners of the now multi-generational property, have now been working for more than seven years with architects, city leadership and others to perfect plans for the new-again, but historic Belhaven Hotel, hoping to recreate at least some of its previously loved charm.

Architect Peter Fillat, owner of Fillat + Architecture of Baltimore, Md., told the Rehoboth Beach Planning Commission during its June meeting that the family hopes to create a world-class hotel on what he called the “corner of the finest piece of real estate in the greatest state in the country.”

According to the seventh iteration of building plans which were presented to the commission, the 92-room hotel will also feature 94-spaces of underground parking, a 27,000 square foot ballroom and “all of the amenities associated with a five-star hotel.”

The Papajohn’s also plan on highlighting mixed uses by including around 20,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor. Today, the property makes up an iconic corner of the resort, right across the boardwalk from Dolle’s Candyland sat for decades..  Plans discussed by Fillat included current business staples such as Candy Kitchen. 

“It’s a dynamite piece of real estate in a dynamite community,” Fillat said during the June Planning Commission meeting. “It’s not a simple project; it’s not a simple shape. . .  I didn’t realize that there existed a Belhaven Hotel until I met Mr. Papajohn.”

The hotel that previously stood at the same location donned a white and green roof with iconic architecture,” which Fillat added the Papajohn’s hope to recover during their construction process.

“This beautiful building existed from like 1898 to 1962,” he added. “I showed up seven years later and I’d say most of my generation did not know this existed. . . To know that there was actually something, from an architect’s point of view, substantially more interesting there before this really got me excited about the opportunity.”

While the excitement was nearly tangible during the Planning Commission’s June meeting for the creation of “today’s amenities with yesterday’s charm,” as President and CEO of the Rehoboth-Dewey Chamber of Commerce Carol Everhart put it, concerned views rang loud and clear by others.

Dr. Michael Trahos, whose family owns several blocks of properties in downtown Rehoboth Beach including the former Nicola Pizza locations, and Go Fish! owner Alison Blyth were both among those who gave a different story about the proposed hotel plans.

“I wish everyone here, including the public, to understand that it is not that I have opposed the structure to be built. For years, I have made it very clear that we are in support of the building of a new hotel at that location. The issue at hand has been the adjacent properties, including myself, for which there has now been determined to be significant risks associated with FEMA – hydrostatic pressures and liquefaction risk and collapse,” Trahos explained to commissioners.

“Two months ago, the engineer. . . made a comment that if certain measures are taken to underpin our structures before construction becomes, there is risk of my properties collapsing. This application is still not right for review and not right for acceptance. There are too many outstanding issues and, in particular, the underpinning issues that are supposed to be done. Everybody knows that this hotel will be built sound and it will not collapse, it will not flood, but nobody is talking about the adjacent property owners and the risk that they are undertaking as a result of this construction,” Trahos continued.

The Planning Commission’s June meeting included a public hearing for the location, but it did not complete the hearing prior to the close of the meeting. It will continue during the upcoming meeting to be held July 12. 

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