City picks plan for St. James

Published 8:35pm Wednesday, June 26, 2013

It was announced Tuesday that the city of Selma will take over day-to-day operations of the historic St. James hotel after July 31, ending a tumultuous relationship with Gourmet Services.

Selma Mayor George Evans told Selma City Council Members Tuesday that Gourmet Services, the management company contracted by the city to run the St. James, will hand over responsibilities at the end of the month.

The private company, Gourmet Services of Georgia, has agreed that, though they are breaking off their five-year contract with the city, they will remain in the management position until July 31, when the city will run the hotel with volunteers, individuals and organizations until another solution or lessee is found.

“We have now been officially informed by Gourmet Services through a written letter that they are planning on moving out possibly as of July 31,” Evans said. “We as a city do not have any plans of closing down the St. James. It will stay in operation.”

A committee chaired by Ward 2 Councilwoman Susan Keith, Council President Corey Bowie and Ward 4 Councilwoman Angela Benjamin is in place to work with the mayor to organize volunteers to run the hotel until it is stabilized with a new management company or individual.

“We hope [residents] of Selma will volunteer to be a part of a team to go in and assist in operation of the St James until we can get new management,” Evans said.

He said organizations and parties wanting to rent the conference rooms can still do so for special events, but they would most likely have to bring their own food or catering services.

There was no council vote that led to the decision, but out of the nine council members, two had previously voiced their opposition in the city keeping the hotel under their management.

All others referred to the hotel as an opportunity to further the planned developments of Water Avenue and build the local tourism industry — the most profitable industry in Selma and Dallas County that generates close to $3 million in revenue each year.

Ward 8 Councilman Michael Johnson previously stated that with the arrival of the new downtown Riverfront Amphitheater, the St. James would be a prime location for people to want to stay.

“It’s going to be a key part of the revenue for us because once the amphitheater finishes, people are going to want to stay,” Johnson said. “It’s already booking up, we just need to get some people in there who know how to manage it and continue on working with us. But we don’t need to sell it, we need to hold on to it.”

Ward 1 Councilman Cecil Williamson previously said he would rather see the city sell the St. James because, “the city does not need to be in the hotel business,” but said the council should take lead on the situation because of their legal obligation to oversee city finances and public buildings like the hotel.

“We definitely need to sell. Sixteen years, three mayors, and four management companies, and look at the condition it’s in,” Williamson said. “If we do the same thing again, we’re going to get the same result.”

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