City officials and volunteers will take over upkeep of the historic St. James Hotel as Gourmet Services terminates their contract. --Sarah Cook
City officials and volunteers will take over upkeep of the historic St. James Hotel as Gourmet Services terminates their contract. -- Sarah Cook

Volunteers poised to run the St. James starting Thursday

Published 6:51pm Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Thursday marks the first day of the end of a contract between the city of Selma and Gourmet Services, a management company based out of Atlanta that has leased the St. James Hotel since 2007. Thursday, the city of Selma will take the reins and continue services at the hotel with a staff of volunteers who plan to do everything from cook continental breakfasts to arrange fresh flowers in the rooms.

Gourmet Services exited their five-year contract early through an announcement to the city in late June.

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 will have someone here answering the phone and working at the desk full time,” Patty Sexton, a volunteer and member of the committee said. “People think there are just going to be volunteers working the hotel, but there are also going to be city workers who are working double time — working their normal jobs and then coming and working here for nothing extra. The mayors office, planning and development — those departments are functioning in double capacities.”

Sexton said volunteers working at the St. James have many different roles. Ones who are more knowledgeable will hold positions at the front desk while others will simply be doing tasks like dusting decorations.

As of Thursday, Aug. 1 a volunteer will be answering the phone throughout the business day and taking reservations for rooms. Volunteer Nancy Smith said she plans to stay at the hotel overnight to assist guests in any way possible and she will also be working with booking until a management company or offer comes along.

“If anyone would like to volunteer at the St. James they can,” Sexton said, who explained there are three different capacities in which volunteers can serve.

There is a Friendly Faces volunteer team dedicated to greeting those at the hotel and assisting elderly visitors with their bags.

A Flowers and Fluffers team will work to put out freshly cut flowers around the hotel and make sure the air quality is great and other elements of the atmosphere appear fresh.

They will also help make up beds and clean bathrooms.

“The Furniture and Fixings committee, what they will do is everyday they will make sure furniture is in place, the rooms are straight,” Smith said. “Volunteers can take a dust rag and dust, you can go over to a lampshade and make it straight again. With service in a hotel — the devil is in the details. People will notice the handle hanging off of a cabinet. I notice it when I go into a hotel, other people will too. So we want to check and make sure the rooms are straight and the rooms are pleasant and welcoming.”

Sexton, who worked in planning and development for the city previously and also served on the intitial committee that renovated the hotel said this is not the first time the city has run the hotel on its own. In 2007, the hotel transitioned between two management companies, and for 90 days Sexton said the city ran the hotel and there was cash flow for the city in the hotel during that period.

“We have invested too much time and this property is too valuable to let anything happen to it now,” Sexton said.

Those interested in volunteering should call the St. James Hotel on Thursday, Aug. 1 at (334) 872-3234.

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