Strides being made to sustain the St. James Hotel

Published 9:06pm Thursday, August 15, 2013

Details emerged Tuesday at the Selma City Council meeting as to the true condition of the St. James Hotel after the management company Gourmet Services left the facility on Aug. 1 — leaving Selma volunteers to run the place until another company shows interest.

Volunteers who have worked at the historic hotel since the city took over day-to-day control, said in a report to the council that apart from things like sheets being in tatters, the reputation of the hotel post-Gourmet Services, is one that is badly damaged.

Nancy Smith and Patty Sexton have stayed at the hotel each night as volunteers answering telephones, changing bedding and said they have been on their hands and knees scrubbing a fair amount of the time.

“We have been busy cleaning and busy scouring more things to clean,” Smith told the council, admitting that though the response has been overwhelmingly positive since the volunteer take-over at the hotel, they still have a long way to go in working to get the hotel where they want it to be.

Smith said one day when she was sitting in the lobby of the St. James Hotel during the last week of Gourmet Service’s management, she watched as a hotel employee turned potential customers away to a neighboring hotel.

“I listened as a young man behind the desk recommended the people who were interested in staying in Selma, perhaps should go to the Hampton Inn,” Smith said. “They turned people away while I was sitting there; literally turned people away.”

She said tattered sheets had been piled in the laundry room for months and so she was going through them, deciphering which ones could be in use, and which ones should be donated to the Selma Animal Shelter.

But Smith said since she and Sexton, and other volunteers, have begun their services and started offering a continental breakfast, she has high hopes for the hotel.

“We have had extremely positive responses from people who are coming into the hotel to book rooms who have said, ‘You have made my day by smiling and welcoming us to the hotel by just being here and actually answering the phone,’” Smith said.

Selma Mayor George Evans commended the two volunteer leaders and asked the council to approve $10,000 to be used for temporary employees at the hotel to work along side the volunteers.

Ward 4 Councilmember Angela Benjamin urged the council to approve the use of funds for hotel employment because, she said, those funds were already in place for the St. James Hotel and did not have to be reallocated from another budget.

The council approved the use of funds unanimously.

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