Is this truly time, money well spent?

Published 10:47pm Saturday, September 21, 2013

By Josh Bergeron
The Selma Times-Journal

The Selma City Council may not be using its time wisely.

The council raised approximately $1,600 for the St. James Hotel at a benefit event Tuesday, but its time may be better spent focusing on more important matters — such as a $500,000 shortage in sales tax, a pending $375,000 lawsuit and a troubling infrastructure problem.

Gourmet Services vacated the city-owned hotel Aug. 1 after cancelling their contract with the city early. Since then, volunteers have run the hotel and the city has poured thousands of dollars into its maintenance.

The city transferred approximately $10,000 to the hotel last month and the city council is considering transferring $15,000 in funds that it originally planned to invest in a trolley system, Selma Mayor George Evans said.

Ward 2 Councilwoman Susan Keith said the city also plans to host more events at the hotel to keep the hotel open.

Neither fundraising events nor transfers are a sustainable way to maintain the hotel long-term.

Instead, the city should look to lease the hotel to another company before the year’s end.

But let’s be clear. I’m not advocating for a quick fix and all the councilmembers don’t need to be involved. The city should designate a certain group of council members to spearhead the hotel’s lease, while others continue business as usual or take on projects of their own.

Some of the sale process is under way. With minimal effort, the city has already received calls from potential tenants.

Evans says two groups have expressed interest in leasing the hotel. A Virginia-based company wants to conduct a search for companies interested in leasing the hotel, he said.

Evans said he is waiting to receive a proposal from the groups interested in leasing the hotel and is uninterested in contracting the Virginia group.

But are two groups enough?

Surely there are more companies interested in running a hotel, restaurant and bar that was built in 1837 and remains a treasure in downtown Selma.

Instead of conducting a search and choosing a tenant, city officials should focus their attention on leasing the hotel to a world-class group.

A successful search could be the key to revitalizing downtown Selma.

A proper search would be nationwide, but shouldn’t include some national chain, just looking to make a profit. The city should choose a company that not only wants to lease the hotel, but also make renovations. The hotel isn’t perfect.

Evans said roof repairs, a new heating/cooling system, carpet repairs and painting are all potential items on a renovation list.

The St. James Hotel is a diamond in the rough, but Selma should focus on making the hotel its crown jewel.

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