Council at odds over future of St. James Hotel

Published 11:47pm Thursday, September 26, 2013

By Josh Bergeron

The Selma Times-Journal

 

The St. James Hotel isn’t currently self-sustainable.

The city of Selma has spent $25,000 since Aug. 1 to keep the St. James Hotel running after the management company, Gourmet Services, backed out of their contract to run the city-owned facility in July.

According to records, the hotel has generated $15,000 in revenue through fundraisers and renting out hotel rooms since the first of August, but has nearly $26,000 in unpaid bills.

In order to keep the hotel operational, Selma Mayor George Evans detailed the hotel’s budget during the city council’s Tuesday meeting.

The city transferred $10,000 that was already included in the budget for the St. James, as well as an additional $25,000 that was originally intended to purchase a new trolley.

Evans said operating the hotel has been a process of figuring out how to best manage expenses.

“Right now we are really just trying to come up with an average monthly operational fee, but it’s clear the expenses exceed the amount that the hotel collects.” Evans said.

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 subsidized the hotel’s operations.

Ward 1 city councilman Cecil Williamson said the city’s current methods of funding the hotel are unacceptable.

“The city cannot continue to subsidize the hotel,” Williamson said. “I don’t think the city should be competing with private business. We are taking people’s tax dollars and using it against them.”

But Ward 2 councilwoman Susan Keith was in opposition to Williamson, saying the city should continue funding the hotel until a buyer or lessee is found.

“It is a city property and a city expense,” Keith said. “We need to fund it. We have to fund it.”

Keith, who is the chairwoman of the council’s hotel committee, said she is also looking into other funding sources for the hotel, such as discretionary money or writing grants to make repairs to the hotel.

“There are lots of things that need to be done in repairs to make the hotel marketable before we sell or lease it,” she said. “Our goal is to try to generate enough income to make the hotel sustainable until we sell it.”

The city has received calls from two companies, interested in running the hotel, but Evans said the city hasn’t made any firm plans.

Evans said the city would review the status of the hotel at the end October.

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