St. Louis native has plans for St. James

Published 6:25pm Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Though the Request for Proposals process is still underway, city officials have already announced a top candidate in the search for a manager of the St. James — a self-made millionaire from St. Louis.

Michael Roberts, of Roberts Hotels, was one of seven proposals reviewed Tuesday at the St. James Committee meeting.

Committee chairwoman Susan Keith said Roberts Hotels’ credentials make it one of the better proposals received.

“That group invests not just in the hotel, but the community that he goes into, that’s the impression I get,” Keith said. “That’s the one I’m leaning toward.”

Roberts Hotels wowed other city officials when representatives traveled to Selma before Thanksgiving and had lunch with city employees. Roberts also stayed in the hotel.

Sharon Tyus, a member of St. Louis’ city council, who lives in the same ward as the Roberts family, said Michael has made a significant investment in the community.

“I think Mike and Steve, (his brother), have a vision,” Tyus said. “They know how to rehab properties. If you have a city council willing to work with them, I think the hotel project will be a success.”

Roberts didn’t list specific contract terms in the St. James proposal, but talked candidly about the hotel’s potential when contacted by the Times-Journal.

He began by addressing the hotel’s condition and estimating that renovations would cost approximately $2 million to complete.

“There are a variety of construction renovations that’s needed — painting, there’s a lot of rust on some of the columns, parts of the roof are leaking,” Roberts said. “In the old part of the hotel, we walked into one of the hallways and the ceiling had dropped.”

The renovations Robert said are needed to make the hotel “world-class” included: a facelift for all of the rooms, new carpeting and flooring, a new phone system, new mattresses, flat-screen TVs and additional parking.

All of Roberts’ hotels are larger than the St. James, which may be a concern. The closest Roberts-owned hotel is the Riverwalk Hotel in Detroit with slightly more than 100 rooms. Roberts said he would like the to see an additional 40 to 50 rooms added to the St. James.

In order for the hotel to be well-known and successful, he said the St. James, should also blend history with modern conveniences.

“It has to create its own brand and mystique, that’s how I see it,” Roberts said.

Though his hotel chain still remains in multiple states, Roberts sold three hotels — in Tampa, Spartanburg, S.C. and Marietta, Ga. — for more than $5 million as a way to pay off debtors in a $34 million lawsuit by Bank of America, according to court documents. He sold a Houston hotel in February for $2.1 million in relation to the suit.

Roberts also sold three TV stations — in St. Louis, Columbia S.C. and Evansville, Ind. — owned by his broadcasting company this month as part of a settlement agreement in a 2011 bankruptcy case, according to court documents.

He said bankruptcy is a tool and wouldn’t affect his company’s management of the St. James because the case related to limited liability companies. Limited liability companies protect firms from suing debtors for personal finances.

“Unless you’re forced into bankruptcy, which I’m not, you use it as a tool to reorganize,” Roberts said. “(The economic crisis) pushed the hotels into difficulty from a banking perspective and by that I mean the banks decided that they were not going to refinance the hospitality business. When you can’t write a check for $40, or $50 or $60 million, then you have no choice but to protect yourself with bankruptcy and sell your hotels to pay off the banks.”

Roberts Hotels was one of seven the council reviewed. Others included: RevPar Management, based in Cary, N.C.; Taylor Baxter, a student at AUM; and Christopher Peirera; from Tuscaloosa.

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