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Sale of St. James discussed by Council

Charles Bonner walked up to the Selma City Council in his black cowboy boots and dark blue double-breasted pinstripe suit and explained his vision for the future of the St. James.

“The vision that I have is creating a hotel called the St. James Global Peace Center,” the San Francisco Civil Rights attorney said, “(a) mediation center to solve global conflicts.”

Bonner also said he would turn the St. James into a five-star facility, help revitalize the downtown area and turn Water Avenue into an artists colony.

Bonner met with the City Council and current St. James leaseholder Larry Striplin Sunday to discuss the fate of the historic structure.

He admitted that he had big plans, but was more than willing to back them up with his vision for the hotel.

“That’s a bold idea. I have accomplished bold things in my life so I can dream boldly,” the son of an Orrville farmer told the Council.

While the Council supports Bonner’ takeover of the hotel, there are some obstacles. City Attorney Jimmy Nunn is researching several issues, hoping to smooth the process.

The Council discussed some of those questions at last night’s meeting, including why Bonner must go through the Council to take over the hotel.

According to Nunn, the city owns the building, which it leases to Larry Striplin for $100 per month.

Striplin asked the Council to release the loan to Bonner, and endorsed him thoroughly.

“I don’t think you could find a better man,” he said.

Striplin said that not taking Bonner’s proposal wouldn’t be in the city’s best interest.

“We sometimes tend to put our foot down and start shooting holes into it,” he said.

Bonner also outlined 19 improvements to the building that must be dealt with soon, including rotted support beams, oxidized paint and new light fixtures in all the hotel bathrooms.

Bonner said these defects would cost about $500,000 to fix.

Bonner asked for help in funding the improvements, and suggested that the city could raise lodging taxes or float a bond issue to pay for them, or part of them.

Some members of the Council believe Striplin is responsible for the repairs.

“It seems we are letting him (Striplin) off the hook,” Councilwoman Bennie Ruth Crenshaw said at the end of the work session. “I would not dare want you to walk into a situation where this hotel is losing (about) $10,000 a month.”

Bonner explained his understanding of Striplin’s difficulties and said he was ready to take on the project.

“It’s not his fault,” Bonner said. “Mr. Striplin is the victim of embezzlement.”

Bonner was referring to an episode that occurred shortly after Striplin took over the hotel. A high-ranking employee allegedly took more than $150,000 over an extended period.

Despite Crenshaw’s` misgivings, Bonner said he was ready to commit and outlined his plan for the St. James

“It is my goal and I will succeed in making this hotel a five-star hotel,” Bonner said.

In addition, Bonner wants to bring more businesses downtown by bringing more of Selma’s residents downtown to live in the second- and third-floors of downtown buildings.

He said the model has worked well in Oakland, Calif.

Bonner also wanted to renew the riverfront, and turn Water Avenue into an artists’ colony.

He said he recently attended the Arts Revive Show at the Harmony Club on Water and the gallery at Southern Hub.

“Down at Southern Hub on display (is) brilliant art,” he said.

He said he is serious about mediating conflicts in Selma.

The hotel would eventually be equipped with electronic translators, “like the U.N.” Bonner said.

“Selma is known around the world for its Civil Rights victory,” he said. “Nonviolence is the moral way to solve conflicts. That’s going to contribute to world peace.”

Bonner said ultimately, it was about bringing Selma to life and capitalizing on the Queen City’s notoriety throughout the world, starting with the St. James.

“The hotel is a masterpiece. It’s just a bit tarnished,” Bonner said. “We can make it shine. We can make Selma shine.”