City won’t pay for St. James repairs

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The Selma Times-Journal

Charles Bonner is going to get the St. James, if the City Attorney’s recommendations are followed. However, the $500,000 in requested repairs may be a little harder to come by.

During last night’s city council meeting, the city received a recommendation from City Attorney Jimmy Nunn regarding Bonner’s request to lease the historic hotel on Water Avenue.

While Nunn and the rest of the city council made it clear that they approve of Bonner’s vision for the hotel, they don’t believe the city is responsible for repairs to the structure.

“This council has served notice that we are not responsible for repairs,” Councilman Johnnie Leashore said. “This city is not going to be responsible for those 19 repairs.

The 19 repairs Leashore referred to was a list of problems Bonner brought to the city.

The list of problems included rotted support beams in the courtyard balcony and repairs to the system’s air conditioning and heating system.

Nunn said that the leasee of the St. James, Larry Striplin and the St. James Investors Group, LLC, is responsible for the repairs.

Bonner suggested that the repairs would cost a total of $500,000.

“That’s just my estimate,” he said, noting that he wasn’t an engineer or contractor and that the figure could be more or less.

“Legally we are not bound to do the repairs,” Nunn told Bonner and the council.

While Bonner disagreed, he did say that he was willing to abide by Nunn’s suggestions that the city engineer inspect the hotel and make a determination about who’s responsible for the structural repairs.

Bonner said that the lease agreement with the St. James Investors Group requires the leasee – the Group – to make any and all repairs to the facility, except in instances where the damage was the result of design defects.

“The lease provides that the leasee is responsible,” Bonner said, “except any defects, repairs or conditions that are caused by the neglect of the city.”

Nunn recommended in his statement to the Council that either Striplin’s LLC or Bonner’s company – Bonner Properties, LLC – make the repairs.

City officials, including Patty Sexton of the Planning and Development office, said Striplin’s company has been lax in the upkeep of the hotel and that the city is not responsible.

“If the city has been neglectful it would be in the enforcement of the lease agreement,” Sexton said.

To prevent the alleged neglect of maintenance in the future, the new lease agreement, according to Nunn’s recommendation, includes a $250,000 deposit into an escrow account by the leasee, or Bonner’s LLC.

The money would be used for any repairs required in the future either by the city or by the leasee. If any money was withdrawn from the account, the amount would have to be refunded to the account within 30 days.

Bonner, who’s plan for the St. James includes extensive renovation, a new bar, a swimming pool and maybe even riverboat gambling, said he wasn’t put off by the requirements.

“We’re going to make this deal happen no matter what,” he said.

In other business:

The Council heard a report from Bridget Mills, from the department of Planning and Development. Mills reported on the status of the 500 Club, an effort to provide summer jobs for Selma youths. Mills is requesting help from local businesses and organization to provide the jobs. For more information, call 412-6500, 412-5800 or 412-3336.

Mills also reported on ongoing negotiations regarding the old Good Samaritan Hospital. She said the city has scheduled meetings with the current tenants and possible future tenants. The city has also filed a request to get back rent on the property for the months of April and May. City Councilman Cecil Williamson asked for more information on the financial information regarding the Good Sam. Mayor James Perkins Jr. said he couldn’t provide the information because the project wasn’t completed. During the debate that followed, Leashore made a motion that the Council gag itself for the next six months to prevent any more discussion on Good Sam. The motion was defeated, 6-3, with Council members Jannie Venter, Leashore and Bennie Ruth Crenshaw voting for the motion.

The Council received an update on the city’s negotiations with Charter Communications. Perkins said the city will meet with company officials on June 22.

The city was updated on ongoing road repairs, including Fourth Avenue, which is complete, and Crescent Hill, which won’t be finished until July or August, according to City Engineer David Painter. Perkins said with the rainfall during the weekend, the city could expect to have even more cave-ins in the coming months.

Painter also informed the city about ongoing talks with the city’s insurance provider – through the League of Municipalities – about the city’s claim on storm damage from Hurricane Ivan. Painter said he is still trying to get a response from the company on the city’s claim – which could total $900,000 – and will report back when he has more information.

The city honored workers with the Water Board for their work on the Jeff Davis Avenue repairs. When the mainline blew in the area, Matthew Leashore, Richard Sturdivant, Bruce Longcrier, Marvin Maul, Theo Polnitz, Maurice Sellers, Arthur Richardson, Ryan Dunkin, Jack Chandler, Robert Bridges and Perry Davis put in a 24-hour shift to return water service to a large portion of the city of Selma. The Council recognized them for their work and efforts.

Selma Police Chief Jimmy Martin put his monthly crime report to the city. Of the over 50 calls Martin received for noise violations, more than 20 citations were issued and most of the calls came from outside the city limits.

The city approved changing the zoning designation on a piece of property near the McDonald’s on Highland Avenue, in the 600 and 700 block of the roadway, from R-60, a residential zoning designation, to B-2, a business designation. Alston Keith, a local attorney and a member of the city’s zoning commission, made the proposal. Keith said the owner of the property was trying to sell it to a buyer who wanted to put a business in the location. Keith said the B-2 designation allowed the owner to locate a retail business, a restaurant or an office on the property.

The city approved a contract with Decision Inc., a testing firm, to issue a test for the Fire Department captains. By law, according to City Personnel Director Valerie Jones, the city is required to keep a two-year roster of candidates for the position of captain in the Fire Department.

Nunn issued copies of the new state Open Meetings law to the council. Nunn said the city had more reasons to go into executive session with the new law. “It really has opened the door,” Nunn said.

Councilman Reid Cain requested that the council make changes to the city’s budget, citing several line items he said needed to be addressed. The suggestion sparked a debate on the council, between Cain, Council President George Evans, Leashore and Crenshaw. While Evans pointed out that Cain was out of order in the request, citing an earlier decision by the council to make such requests to the mayor before putting them to the council. In the course of the discussion, Leashore and Crenshaw walked out, about 15 minutes before the completion of the meeting.