The St. James: Something we can all be proud of

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 30, 2007

Brought back from the brink, the St. James is a jewel once again

It was a symbolic image, one that really drove home to me that indeed a resurrection, of sorts, had occurred.

While driving by the St. James Hotel the other day I noticed the fountain that sits on the corner of Washington Street and Water Avenue was functioning again. For many, many months now the fountain, like the St. James, had been allowed to deteriorate to the point where it simply stopped working.

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The fountain is made of cement and iron and, when working, has four horse heads that expel water from their mouths to the bowl below. Until recently the fountain had been covered in rust and had fallen on disrepair, similar to what had happened to the hotel it has shared its corner of the world with.

The once majestic hotel, which was brought back to life some 11 years ago through a wildly successful capital improvement campaign that raised more than $6 million, is owned by the city and operated by an outside firm the city contracts with. Due to lack of focus, capital improvement expenditures and just bad management, the hotel began to fall from grace, punctuated by the closure of its elegant restaurant and comfortable bar area. Rumors even floated around that the hotel would close down permanently. Thankfully it didn’t.

Finally, after much debate and political wrangling, the city let the old management firm out of its contract and, figuratively, brought a new &8220;sheriff&8221; to town in the form of a mild mannered but a very professional guy named Bill Ezell.

Ezell, who works for, Gourmet Services, Inc., the Atlanta-based company that now manages the St. James, recently gave me a tour of the hotel and pointed out the many upgrades he had shepherded since his arrival some four months ago.

To date, he said, they had painted all the guest rooms, cleaned all the carpets, painted and restored the dining room back to its original grandeur, remodeled the kitchen and purchased new (and quite costly) food service equipment, purchased new equipment for the bar area, installed wireless Internet access for all rooms, painted and cleaned the exterior, purchased heavier weight linens for the beds and thicker, more absorbent bath towels; new china, and, most importantly of all, have trained the staff to be more customer service oriented and engaging to clients.

The male employees who work the lobby area now wear sharp, red bellman’s outfits and the women who work the service desk are very nice and in tune with serving the customer.

All of this, of course, could not have happened without action being taken by the mayor and city council to market the state’s only river-front hotel to Gourmet Services and work an agreement that allowed them the latitude to use their expertise in food service and good old fashioned customer care to bring a &8220;jewel in the crown of the Queen City&8221; back to life.

The next phase for the St. James, as I understand it, is to welcome the community back with open arms with a grand reopening (or rebirth as it were) where the community can see for itself what the &8220;new&8221; St. James Hotel is all about. Plans have not been finalized for that yet, but after seeing for myself the changes Ezell and his staff have implemented so far, I know it will be experience you won’t want to miss.

Dennis Palmer is publisher of The Selma Times-Journal. He can be reached at 410-1712, or by email: