Contract between city, St. James operators could be ending

Published 7:07 pm Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Selma Mayor George Evans put some rumors about the St. James Hotel to rest recently. Evans told members of the Selma City Council, the hotel would not be closing like some believe it to be.

The city entered into a five-year contract with the management company Gourmet Services five years ago and they recently renewed their contract for another five years in January. However, Evans said Gourmet Services and the city are now in discussion to terminate that contract early.

“We are still waiting to get a letter back from [Gourmet Services] indicating what their timeline on this is,” Evans said, explaining the company wants out of the contract as early as this month, while Evans hopes to wait until September, when another party can be found to take over operations for the St. James. “They are not agreeing to what I suggested to them from the standpoint of September being a closeout time.”

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Gourmet Services is an Atlanta-based company that specializes in hospitality management training in conjunction with local colleges such as Alabama State University.

It is the nation’s largest wholly Africa American-owned food service company, which has been around for more than 30 years. The company mostly focuses on food services, while the St. James Hotel is the only hotel they operate.

Evans said his goal is to have a smooth transition and to keep the hotel from closing temporarily because of the many events scheduled to go on at the St. James throughout the summer months. He said Gourmet Services would be held accountable for preparing for the next phase of the hotel.

“They don’t have the funding to continue, we haven’t gotten anything from them yet as to what their timeline would be, but they are going to be held accountable in terms of what they owe and what their taxes are and what they are supposed to have in their inventory but that is where it is right now,” Evans said.

He said the Downtown Merchants Association has offered to help be a part of the planning process and an ad-hoc committee will be selected for the future planning of the hotel.

Evans said volunteers who were knowledgeable about hospitality management would be enlisted to pitch in throughout the next several months as well and he said he certainly didn’t want to lose those events scheduled, “shut down completely and start all over again.”

Selma Councilman Cecil Williamson said he believes the council should be looking in a different direction for the future of the hotel and consider having a major hotel chain purchase it, freeing the city from management obligations.

“The St. James needs to be sold,” Williamson said. “The city needs to divest itself from the hotel and we need to work diligently to find a main chain to take over the hotel because the city council has two responsibilities — finance and public buildings.”

Numerous calls and emails to Gourmet Services, left by the Times-Journal, were not returned.