St. James proposal: ‘A game changer’

Published 10:56 pm Saturday, January 30, 2016

Members of the Selma City Council have asked businessman Mark Peterson if he would be interested in buying the St. James Hotel outright.

The council and Peterson have been negotiating a possible sale since he made an initial proposal in October.

Those terms evolved over the weeks but called for Peterson to pay $1 for the hotel now and then another $1.2 million after eight years.

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Councilwoman Susan Keith asked Peterson during a committee meeting Friday if he would buy the hotel for that amount now.

The proposal caught Peterson off guard, but he wasn’t opposed to the idea.

“I’ll have to have a little time. It is a real game changer, but it’s a good game changer,” Peterson said.

Peterson said his main concern about buying the hotel now would be possibly having less money for repairs, but he would start talking with investors Monday morning.

“I think it’s a cleaner approach,” Peterson said. “I think it clears the deck, [but] the money that would go into the hotel on day one, now I’ve got to put into the hotel. I’ve got to go get more money.”

Under the previous deal, Peterson would have paid the city a minimum of $1.2 million based on earnings. The payout would have been made in years eight, nine and 10 or longer if needed to reach the minimum.

The earlier deal also included clauses outlining how the city could take back ownership if a minimum of $1 million in mutually agreed upon upgrades aren’t made with 36 months.

Council President Corey Bowie and members Angela Benjamin, Greg Bjelke, Michael Johnson and Cecil Williamson were also at Friday’s meeting.

Several members spoke out in favor of an outright sale.

“I would love for you to buy it outright,” Williamson told Peterson. “If we had a million dollars that would solve a lot of our problems. It would also get us out of the hotel business completely.”

Should Peterson buy the hotel now, the city would have no say in renovations or how the hotel is operated.

The hotel hasn’t been appraised since at least the late 1990s. The council discussed whether it would be worthwhile to have an appraisal done.

“I think it might appraise for more than $1.2 million, but I’m willing to sell it for $1.2 million because that’s what we have been talking about,” Williamson said.

The council agreed to extend Peterson’s “due diligence” time to March 16 to discuss the changes.

Peterson has been managing the hotel since Dec. 1 as he examines the hotel’s building and employees.

At the end of the meeting, Peterson said if an outright sale is what’s best for the city he will try to make that happen. He said he wouldn’t want the hotel to fail because there was ill will in the community.

“I think that makes it right for me, makes it right for the city and makes it right for the community,” Peterson said. “I’m going to fight for it.”

Keith thanked Peterson for the work he has done the past two months and praised the changes made in that time.

“There’s a spirit there that hasn’t been there before. The hotel is the bedrock for what Selma should represent, our history,” Keith said.