Talks continue on St. James

Published 11:11 pm Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Selma City Council tabled extending the deadline for Mark Peterson to let them know if he was going to buy the St. James Hotel.

The council and Peterson had set a March 15 deadline to make a decision on whether the Selma native would buy the hotel outright for $1.2 million.

Councilwoman Susan Keith asked for the deadline to be suspended while negotiations continue.

“I don’t see this thing going on for a long time,” Keith said.

According to Keith, Peterson will not be buying the hotel under the previous terms discussed but is still interested in the St. James.

“At this point, he said he’s not able to buy the hotel outright,” Keith said. “[But] can we come to an agreement that is mutually beneficial?”

Councilman Cecil Williamson said he thought it would be a mistake to not set a deadline.

“It’s money that is not budgeted and the city does not have. To leave it open ended, I think is a mistake,” Williamson said.

Williamson, who has proposed closing the hotel, said the city has repeatedly extended the deadline to sell the hotel, which has cost the city more than $300,000 over the past 13 months.

“We have continued to put off making a decision about the hotel. While we do that, it’s costing us thousands and thousands of dollars,” Williamson said.

Before the city asked Peterson if he was interested in buying the hotel outright in late January, he and the council discussed a deal that had him taking over ownership of the hotel for $1 and then paying a minimum of $1.2 million after eight years based on revenue.

Williamson said Peterson has countered with another proposal that would have the sale closing in June. It’s not clear if the latest proposal is an outright purchase or not.

According to Williamson, Peterson also asked that the hotel be taken off the market the next three months and the city pay him what Strand Management Group made during their nine-month stint managing the St. James, which was $4,000 a month plus another $800 in accounting fees.

Should the deal go through, Peterson asked for a 10-year moratorium on city lodging and property taxes.

“The latest proposal is the most outrageous. He wants us to take it off the market and stop trying to sell, but at anytime he can tell us he doesn’t want to purchase,” Williamson said.

Keith said Peterson’s proposal was just that — a proposal — and the city would counter with what’s in its best interest.

“I don’t blame Mr. Peterson for putting out there his best case scenario. He expects us to come back with something else,” Keith said.

The city decided to table the issue until a committee meeting with Peterson next week.

That meeting will take place Tuesday at 5 p.m. at City Hall.

There are no other serious proposals from anyone interested in buying or managing the hotel without city backing, Keith said.

“These people who are dying to buy the hotel, please have them come make a proposal to us,” Keith said. “Otherwise, I’m going to ask we extend the deadline. The hotel is very important for Selma, and I do not want to close it at all.”

Michael Johnson and Bennie Ruth Crenshaw said the discussion should be put on hold until the council can sit down with Peterson.

“I really truly believe we need Mr. Peterson to come here to defend himself. He did give us some sort of proposal,” Johnson said.

“Let’s hear form Mr. Peterson before we give him a deadline. I think it’s not fair. He’s over there running the hotel and trying to keep it alive and do his business.”

Keith, Johnson, Crenshaw, Angela Benjamin, Greg Bjelke and Sam Randolph voted to table the issue until after the committee meeting. Corey Bowie abstained, while Williamson voted against putting off setting a deadline. B.L. Tucker was absent from Tuesday’s meeting.