St. James manager to resign

Published 9:53 pm Friday, April 29, 2016

As an appraisal for the St. James Hotel gets underway, the historic hotel could find itself with a new manager soon.

Mark Peterson has been overseeing the hotel’s day-to-day operations since December but has given the city notice he plans to step down from those duties May 9.

Back in March, Peterson asked the city to reimburse him to same amount the hotel’s previous management company was paid, which was roughly about $4,800 per month.

Peterson is interested in buying the St. James after an appraisal is finished and has been volunteering his time managing the hotel for the past six months.

In a letter of intent to buy the hotel, Peterson asked the city to pay him management fees until the sale closes. In his resignation letter, Peterson said he has not received any communication if those terms were accepted.

“There was no decision reached by the council, to my knowledge,” Selma Mayor George Evans said. “My plan now is to accept this letter.”

Evans said city employees would help oversee the hotel after Peterson steps down. City treasurer Ronita Wade and Henry Thompson in planning and development helped mange the hotel after Strand Management left in the spring of 2015.

“We need someone down there full-time to manage the hotel. We don’t need Henry or Ms. Wade. That don’t fly,” said Councilman Sam Randolph. “If we can’t convince him to stay, and I want him to stay, let’s have a plan in place so that it’s a smooth transition.”

Evans said the only options at this point are to pay Peterson or someone to manage the hotel, for city employees to supervise its operation or to shut it down.

During Tuesday’s meeting, council members discussed whether Peterson’s resignation should be accepted or not. Several city council members said there simply wasn’t money in the city’s budget to pay Peterson to manage the hotel.

“I don’t blame Mark for resigning. He has been working like a dog, 12 or 14 hours a day over there,” said Councilwoman Susan Keith. “He loves the hotel, and I know wants to do a lot of good things. He can’t be expected to work like that for nothing. [But] where is that money going to come from?”

Peterson has offered to have the management fees deducted from the eventual purchase price of the hotel. Should the sale not close, it’s not clear if the city of Selma would still owe Peterson management fees or not.

Councilwoman Angela Benjamin agreed that Peterson could not be expected to continue to work for free, and he may just want to go home until the appraisal is completed.

“He does not have to be there waiting on the appraisal. This man has a family in Georgia,” Benjamin said. “It is my opinion that he should go back to where his family is and wait until this whole, whatever we are doing, is over.”

Other council members were concerned that if the city accepts Peterson’s resignation that it would be viewed as a vote of no confidence.

“He has done a lot of work,” Councilwoman Bennie Ruth Crenshaw said. “My vote would be a vote of confidence and to not accept [his resignation.]”

Councilwoman Cecil Williamson asked what would happen if the city didn’t accept Peterson’s resignation and pointed out the council couldn’t stop him from stepping down.

“If the man wants to resign, I say, let him resign,” Williamson said.

The city has spent about $146,000 to keep the doors of the St. James open since this budget year started Oct. 1.

“It’s true the receipts have increased. The food is better. The service is better since he’s been over there, [but] we are spending the same amount to keep it open,” Williamson said. “We are spending about $25,000 to $26,000 a month to keep it open.”

After discussing whether or not to accept the resignation, the council ultimately voted to table the issue until talking with Peterson. B.L. Tucker abstained from the vote.

Peterson is considering buying the hotel for the city’s asking price of $1.2 million, but has said the property would have to be appraised for that.

The city of Selma is paying Hotel Appraisers and Advisors, LLC out of Chicago $12,000 to complete the appraisal, which should be completed within 30 days.

Should the hotel be worth more or less than $1.2 million, Peterson and the city would renegotiate the selling price.

“The other terms in the letter of intent remain valid and in effect. There, I look forward to receiving the results of the appraisal and negotiating final terms for the purchase of the hotel,” Peterson wrote to the city. “I believe in Selma and am confident that I can restore the St. James to its glory and make it a vibrant part of the city.”

Peterson and the city have been discussing a possible sale since October. The most recent closing date was set for late June but that seems unlikely given the appraisal won’t be ready for another month.