Council put eggs in one basket and lost

Published 9:17 pm Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Businessman and Selma native Mark Peterson announced in a letter to the Selma City Council he wouldn’t be buying the St. James Hotel — ending nine months of talks between him and the city.

It’s a blow to the city’s hopes of finally selling the historic hotel, which is costing the city about $25,000 a month to keep open.

Peterson first announced his interest in buying and operating the hotel in October, and ever since then the process of negotiating the sale, and the hotel’s management, has been nothing short of a colossal example of what not to do.

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The city council first allowed Peterson to manage the hotel from December on without any agreement, and did so until May 9, when he stepped away from that post.

In Peterson’s defense, he was serious about the offer to purchase and wanted to get started fixing what was broken at the hotel, which the city has allowed, for the last decade, and longer, to become a classic example of demolition by neglect.

Peterson, who had submitted a letter of intent to purchase the hotel, asked to be paid management fees for his time overseeing the St. James’ day-to-day operations, but the city council never voted on his proposal, which would’ve included management fees until the sale closed.

Instead, the council tabled the offer as well as Peterson’s resignation and never brought either back up for a vote.

Even though accepting resignations is the responsibility of the mayor, not the city council, it would’ve been difficult for Peterson to resign from a position he was never officially given.

Given how the process played out, it makes you question whether Peterson’s offer was ever taken seriously. The council tabled the discussion to accept his resignation and never voted on his clearly defined letter of intent to purchase the hotel.

One of the first logical steps in the process, the appraisal, didn’t take place until April, after months of both sides discussing a $1.2 million asking price that might as well have been pulled out of thin air. Not surprisingly, the appraisal came in at $900,000.

Peterson thought about it and has decided to say no thanks — something he could’ve done at any point in the last nine months.

The good news is the city can now move on to its “plan B.”

The bad news is there is no “plan B,” at least not one they’ve seen fit to share with the public, which is the group that really owns the hotel.

Choosing to let it all ride on Peterson’s proposal, and having crapped out, the city is now right back where it was nine months ago, the proud owners of an iconic, but dilapidated hotel, which is costing taxpayers nearly $1,000 day to operate. But, hey, it’s still a good place to host parties; just ask the council members themselves.

Sad as it may be, at this point, the best course of action is to invest the money to properly mothball the hotel and shut it down until a viable, fully funded, plan is finalized to deal with it.