Council expected to list St. James with Atlanta realtor

Published 9:25 pm Monday, August 1, 2016

The majority of the Selma City Council met Monday to discuss listing the St. James Hotel with a national realtor that specializes in the sale of hotels.

Those council members — including President Corey Bowie, Cecil Williamson, Susan Keith, Greg Bjelke and Angela Benjamin — are expected to recommend the city list the hotel with Hotel Assets Group out of Atlanta. Mayor George Evans will negotiate any contract between the city and real estate company.

The listing is the next step in the city’s effort to sell the hotel, which the city has owned for years and actively managed since March 2015.

The listing also comes despite a potential offer from Janee Hotel Corporation out of Illinois to buy the hotel for $500,000 over six years with the city maintaining partial ownership during those six years. The company also asked for tax incentives and hotel tax waivers.

Most council members have balked at the idea of the city continuing to maintain ownership of the hotel, if just a percentage, or giving one hotel preferential treatment.

“I think the consensus of the committee is to sell outright,” Keith said.

Keith praised Janee President Kenneth Moore’s vision for the hotel but said the city cannot continue to operate the hotel.

“I told him we are not interested in a partnership. He knows that,” Keith said. “I wish he would come up with the money, except he wants us to tote the note.”

Several council members said if Janee Hotel Corporation was interested in buying the hotel outright they could still do so with the realtor.

“We don’t have to get into this back and forth,” Bjelke said.

By listing with a national realtor, the council hopes to have a hotel chain scoop up the hotel and bring it up to industry standards.

“I think we all love the proposal of someone flying under a flag because that sets standards,” Keith said. “If we sold it to someone completely independent, it could [regress] after the sale.”

Keith said she believes selling the hotel for next to nothing would be a mistake and would spell doom for the landmark.

“There have been instances where someone has said, ‘Sell it for a dollar to get them to fix it up,’” Keith said. “But we don’t need to throw the baby out with the bathwater just yet.”

Evans is expected to talk with the realtor between now and a special called council meeting Wednesday at noon at City Hall. The council discussed listing the hotel for $1.1 million. A recent appraisal by a company out of Chicago estimated the hotel’s worth at $900,000 and recommended $6 million in improvements and expansions.

The council also discussed what to pay the realtor should a sale happen. The company has asked for a flat $75,000, which would be 8.3 percent of the hotel’s appraised value. Instead, the council discussed a 5 percent commission, with a $10,000 incentive should the hotel sell within 30 days.

During Sunday’s One Selma election forum, Evans said the council is working hard to sell the hotel, and he thought that would be finished before the next mayor and council takes office in November.

“The goal is to get enough money out of this to balance the books and get more out of it than we have put in it,” Evans said.

Williamson, who is not seeking reelection in Ward 1, said he thought the issue was hurting candidates seeking reelection and could cost someone their position.

Keith responded by saying that shoring up the hotel’s future was more important to her than being reelected.

“If it costs me the election, that is just fine. Because if my election depends on closing this hotel and not letting it fall into rack and ruin, I’d just as soon go home anyway,” Keith said.