A unanimous vote taken at Tuesday night's Nacogdoches City Commission allows the Fredonia Hotel and Convention Center to begin yet another chapter in its 50 year history. City commissioners agreed to pay off substantial debts the hotel owes.
It's a business venture that carries strong emotional ties. During 50 years grass root stockholders, private enterprise and once again local investors have supported the Fredonia Hotel through good and bad times. Mayor Bob Dunn recalled, "I've lived through the hotel closing one time and it was not a pretty picture."
The 'hotel', as natives commonly call it, began in 1955 as a star attraction to East Texas. Over the years age, competition and finances caught up with hotel. It was sold to Sheraton which eventually shut it down in the 1980's. Local investors came to the rescue once again. Development grants paid for a new convention center, but there wasn't enough profits to refurbish and maintain the hotel to the quality it was accustomed to.
Despite its financial woes the hotel and convention center are the backbone to Nacogdoches enterprise. Mayor Dunn said, "It is absolutely imperative that we have a convention center here in Nacogdoches." So city management recommended to forgive a million dollar federal grant and pay off a million dollar state grant that were obtained to build the convention center. City manager Jim Jeffers said, "It's an expenditure that we would rather not be making, but once again it's an investment in the future of the hotel. We got to get that debt off the books so these other options can be explored." Jeffers says the payback can be made over a period of 12 years and come from three city funds so the city won't take a major hit.
When the debt is satisfied SFA is interested in acquiring the complex for the university's hospitality administration program. Vice president of university advancement, Dr. Jerry Holbert said, "Our intent is to negotiate the very best management deal we can which includes some up front funds for some very much needed renovation and restoration work on the hotel."
The kind of restoration now done at piecemeal stages. Hotel manager Jim Boiles said, "Usually you come in you allocate a million dollars and you go through and fix everything, put up everything new in. We just haven't had that luxury." Boiles said, "A frequent observance is the ambiance of the grand lobby isn't matched by most of the rooms." Private investors have taken the financial risk to sign off on bank loans to refurbish rooms over a period of many months. Those investors, many whose families began the hotel in the 1950's say time is catching up with them as it is the hotel. They've agreed to walk away from the project asking nothing in return except a desire to keep the hotel running.
Boiles said, "If it comes to fruition it would insure the long term viability of the hotel and to me that's what's the most important."
Representatives from Aramark, SFA's food service provider have already toured the complex. Aramark with an affiliation with Marriot and Doubletree manage 12 other hotels that are affiliated with universities. Now with the commission's approval more serious discussions can begin.