Historic Alabama hotel, built in 1837, focus of legal battle

AP News
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Posted: Dec 13, 2016 4:40 PM

ATLANTA (AP) — A company that sought to redevelop a historic hotel overlooking the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama — the site of a bloody crackdown on Civil Rights marchers — says city leaders broke their contract for the hotel's sale.

The Janee Hotel Corp. made the allegations in a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court.

The Illinois-based company offered to purchase the St. James Hotel for $100,000 and commit $4.5 million to redevelop it, it maintains in the lawsuit. The Selma City Council voted in August to accept the offer, but later backed out, the company said in its complaint.

Phone calls to the Selma mayor's office and to the city attorney were not immediately returned Tuesday.

The hotel, built in 1837, is the only surviving riverfront antebellum hotel in the Southeast, according to the Alabama Department of Tourism's websites.

The hotel, once known as the Gee House Hotel, was managed before the Civil War by an enslaved man named Benjamin Sterling Turner, according to the historical marker outside. After slavery, Turner, succeeded in business and in politics and was eventually elected to Congress as the first African-American U.S. Representative from Alabama.

During the American Civil War, Union Gen. James H. Wilson used the hotel as his headquarters. That protected it from the arson fires and looting that destroyed much of the downtown in the hours following the Battle of Selma, the marker states.