|By Jake Stump, Charleston Daily Mail,
W.Va.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
March 19, 2009 - CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Hotel chain Marriott International has come to the rescue of The Greenbrier, which has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Railroad company CSX, the owner of the Greenbrier, announced today that it would lend Marriott $50 million to operate the luxurious four-star resort for two years.
Marriott will repay that loan, in addition to giving CSX between $60 million and $130 million within seven years.
No one was more enthusiastic about the pending transfer than West Virginia football legend Sam Huff, a longtime employee of Marriott.
Huff has visited the resort four times recently and has heavily supported a sale to Marriott. He's confident Marriott will revive The Greenbrier, which lost $35 million last year, partly due to the economy.
"We're going to win that star back," Huff said. "We'll make that a five-star resort again. You've got to take a deep breath here. I'm sure Marriott has a game plan."
Just last week, Huff outlined a plan in the Daily Mail that would have had him and residents of the Greenbrier Sporting Club, who own land and luxury homes nearby, buy the resort. He also proposed that Marriott manage it.
Now that Marriott has struck a deal to take over the resort, Huff still wants the club to play a role in the future of The Greenbrier.
He said Marriott needs to focus first on proper management of the hotel.
"It starts from the top down," Huff said. "You put a great general manager in there who'll work locally with all the people. That hasn't been done. You've got a Sporting Club to deal with, people at White Sulphur Springs to deal with, and nobody can do that better than Marriott. Those people haven't taken care of The Greenbrier and the customer."
Huff said Bill Marriott, chairman and chief executive officer of the hotel giant, once said you've got to take care of the employee who'll take care of the customer.
The Greenbrier has housed presidents and royalty in years past. Those guests have included President Eisenhower and Monaco's Prince Rainier and Princess Grace. The resort is also known for once housing a secret Cold War bunker to protect Congress members from a nuclear attack.
With the economy, the Greenbrier has suffered its share of woes in recent years.
Huff said he could help promote special events such as golf tournaments or horse racing to attract huge crowds.
"I want to be involved in that," he said. "I still want the Sporting Club to be involved. I put a call in to Jerry West (a Sporting Club member) yesterday but he was out playing golf. That's what basketball and football players do. But we've got three or four golf courses around The Greenbrier and Jerry has a house out there."
Huff said he helped orchestrate the West Virginia Breeders Classic at Charles Town Races and Slots, which was on the verge of closing down. He saed that event helped keep the track alive.
"We can do those sorts of things at The Greenbrier," he said.
Huff was an All-American tackle for WVU in 1955 and then played for the New York Giants and Washington Redskins. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1982. He now lives in Virginia and is a radio color commentator for the Redskins.
He joined Marriott as a salesman in 1971 after his football career ended and eventually became the chain's vice president of sports marketing.
Huff owns 5 percent of the Town Center Marriott.
He compares sports to business.
"When you lose a game, you get more dedication for the next game you play," Huff said. "You learn from losses, and that's where we are."
He also applauded Gov. Joe Manchin for his efforts in trying to keep The Greenbrier alive.
"I worked for Joe Manchin's father and he taught us some of the same things Bill Marriott taught us," Huff said. "Joe Manchin deserves credit. He's been out front trying to help The Greenbrier and has done a wonderful job."
In a prepared statement, Manchin said: "I am so pleased to hear that the world-class Marriott Corp. is very much interested and I am hopeful that agreement will work out. It will take the effort of everybody involved -- employees, unions, management, the local community, the state and all of us working together to continue the legacy of this marquis property.
"Working together, we can ensure that The Greenbrier will prosper in the future."
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Copyright (c) 2009, Charleston Daily Mail, W.Va.
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