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Grand Hotel, Magnolia Bluff hotels closed amid COVID-19 tourism downturn

By SCOTT HAWKINS and

PATRICK MURPHY

NATCHEZ — The Natchez Grand Hotel and the Natchez Convention Center are closed after the tourism industry ground to a halt amid the COVID-19 crisis and the Grand Hotel’s owner has offered the hotel to Merit Health Natchez to be used as necessary.

Other Miss-Lou hotels are also closing or reducing staff in the tourism downturn.

Warren Reuther, owner of the Grand Hotel and Monmouth, said he has closed both facilities, along with the Natchez Convention Center that his company manages.

“In times like these, I just throw everything out the window and start over,” Reuther said, adding he has also closed his New Orleans properties. “What are you going to do? If you’re working with good intentions and good honest people, then all you can do is just do your best. We’ve had to shut down the Grand Hotel, the Convention Center, Monmouth . . . and we’ve done the same thing in our other cities. We are doing things now that I have never done before.”

In the interim, Reuther said he is making the Grand Hotel available to Merit Health Natchez.

“After the mayor spoke with me (Friday), I realized that I should offer the Grand Hotel to the Hospital to use however they need it,” Reuther said. “Then we did the same thing in Nachitoches. Do they need extra beds for patients who don’t have the virus? Whenever they need it for whatever reason, it’s theirs. After all the hotel was built for the city.”

Lance Boyd, CEO of Merit Health Natchez, said he has spoken with Reuther about the offer.

“This offer is appreciated and should the need arise for us to set up an off-campus dedicated screening site; this could certainly be a consideration,” Boyd said.

The Grand and Monmouth are not the only Miss-Lou hotels to shutdown amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Magnolia Bluffs Casino Hotel closed its doors Monday in Natchez.

“We’re closing today for two reasons,” said Kevin Preston, founder and president of Magnolia Bluffs Casino and Hotel. “One, to keep our employees safe and make sure we’re not putting them in harm’s way. Secondly, there’s really not a whole lot of travel right now and to keep the hotel open isn’t the smart thing to do. We’re closing today until further notice until we get some clarification on what the government is doing.”

Brittney Smith, Sales Director at Hampton Inn & Suites in Natchez, said the hotel is still open. Hampton Inn & Suites has reduced its staff and have 50 or more rooms left vacant.

The Hampton Inn & Suites has discontinued their buffet.

The two hotels on the Vidalia riverfront are still open amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hannah Coldiron, general manager at TownePlace Suites by Marriott, said the hotel remains open but has closed all of the public areas owned by the hotel.

“These are steps that we’re taking in order to minimalize the spread or an outbreak in our hotel,” Coldiron said. “Outside we have a grill patio, a putt-putt golf course

and we have closed our breakfast area. We have closed our fitness center and ou public restrooms. The only spot the guests still have in our hotel to mingle is their guest sleeping rooms.”

Due to low occupancy, the TownePlace Suites has closed its rooms on the third floor. Rooms on the first and second floors remain open.

Coldiron said the hotel has stopped serving buffet breakfast and will have grab-and-go bags. The coffee and tea stand remains in the kitchen area and there’s a

sign that says “available upon request” for customers.

Coldiron said the COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on her and the staff.

“It’s just really hard on our staff because we’re having to, since we have low occupancy, we don’t have the hours to give at this point,” Coldiron said. “That’s

where the real difficult part comes in is having to tell my staff about not having many hours to give. On the flip side, they’re able to stay home with their families as

well.”

The Clarion Suites on the Vidalia riverfront remains open as well.

Reuther said he is working with his employees to fill out forms for economic relief.

Natchez Inc. Executive Director Chandler Russ said many service industry employees in the area have been laid off as well due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In the hotel, motel business, if there is not any tourists or travel, no rooms being letted at this time, they’ve had to send people home and lay them off,” Russ said.

For workers who may have been laid off, Russ said he is encouraging them to go to the WIN Job Center to apply for unemployment coverage.