Black entrepreneurs look to improve Raleigh hotel, neighborhood

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A hotel in Raleigh is under new management, but the acquisition is more than a change in ownership. The new owners have plans to make improvements beyond their property lines.

Amina Gilyard James and her husband Norland James bought the Quality Inn on Old Austin Peay Highway for $3.85 million dollars in December, just a couple days after Christmas.

“We were told we’re currently the only African-American hotel owners in Memphis,” said Amina Gilyard James, co-owner of Duke Ventures. “We see ourselves inspiring other African Americans to be business owners and get into the hotel industry.”

The couple is currently living in Maryland. While they aren’t new to real estate, having owned short-term and long-term rental homes, their road to hotel ownership took years, starting in 2019.

“We knew nothing about hotels, we didn’t even know they were franchised; We didn’t even know you could buy them,” said Gilyard James. “So of course we went online and started doing a whole bunch of research, and it just blossomed from there. We became partners in other hotels so that we could actually understand the business.”

Between 2019 and 2021, the duo invested in two hotels as limited partners and passive investors.

“We started learning more and more about the hotel business and we started really liking it,” said Norland James, co-owner of Duke Ventures. “We did a lot of research and we knew we wanted to focus on the Mid-South.

When Amina and Norland decided it was their time to buy they turned to the Memphis and found the Quality Inn in Raleigh for sale.

“Memphis we feel like is a market that gets a bad rap, but it’s actually had one of the strongest pandemic recoveries as far as the hospitality sectors is concerned,” said Gilyard James. “Also when we see Memphis, we see a lot of potential, not just business potential but potential to give back to the community, economic empowerment.”

In fact, new data from Memphis tourism shows the Bluff City welcomed more than 11-million visitors in 2022, a 10% or 1 million-visitor increase from 2021. Hotels saw a 5% increase from 2021, and 2.9% more than 2019 before the pandemic hit.

“When we visited the Raleigh neighborhood for the first time in May 2022, we noticed a neighborhood that was kind of trending upwards. We learned that Raleigh used to be a bustling neighborhood of affluence. People went there to go shopping, prominent African American families lived there and so we just love areas where we see potential and where there is a history of flourishing and potential and an opportunity to bring some of it back.”

“You have the police station, and library that are really beautiful area and a mile from the hotel there is a lot of potential there,” added James. “We feel like building up that Quality Inn, that quality in that area will kind of trickle its way.”

The Jameses say they’ve already increased wages for their staff and hired five new positions. And they have a have a half million dollar improvement plan for cosmetic changes to the hotel. Plus, they’re already in talks with city leaders about how they can make a Bigger impact on the area. One way, is by sharing their knowledge about hotel ownership with aspiring entrepreneurs. They bought the hotel with the help of a cohort made up of 30 people, mostly African American first-time investors.

“What we wanted to do was give them the opportunity as limited partners, understanding of what the hotel business is and eventually how to become hotel owners,” said James. “This is something brand new for them. They can pick our brains because we know the process really well because we just went through it and we can tell them the ups and downs what to look for pros and cons.”

“Two of our investors, they are Memphis natives and still live in the area,” said Gilyard James. “So once we got them and they were so excited to get on board with the project we knew we had a winner. We’re all about community empowerment and economic empowerment so I guess we’re part of that movement where we want to be socially responsible. We don’t just want to come into a neighborhood and take, take, take. No. It’s important for us to give back.”