Inside the Greenbrier's fight to reopen after devastating flood

(Greenbrier Hotel)

The Greenbrier Hotel, a resort property located in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., hosted a press conference this morning announcing its plans for reopening this month. 

The 710-room property, which has been open since 1778, was damaged in a flood that overwhelmed the state on June 23, 2016. The resort was forced to close for more than two weeks as a result of the flood, putting its nearly 2,000 employees out of work and stalling the area's economy. This morning, the resort hosted a media event to annouce plans to reopen the property on July 12, with owner and CEO Jim Justice calling on guests to visit the property despite the damage.

"We have damage," Justice said. "Our grounds are nowhere close to pristine. But guests will still have a Greenbrier experience beyond belief."

The hotel's operators didn't detail the extent of the resort's damage, but Justice said in a statement that there was major damage in multiple areas of the property. "...It’s taken a lot of work to get The Greenbrier back to the standard that our guests expect,” Justice said. “But my dad once told me that if you can’t get it done in 24 hours a day, then you’re gonna have to work nights. We’ve worked a lot of nights, because we know just how important it is to have The Greenbrier up and running and guests coming here to visit.”

This isn't an ordinary hotel closing. The Greenbrier is one of the largest employers in southern West Virginia, as well as one of its largest economic drivers as a tourism destination. Furthermore, summer is the peak season for the property, and at the time of the flood it was staffed by nearly 2,000 employees, many of whom are now not only suffering from damages to their homes and communities as a result of the flood waters, but for two weeks all have also been out of work. Justice acknowledged the effect of the hotel's shutdown not only for guests, but for those operating the property and the communities the hotel supports. He addressed a congregation of not only media and local dignitaries, but also hotel staff listening on the property's lawn.

"Our primary driver now is one thing: We've got to get you back to work," Justice said. "If you are able... spiritually, physically, in any way, come back. We're not going to heal if you don't have a job. It means something to our state, it's a symbol of our nation and our resilience."

During the past two weeks the closed resort has housed more than 700 flood victims who are without homes. During this period it provided food and housing to these guests. But now, efforts at the property have shifted toward reopening and stimulating the local economy.

"There's no other choice," Justice said. "We've some way, somehow, got to get this hotel open. For all of you, and for our economy, to heal."

The Greenbrier was expected to make an announcement regarding its reopening on July 5th, but the conference was postponed until this morning due to "extenuating circumstances" caused by the flood. Despite these barriers, Justice is adamant about reopening the property and getting its staff back to work to re-energize the local economy, though he offers no illusions about the work that lies ahead and is asking anyone who is willing and able to help with the hotel's rebuilding to participate.

"If you want to help, come. Reach out a helping hand to those who need a job," Justice said. "But know this, we're not going to be able to storm to the forefront and be the great Greenbrier of old on day one. We are damaged, we are repairing, we will be back."