WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS -- Make no mistake about it, this is a company town. And the company -- the fount of most of the town's jobs -- is The Greenbrier resort.
Tragically, seven White Sulphur Springs area residents died when floodwaters submerged the Spa City on June 23, and many other townspeople saw their homes and their personal possessions washed away. With The Greenbrier also sustaining major flood damage and, therefore, being forced to close its doors to the public and cancel its signature event -- the Greenbrier Classic PGA tournament -- a substantial portion of White Sulphur's populace was hit with an employment gap on top of all of the other losses.
Those employees finally had something to cheer about when Greenbrier owner and CEO Jim Justice staged a news conference on the front lawn of the hotel Thursday and announced the resort would reopen just five days hence, on July 12.
Addressing the media and what a fact sheet referred to as "Team Greenbrier" -- about 300 of the resort's nearly 2,000 employees -- an uncharacteristically subdued Justice spoke of loss and of renewal.
"A lot of families have lost loved ones, their homes, their sacred possessions," he said. "Now, we've got to go on. There's no other choice. We've got to get this hotel open."
To his employees he said, "We've got to get you back to work. We're not going to heal if you don't have a job."
In a media release that was also issued on Thursday, Justice acknowledged the nationwide outpouring of compassion and support for the flood-ravaged region. He urged those seeking a way to help the recovery effort to visit The Greenbrier and "enjoy all the amazing people at America's Resort and help stimulate the economy here in Greenbrier County." He added, "Guests can enjoy a world-class vacation and support the community and The Greenbrier's team members at the same time. It's a win-win for everybody."
"We want to see this place hopping again like it normally is this time of the year," said Greg Scott, a doorman at The Greenbrier for more than 20 years. "It's a great way to show the world that West Virginia will recover and is still a wonderful place to come visit."
"This is wonderful news for our tourism economy," commented Kara Dense, executive director of the Greenbrier County Convention and Visitors Bureau. "This demonstrates that, from an economic standpoint and a public relations standpoint, Greenbrier County is open for business. Much of our tourism product is intact and waiting for people to enjoy."
Justice cautioned that the resort is not all the way back from the flood, saying, "We do have damages. Our grounds are nowhere near to pristine. We are scarred; we are damaged; we are repairing."
Quoting a well-known line from the 1996 movie "Independence Day" -- "We will not go quietly into the darkness." -- Justice proclaimed, "By the grace of God, West Virginians won't go quietly into the darkness either."
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Identifying The Greenbrier as "a symbol of our nation and a symbol of our resilience," he added, "We've got to step up and get back."
----Founded in 1778, the 11,000-acre luxury resort employs 1,800 people during peak season, making it Greenbrier County's largest employer.
Due to safety concerns and a lack of electricity and hot water in the wake of what is being called a thousand-year flood, The Greenbrier was forced to close its doors to guests on June 25. Since that date, the resort has housed and fed more than 700 flood victims who had no place else to stay, according to a Greenbrier media release.
"The Greenbrier has been assured that proper food and housing will be provided to each and every one of these devastated individuals," the release noted, looking to the future. A Register-Herald inquiry seeking additional information about what's next for those flood victims was not immediately answered.
The most significant flood damage on the resort's grounds was to the golf facility and its courses. Cleanup and restoration have begun, but some of the work is projected to take approximately a year to complete, according to a fact sheet distributed by The Greenbrier.
While The Greenbrier course will be ready for play in time for Tuesday's reopening, the Old White TPC and the Meadows golf courses are "closed for the foreseeable future" to allow restoration, the fact sheet indicated.
Except for a handful of outdoor activities, like fly fishing and tennis at Center Court at Creekside, most of the resort's amenities will be fully operational by Tuesday. Operating as usual will be such facilities as the Casino Club, mineral spa, swimming pools (indoor and outdoor), tennis center, the Bunker, retail shops (including The Art Colony Shops), all restaurants and lounges of the Dining Collection and meeting spaces and ballrooms.
Demonstrating that this latest PR push is not in vain, following Thursday's news conference The Greenbrier re-tweeted a post from the West Virginia Bankers Association confirming the organization will hold its annual convention at the resort beginning July 24.
In addition, the NFL's New Orleans Saints are scheduled to arrive in White Sulphur Springs on July 27 for spring training camp at the Greenbrier Sports Performance Center. This marks the third straight year the Saints have utilized The Greenbrier's facilities for a portion of training camp.
This article was written by Tina Alvey from The Register-Herald, Beckley, W.Va. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.