Being The Greenbrier's owner isn't easy 

Jim Justice, the well-known owner of The Greenbrier resort, admits there's a certain price to pay for being "the goodwill ambassador for the state."

"Anymore, almost everything, with me, has gotten completely crazy," said Justice, who was interviewed this week as he prepared his Greenbrier East High School girls basketball team for a home game against Winfield.

"I really want great stuff for our state. But, just like today, one of the TV stations called me and asked if I could confirm, absolutely for sure, that I bought Snowshoe.

"Jiminy Christmas, I've never been to Snowshoe. I drove by, not the entrance, but the road that goes through Snowshoe the other day, grouse hunting."

He sat in a high-back, cushioned chair at courtside on Wednesday watching his boys' team practice. Justice was moments removed from a typical workday and a couple of hours from coaching his undefeated and top-ranked Class AAA girls team against Winfield.

Another long day in the life of Justice kept him in the spotlight. He didn't avoid the inevitable scrutiny.

On this day, it wasn't about his basketball teams.

It had more to do with a lawsuit filed by Delta Air Lines, claiming breach of contract, and recent layoffs at The Greenbrier.

"This isn't an easy job," Justice said. "It's a big job."

He's stressed.

Surgeries on both knees within the past four months have him hobbling more than usual. The pain is keeping Justice in his seat more often during games.

"I'm having a time," said Justice, who was late for practice on Wednesday after keeping an appointment for physical therapy.

However, the stress isn't about the lawsuit, his basketball teams or his ailing joints.

It's about the need earlier this month to lay off 100 among his staff of 1,800 at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs. A $13 million loss during January, February and March of 2011 left him with no choice.

"All kidding aside, I'd rather take a shot to the stomach than to lay people off," Justice said.

The issue, he said, is there is little to do at The Greenbrier during the winter months. While the summertime is bustling with walkers, swimmers, tennis players and golfers, winter activities are limited to ice skating, the spa and casino.

"If you're me, you have to do this," he said. "You have to try within all in you to try to get The Greenbrier profitable so that it can sustain for a long time.

"To get it there, you can't dig yourself a $13 million hole and pull out of it. We have tried every marketing scheme imaginable to get people to come in January, February and March, and we just can't pull it off."

Justice said other plans are in the works to attract visitors to White Sulphur Springs during the winter months.

"Those layoffs are just that, and only that," Justice said. "You hate it. You hope next year the medical thing might kick in, maybe by next year you'll have more of a build-up of casino players and that'll kick in and you can shorten that window from laying people off for 2 1/2 months to a month. And, the next year, you got it where you're good to go the whole time."

The "medical thing" to which he referred involves Justice joining several physicians and a health care developer to build the $250 million Greenbrier Medical Institute, which is expected to feature a sports medicine and rehabilitation center and a cosmetic surgery center with a "lifestyle enhancement academy."

He hopes that will attract winter visitors as well as conferences or summits every month.

"We're trying to do a big conference, like a Marcellus shale conference, a big summit, wealth management, personal health . . . we're trying to do one of those every month, and that will have a big impact for us being able to stay at full strength year around."

Also, the Greenbrier Presidential Express, a luxury train service from Union Station in Washington, D.C., is expected to get on track in time for the week of the Greenbrier Classic July 2-8. A round-trip ticket is expected to cost $650.

The $13 million deficit and Delta lawsuit won't have an effect on the Greenbrier Classic, a $6 million PGA Tour event that is entering the third year of a six-year contract on the Old White TPC.

Justice even said he is working with the PGA Tour "on a substantial extension" of the current contract.

"As far as their posture, and, for all intents and purposes, everybody has agreed," said Justice, who wouldn't reveal any specifics of the talks. "They love the tournament. It's just phenomenal. They love it."

Stuart Appleby won the inaugural Classic in 2010, shooting a record-tying final-round score of 59. Last year, Scott Stallings got his first PGA Tour win on the Old White.

Justice said the event continues to pursue the top names on tour to play in the Classic, which is scheduled July 5-8 this year, putting the pre-tournament events - like the Pro-Am - on Independence Day.

"You can bet we're actively pursuing Tiger (Woods)," he said. "We've been talking to Phil (Mickelson). I think you can say, and Phil has told us that barring anything unforeseen, he's coming.

"Who wouldn't want to come to the PGA's best in class?"

The 2011 Greenbrier Classic won awards for "Best in Class," ''Best Special Event," and "Best Branding and Signage" from the tour's Tournament Advisory Council in December.

"Without any question, nobody can argue with this: It's the biggest economic impact event of all time," Justice said of the tournament.

"It's difficult to quantify numbers. You can quantify audience, which is unbelievable."

Getting a title sponsor for the Greenbrier Classic isn't an option, although Justice said, "You never say never."

Justice pays $7.5 million as title sponsor of the event and said there is an appeal to the tournament maintaining its roots to West Virginia.

"I hate that the Bob Hope Classic is now not the Bob Hope, but the Humana Challenge or whatever," Justice said. "I hope that we can just stay the Greenbrier Classic, and not the Greenbrier Classic sponsored by Home Depot."

There were discussions about possible title sponsors, but the conversations all ended up in the same place.

"If you had Home Depot, or Delta Airlines, or anybody, would the focus be on Home Depot or would the focus be on West Virginia?" Justice said. "Again, if you asked Jim, 'What do you want to accomplish with that golf tournament,' the notoriety at The Greenbrier doesn't matter, we'll get all the notoriety we need.

"I want the people of West Virginia to be able to raise their heads and be a little more proud of themselves, and I want the world to see just how good we are.

"I don't know if I can do that and let somebody else be the title."

Delta Air Lines Inc. has sued Justice Family Group, alleging the resort failed to pay the airline a guaranteed minimum to fly visitors to Greenbrier Valley Airport.

The case was moved to federal court on Jan. 18 after Delta sued in Fulton County Superior Court in Atlanta on Dec. 19. Delta is asking for $4 million and said it will draw on its $1 million letter of credit until the resort meets it obligations.

"Delta people are good people," Justice said. "We have a disagreement on some things that we think they should've done and they think we should've done.

"I'm trying, within all in me, to preserve that service along those lines into Lewisburg. Right now, it's costing about $4 million a year in subsidies, and I'm carrying the full boat.

"To be perfectly honest, at that level, we'd be a million times better off for nobody to come to The Greenbrier via Delta than to pay that."

Justice said there was a meeting with Delta on Jan. 11 and he offered a proposal. Delta sent a counterproposal on Tuesday. That is progress, Justice said.

"As long as we're talking back and forth," he said. "We haven't filed a countersuit yet, but if that breaks down, we'll have to do that. That's nothing more than just two companies doing business together."

Justice wants to continue to raise the bar on the Greenbrier Classic Concert Series. Last year, the main event was the Black-Eyed Peas.

There were rumors swirling that the Dave Matthews Band was a possibility this year, Justice said, "That's close, but not quite," but that it's going to be big.

"We don't have them signed up, so I can't say," Justice said. "I called the guy who was inking them and if we had it in ink, I could tell you, 'We got 'em, they said they're coming.' But I sure don't want to put it out there and have them back out."


Information from: Charleston Daily Mail,

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