An Update on MRA’s Lodge Project

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Since mid-July the Montreat Conference Center has moved forward in its planning for new lodging on dual tracks. On the first track, we submitted a formal application to the Town of Montreat for a proposed new lodge, a plan that would replace three lodges and move the conference center forward in accomplishing hospitality, programming, and financial goals. On the second, after several months of conversation in which we had asked neighbors for constructive feedback, individuals representing the Hayner and Jones families met with us to present an alternative concept for the site.

The group laid out their ideas in a meeting on July 9th, with additional details delivered in a follow-up meeting on July 23rd. The neighbors claimed, as they have publicly, that their proposal would accomplish the conference center’s stated goals for the project. They asked that the alternative concept be analyzed at the conference center’s expense by our design team, which includes representatives from Samsel Architects and the Frank L. Blum Construction Company.  We agreed to do so, and here are our conclusions: 

  • The alternative concept would fall far short of meeting the conference center’s goals for the project;  
  • The concept compares poorly to the proposed new lodge in terms of community fit and compatibility; and  
  • Assuming equivalent building quality, the alternative concept would cost more per-square-foot and represent a less efficient use of land and money.

On what do we base these conclusions? Those with a keen eye for fine print can view Samsel Architect’s markup of the alternative concept here. Primary shortcomings include:      

  • Scope: The alternative concept would reduce maximum occupancy by more than 25 percent and interior meeting and gathering spaces by more than 35 percent, a major loss in functionality for hospitality and program. 
  • Accessibility: The multi-building design, in requiring the renovation of old buildings and a network of sidewalks, ramps, and parking areas to connect them, would make accessibility a major challenge and unnecessarily expensive.   
  • Parking: The alternative concept recommends removal of underground parking from the site, meaning that all required guest parking must be placed above ground on the site. (A parking variance that would reduce required parking would be difficult to acquire, if it is possible at all. Besides, guests need convenient parking, something the alternative concept does not address.) 
  • Green space and trees: The space required for additional parking, sidewalks, and ramps, as well as the additional square footage to the four buildings to meet code requirements, will result in a major loss of green space and trees that is not reflected in the alternative concept’s drawing. We estimate that the total of impervious surfaces will be higher in the alternative concept than in the proposed one-building design with underground parking.

Further, the design team believes that the alternative concept’s informal estimated range of pricing – $5.5 to 7 million, a range that has been widely publicized – is too low. Unquestionably, the cost would represent an inefficient investment of resources for the return it would provide our ministry:    

  • As stated, the alternative concept would lower costs by asking the conference center to remove from its plan more than 11,000 square feet of inhabited space and 30 underground parking spaces. We see both the additional square footage and underground parking as adding significant value for our ministry, for the site, and for the community.  
  • Building and renovating the four buildings called for by the alternative concept would be a less efficient use of resources than building one new building, because multiple buildings would require multiple mechanical systems, multiple plumbing and electrical systems, multiple sprinkler systems with stand-alone backflow preventer systems, multiple elevators, and multiple fire stairs. Time spent maintaining the buildings would increase, and the comparative operations costs would be higher. 
  • Finally, on this project we judge it far more difficult to predict the costs of renovation than the cost of new construction. The alternative concept’s call for a refresh of Lord and Chestnut avoids the difficult truth that these outdated facilities are in terrible shape and would require substantial structural and extensive upgrades to the building envelopes and systems to return to adequate use. Further, the Town of Montreat confirms that Lord, Chestnut, and Galax would all require commercial restoration, meaning compliance with current Codes, including life safety, fire safety, and ADA accessibility. Compliance with these Codes is integral to the design of the proposed new lodge, and the alternate plan’s current compliance deficiencies would be costly to address and highly inefficient to incorporate. The alternative concept’s vision for the old lodges simply does not acknowledge this reality. We conclude that restoration of Lord and Chestnut would be prohibitively expensive given the limited benefit such renovations would provide.

In summary, the alternative concept projects lower construction costs by limiting the scale of the project and the quality of the outcome, compromising the conference center’s goals (and we believe that its cost projections are low in any case). In contrast, the consolidated design of the proposed new lodge ably balances the variables of cost, size, and quality of construction by integrating ministry needs into a single building with underground parking. The unified design provides much for flexibility for use by groups of various sizes, will make better use of green space and opportunities for outside gatherings, will be better designed to handle water runoff, and provide a buffer of trees for surrounding neighbors. Further, as accessibility and energy efficiency and sustainability are both major goals of the project, the proposed new lodge better meets the needs of our guests and our missional responsibilities.

Overall, the design promises a quality experience for our program participants and community, can be built at a cost that represents good stewardship of our resources, and will run more efficiently in the long term. We do thank the members of the Jones and Hayner families for bringing their proposal to our attention. Our aim is to continue to be good neighbors as we move forward with the project. Having been on a “dual track” of planning for the past several weeks, we now return our primary focus to track number one: presenting our existing design at a hearing with the Town of Montreat’s Board of Adjustment. We are confident that the new lodge will contribute positively to the long-term prosperity of Montreat and to the conference center’s ministry for years to come. 

Richard DuBose

Richard DuBose
Montreat Conference Center

More can be found about this project at