This project reflects a long-term move to help Montreat improve facilities by providing welcoming and accessible housing, and enabling a more robust offering of programs for future generations who want to experience all that Montreat has to offer.
In the fall of 2018, Montreat staff launched a study of its thirteen lodges, including Assembly Inn. The study reviewed revenue and expense trends, assessed physical conditions, and considered factors like location, customer satisfaction surveys, and the future needs of the market. Three major conclusions were identified:
- It is increasingly difficult to find appropriate lodging in Montreat during large conferences, especially in the summer months.
- Especially among adults, a clear preference was identified for: a private room that is in good condition, easily accessible to meeting rooms and dining facilities, located in the center of our campus, and has its own private bath.
- Significantly increasing the conference center’s available inventory of these spaces would deliver substantial benefits to program and to hospitality, strengthening the conference center financially and funding more of our core mission.
We came away convinced that an upgraded lodge located in the heart of town provided real potential to propel our ministry forward in the following decades.
This project respects the rich history of the Conference Center by helping ensure its core mission of providing space for encountering God. It is also in keeping with the town's mission because it reflects responsible growth within the heritage and traditions of this community.
In considering how we address these findings, we greatly prioritized the goal of building in the center of town. With this in mind we considered our options:
- New construction on undeveloped property already owned by the MRA
- Acquiring new property from the limited open space available in the valley
- Redeveloping existing facilities, including resuscitating the 1993 plan to build an additional wing onto Assembly Inn
The search for redevelopment then focused on two acres of our campus right in the middle of town. The property contains six lodges – three recently renovated and three with specific challenges. Of those three, contractors have judged that two of those cannot be renovated in ways that will return a meaningful investment, and the three buildings together only house 34 people in 17 bedrooms combined.
The site offers enormous potential, as it is centrally located to all of our primary program and most recreation spaces, is already used for the lodging of our guests, and would resolve the extensive maintenance needs of the three outdated lodges. Further, a newly designed lodge could address parking, other issues with existing lodges.
In November of 2019 Montreat Conference Center's Board of Directors concluded that the site is an underutilized asset of campus and approved a survey of the property. Staff began a search for expertise to help imagine what a new lodge for the conference center would look like, what it would cost, and what it could deliver in hospitality and program.
An architectural firm, Samsel Architects, was identified and engaged by vote of the Board at their March 2020 meeting. Work began on a conceptual design for this project, and by November of 2020, a new conceptual design proposed replacing those three lodges with a single new, larger lodge.
As conceptual planning turned to schematic design work in January, Montreat leadership began reaching out to adjacent neighbors to notify them and discuss this project.
The Board of Directors next met in March of 2021, where members acknowledged and sympathized with the concerns that had been expressed by nearby property owners in this initial outreach. Coming out of those discussions, the following decisions were made:
- Communication: The Board appointed a task force to serve as the Board’s representatives during the process and to arrange listening sessions for task force members to meet directly with neighbors.
- Site: After a review of alternatives and the process of the site’s selection, the Board affirmed that the current site remains the preferred option for development, as it best meets the conference center’s missional goals.
- Design: The Board extended the schematic design process to allow for further input and to study impacts on traffic, noise, and the environment.
Following that Board meeting, the appointed task force hosted “listening sessions” in March of 2021 with property owners and family members adjacent to the proposed site of the new lodge. Task force members contemplated this input along with input collected from other Montreaters both locally and around the southeast.
At a special called meeting in May 2021, the Board met to review and approve the schematic design of the proposed lodge and site. This design was revised from the previous conceptual design and reflected further planning and neighbor input. By a unanimous vote, they instructed the staff to pursue appropriate permitting approval from the Town of Montreat in the fall of 2021.
The Town of Montreat's Board of Adjustment meetings began in October of 2021 and continued through the end of the year.
On January 7th, after three months and over 55 hours of rigorous hearings, presentation of evidence, and careful deliberation, the Board of Adjustment determined that the plan met the standards for a Special Use Permit, and authorized the Town of Montreat to draft the permit.
On March 16 the Board of Adjustment approved the proposed Order of Approval for the Mountain Retreat Association’s Special Use Permit, which was then signed and issued.
I believe the expansion of Montreat’s accommodations is a pivot point as we live further into the 21st century, yearning to welcome all and to share our faith with others.