View of Left Bank and Lake Susan with gazebo in the foreground.

Property Talk

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Some seventeen years ago, MRA President George Barber delivered a pointed memo to the Board of Directors in which he portrayed the institution’s financial history as one of cyclical failure and recovery. George identified various reasons and rescue strategies that had enabled the MRA to survive, principal among them 1) denominational bailouts and 2) the sale of land.  George’s message was disturbing since he made it quite clear that neither of those strategies would be available going forward.   

George’s memo concluded with a call to action for Montreat to “break the cycle.” Soon after, the conference center launched a new strategic plan. With increased emphasis on new programming, marketing and philanthropy, spending discipline, and successful campus renovations in the subsequent decade, the new plan indeed helped the MRA do just that. Today, the balance sheet displays significant improvement, and the outlook has moved from instability to something I like to call “relative stability.”  

Is the cycle broken for good? Preparing for a board executive committee meeting a couple of weeks ago, I found myself reflecting on George’s memo. As much as things have changed, the agenda for the meeting called out some familiar topics…land sales, financial status, strategic planning. I’ve decided to spend the next several weeks in conversation with you on some of these important subjects, starting with land sales.  

George’s memo notwithstanding, the MRA continues to own some 36 acres consisting of 115 lots which carry a cumulative tax value of some $2.2 million, as tax authorities consider the lots available for sale. As such, despite its status as a nonprofit, the MRA remains the Town of Montreat’s largest single taxpayer. Two things, however, have changed: 

  • Ordinances prohibiting new wells and septic systems in Montreat, which once made much of this property undevelopable, have been reversed; and 
  • The financial pressure that land sales once relieved is no longer a motive for selling, at least for the time being.  

As a result, the MRA Board today follows a general set of principles that calls for property decisions to be made with caution and by giving the greatest weight to the long-term interest of the institution.  

What are those long-term interests? Preserving some land for missional use and/or for conservation tops the list, but the board must also consider making land available for sale to support and expand the local tax base where it makes sense to do so.  

To make sure these priorities are carefully considered, our leadership observes the following principles: 

  • All major property sales and acquisitions must be approved by the MRA Board of Directors, either directly or through the executive committee. 
  • Minor property matters may be executed by the president. Easements, for example, are generally handled at the staff level, in consultation with a member of the board, usually the chair of the board’s finance or audit committee. 
  • The closer a property in question is to our central campus, the more reluctant the MRA is to sell it. Over the years I have been asked whether the MRA would ever sell such properties as the Winsborough Building, the Way Out, and McCallum Lodge; I have responded that such a sale would be unlikely, because the board feels very protective of our central campus for current and future ministry opportunities. (Importantly, as long as our board sees a viable avenue to develop the site for the proposed new lodge, I don’t expect it will entertain any serious proposal to sell it.) 
  • If an external party expresses an interest in buying, and the MRA would consider selling, the property in question will be listed for sale to the public before a transaction can take place.  
  • Staff members must refrain from participation in real estate discussions where there could be a perceived conflict of interest because of a family or financial relationship.  

Finally, and this may be of particular interest to homeowners, the MRA holds a right of first refusal on some private property in Montreat. Such rights can be waived by the president; in that role, I waive the MRA’s rights on some 20-25 private property transactions (usually home sales) each year and report those actions to the board’s audit committee. Exercising such rights is rare but not without precedent and would require board approval.  

In sum, these principles are designed to protect MRA interests, faithfully steward the land resources entrusted to us, and keep the community’s interests top of mind as well. Speaking of, we’d love to hear from you. If you’ve not filled out our community survey, please feel free to participate. Have a great week!  


This past Tuesday, amid staff preparations for the upcoming Fourth of July and surrounding activities here in Montreat, I received a flyer published by the Montreat Stewards on the conference center’s proposed lodge project. I have been asked to respond.  

In short, I found nothing new in the flyer’s contents. The fact remains that conflicting evidence on these and other issues, presented at the hearing of the Board of Adjustment, was resolved by the board in the conference center’s favor. Beyond this, the conference center’s track record, now more than a century old, is a testament to our commitments – to you, to the preservation of our campus, and to the surrounding environment. Our board maintains that the proposed lodge is a necessary and valuable investment to advance our mission of service to the church and this community in the century to come.   

I will refrain from further comment for now, and instead, express hope that you are enjoying a meaningful holiday time, either with us here or wherever you are!

Richard DuBose

Richard DuBose
President, Montreat Conference Center