With Gratitude

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Gratitude is the word of the upcoming weekend. On Saturday evening, the conference center will host the annual Patrons Banquet to honor and express appreciation to those donors who generously supported our programs and operations over the previous fiscal year. This year’s casual evening will include food trucks, supper under a tent, and Amanda Anne Platt & the Honeycutters, Asheville-based musicians now drawing national attention.

Any review of the previous year must include praise of decisions made by our Board of Directors just as the pandemic was dawning. As stated several times in this space and elsewhere, at the spring meeting in 2020, members established three guiding principles as we all ventured into the new fiscal year: 1) stay open, 2) stay ready for the eventual recovery, and 3) continue to plan for the future. In applicable terms, the board wanted the conference center to continue to program, online as necessary, and do everything possible to provide recreation in the valley. The board made holding onto our staff a priority; as financially questionable as such a commitment might seem, rebuilding a staff from scratch seemed infinitely worse. The third principle exhorted us to imagine campus improvements and other investments that would prepare the conference center for its future ministry.

The first two guiding principles revealed a faith that seventeen years of sound leadership had prepared the conference center to take a punch. The third displayed a confidence that our world would someday once again need Montreat to be a gathering place for the transformation of God’s people. As the financial drought from the pandemic descended on our operations, those working here drew on that confidence like water from a cool, refreshing spring. We threw ourselves into planning for a day when we would emerge even stronger than before. The new lodge, obviously, was integral to that plan, and remains so.

In the last week two new steps forward have been taken on the lodge project. The first, expected step was the formal application by the conference center to the Town of Montreat for a permit to build the lodge. The permit we’re requesting will allow us to build the facility as described by the schematic design released in June, on property that we have used for the lodging of our guests for decades. That permit will move to the town’s Board of Adjustment for consideration at the earliest available date. The second step was taken by our board chair, Burnet Tucker, who met with me on Friday and several neighbors who own property adjacent to the proposed site. At the meeting, the neighbors proposed an alternative development plan, the first time such a proposal has been made formally by this group. Burnet promised to take the plan to the board for consideration.

While at first glance, the two steps seem to take the project in opposite directions, in fact they illustrate what has been the board’s position since its meeting in March – an intention to develop the site while remaining open to input from the community and the broader Montreat constituency. The board voted in May to submit its schematic design for a new lodge to the town’s staff by the end of July; the first step keeps the project on that schedule.

The second step reflects the board’s appreciation of community input, much of which has already shaped the plan that was submitted this week. (That design can be reviewed here.) The board has at this point only voted to seek a permit, and has pledged repeatedly to remain open to new insights. Burnet is, therefore, concurrently reaching out to board members to keep them updated on new ideas, and has tasked our design team, including our architects, and builders, with providing the board further analysis and comparatives. By the neighbors’ own admission, the conference center has at its disposal the necessary knowledge of the property, the project, and its goals for the future to make a determination of the value of their ideas.

Ultimately, the board chair’s actions reflect the understanding that the Board alone remains responsible and accountable for the conference center’s future, even as we intend to remain good neighbors and leaders in the surrounding community. These developments also affirm our belief that the conference center’s intent to expand and make better use of the site is completely consistent with the character of the Town of Montreat as expressed in the town’s 2008 Comprehensive Plan. We look forward to demonstrating our reasoning at the public hearing before the Board of Adjustment and to taking whatever steps are necessary to move our ministry into the future.

Richard DuBose

Richard DuBose
Montreat Conference Center