LOUISVILLE, KY. — Those involved in discussions over the last two months about the future of Stony Point Center outside New York City voiced realism April 24 about the difficulty of the center’s challenges.
They also expressed gratitude they are being given more time to try to make the center’s finances work.
The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board, meeting in Louisville April 23-25, approved a recommendation April 24 that it establish a series of milestones to move Stony Point on a path of full financial sustainability over a period of three years, ending on December 31, 2017. Decisions about Stony Point’s future would depend on whether the center’s leadership meets those milestones, which will be spelled out by early June. The possible outcomes range from keeping Stony Point as a mission of the PC(USA) to making it a separate nonprofit corporation to discontinuing the mission and selling or leasing the center’s property.
“We’re not ready to pull the plug on this,” said Linda Valentine, executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. “We want to give it a good try,” she told the board’s Finance Committee.
“The finances are challenging,” acknowledged Rick Ufford-Chase, who is co-executive director of Stony Point along with his wife, Kitty. “I don’t want to sugar-coat that.”
But both Rick and Kitty Ufford-Chase voiced enthusiasm for the task, and they described as crucial the willingness of the leadership of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to affirm their support for the multi-faith peace and justice work taking place at Stony Point. That includes the creation of the Community of Living Traditions, a multi-faith intentional community at Stony Point of Jews, Muslims and Christians.
“I’ve often wondered, ‘Do I have the backing of this group of people?’ ” Rick Ufford-Chase told the finance committee. Having a clear answer to the question means the Stony Point team can use the denomination’s support for its multi-faith work as a selling point in trying to attract groups to use the facilities.
A key factor in Stony Point’s effort to attain financial self-sufficiency will be whether it can attract enough “heads in beds,” particularly during the week, when occupancy tends to be low. Stony Point has an overall occupancy rate of about 22 percent – with about 70 percent occupancy on weekends, but only about 5 percent during the week. Unless the occupancy rate improves, the center won’t be financially sustainable, said Charles “Chip” Hardwick, who is the PC(USA)’s director of Theology, Worship and Education, where Stony Point now reports within the denomination’s internal structure. In addition to being a minister, Hardwick previously worked in management consulting and holds a master’s degree in business administration.
“It’s been a real joy” to work with the Stony Point team, Hardwick said. “I am just having fun because I get to put on my MBA hat.”
Stony Point also is trying to deepen its relationship with the Synod of the Northeast, and has applied for synod grants of $40,000 each for this year and next, with the funds to be used to develop sales and marketing expertise. And it needs to raise more money from private donors
Finance Committee member Jack Shelver raised questions of whether the hope of raising the occupancy rate quickly is realistic. “If we’re sending you on a mission that it’s impossible to fill those weekday beds, we ought to know that,” Shelver said.
“You’ve named the conundrum and the challenge,” Rick Ufford-Chase replied. “I fear you might be right. And I hope you’re wrong.”