LOUISVILLE, KY – After a long and somewhat contentious stretch of trying to figure out the future of Stony Point Center, a plan seems to have emerged — a roadmap for trying to make Stony Point financially self-sufficient within the next three years.
The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board voted April 24 in favor of a plan that:
- Affirms the mission, including interfaith work, of Stony Point Center, a Presbyterian conference center outside New York City. Rick and Kitty Ufford-Chase, Stony Point’s co-executive directors, described as crucial the willingness of the leadership of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to affirm its support for the multifaith peace and justice work taking place at Stony Point — including the Community of Living Traditions, an intentional community of Jews, Muslims and Christians living at Stony Point. The plan states that Stony Point’s mission is “consistent” with a paper from the General Assembly Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations, which the General Assembly will consider in Detroit in June and which sets forth a proposed Interreligious Stance for the PC(USA).
- Establishes a series of milestones to move Stony Point toward attaining full financial sustainability within a three-year period, ending Dec. 31, 2017. What happens next with Stony Point will depend on whether the center meets those milestones — with potentially different outcomes for different results. The options 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.
- Moves Stony Point’s reporting status within the internal PC(USA) structure, from reporting to the director of Evangelism and Church Growth to reporting to the director of Theology, Worship and Education. The latter office houses the denomination’s Interfaith Relations office, and its director, Charles “Chip” Hardwick, is a minister who also earned a master’s in business administration from Northwestern University and previously worked in management consulting. His expertise could prove valuable to Stony Point in its efforts to become financially self-sufficient.
Over the past two months, Kitty and Rick Ufford- Chase, along with Linda Valentine, executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, and Roger Dermody, the agency’s deputy executive director for mission, have been meeting to try to reach a resolution on Stony Point’s future. That approach was agreed on after task forces had worked on the question for several years; after a proposal was made to separately incorporate Stony Point; and after the question threatened to become contentious at the board’s meeting in February. Faced with that history, Stony Point’s leaders sought both a process of reconciliation and a way to sort through difficult issues in a more productive way.
Those leaders voiced realism in recent months about the difficulty of the center’s challenges, about the need to increase occupancy, especially on weekdays. “The finances are challenging,” acknowledged Rick Ufford-Chase. “I don’t want to sugarcoat that.”
They also said they were grateful they had been given more time to try to make the center’s finances work.
“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 multifaith work as a selling point in trying to attract groups to use the facilities.
“We’re not ready to pull the plug on this,” Valentine said. “We want to give it a good try.”
Here’s more about what the plan involves:
Finances. Benchmarks will be established to try to lead Stony Point to financial self-sufficiency — with the benchmarks to be in place by June 1, and with annual reports being made of whether the benchmarks are being met. “If the milestones are met, the plan will continue for another year,” the report states. “If the milestones are not met for two consecutive periods, staff will begin the process of winding down Stony Point Center.”
That goal of becoming financially self-sustaining would include making capital investments to make sure all facilities are safe, hospitable and welcoming; covering an allocation imposed by the Presbyterian Mission Agency to pay for administrative costs; and generating enough revenue to pay all costs in Stony Point’s operating budget.
The plan also includes a mechanism for monitoring and managing what’s described as the “negative interfund balance” — accumulated losses which the Presbyterian Mission Agency says Stony Point already owes it. If Stony Point achieves financial self-sustainability by the end of 2017, “we will negotiate an appropriate plan to begin to pay down the negative interfund balance, taking into account Stony Point Center’s need to continue to make significant investments in campus improvements,” the report states.
Collaboration. The recent conversations have included discussions with Harold Delhagen, transitional leader of the Synod of the Northeast. “Out of that conversation came an invitation to Stony Point Center to seek funding from the synod to build financial strength by helping to support a full-time staff person for fundraising and/or marketing,” the report states. Stony Point has applied for innovation grants from the synod of $40,000 each for this year and next.
Occupancy. 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, Hardwick said.
Finance committee member Jack Shelver asked whether it was realistic to hope to raise the occupancy rate quickly. “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.”