Finances at Stony Point Center again have emerged as a concern for the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board – with expenses at Stony Point outrunning revenue by more than $286,000 for the first seven months of this year.
In response, the Presbyterian Mission Agency is holding off on all but emergency or essential capital spending at Stony Point, hoping that guest occupancy rates at the conference and retreat center outside New York City can increase in the rest of the year, said Mike Miller, acting director of shared services.
While Stony Point finished 2017 with an occupancy rate of about 45 percent, the occupancy rate so far this year has fallen a little shy of 40 percent, said Rick Ufford-Chase, who is co-director of the center along with his wife, Kitty. Speaking during a conference call meeting of the board’s Resource Allocation and Stewardship Committee on Aug. 13, Miller said the budget was prepared anticipating a 50 percent occupancy rate – which, if achieved, would have produced a break-even budget.
Rick Ufford-Chase said the occupancy rates at Stony Point have risen over the last three years from 22 percent to 45 percent through intentional marketing efforts. But he also said, “we got the low-hanging fruit” through those initial campaigns, and a hospitality industry consultant the center has used had warned that “it will get harder and harder to increase” as time goes on.
“This is not the position we would have liked to be in this year,” Ufford-Chase said, apologizing and saying, “we’re working these questions really hard.”
There is hope that Stony Point finances might rebound some in the last part of 2018. The center is sending out a financial appeal to its donor base to mark the Ufford-Chase’s 10thanniversary of serving there as co-directors; is trying to develop new markets; and hopes to provide housing for international students attending a nearby community college, Kitty Ufford-Chase said.
Costs are being held down by delaying hiring as several employees have departed, by slowing purchasing decisions and by improving energy efficiency – with the hope of saving perhaps $70,000 by the end of 2018 from those efforts, Rick Ufford-Chase said.
And “the holy grail in this business is to find a sector” – a particular subset of organizations looking for conference space – and “become known as the go-to place” for such groups, he said. Stony Point is trying to make inroads in marketing to schools holding student retreats; among organizations offering mindfulness and wellness gatherings; and – with 120 glaciologists coming for a meeting this fall – among scientific research groups.
Deferring maintenance is tricky – as an effort is underway to replace leaking roofs on a number of buildings, and with a sense that investing in making the guest rooms nicer might lead to increased occupancy. Miller said he thinks a 50 percent occupancy rate might be possible even if significant improvements are not made.
Last April, the board expressed its support for Stony Point being an important ministry of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and allocated $650,000 to pay for deferred maintenance and capital improvements at Stony Point – essentially the first year of a $3 million multi-year request. That decision was based on the assumption that revenue at the facility would either rise or at least cover expenses, said Conrad Rocha, a board member from New Mexico who serves as chair of the Resource Allocation and Stewardship Committee.
The matter of what to do about Stony Point’s finances likely will come up before the full board at its Sept. 26-29 meeting in Louisville, Rocha said.
During the conference call, the committee also heard an update on PC(USA) finances (June Financial Reports Packet 08-07-2018) for the first two quarters of the year. Among the highlights: Through June 30, receipts for the Presbyterian Mission Agency were up $2.9 million over budget (12 percent) and expenses were under budget by $2.2 million (8 percent). Support from congregations and presbyteries was up by $585,000 from what had been budgeted, but extra commitment opportunity donations used to support World Mission personnel was down $820,000.