Stony Point evaluation committee recommends against incorporation

Report cites too many unanswered questions, including financial viability

January 13, 2014

LOUISVILLE

An evaluation committee is recommending that a proposal to separately incorporate the Stony Point Conference Center not move forward at this time – saying too many questions remain unanswered about the business plan for Stony Point and the possibility of whether it can become financially self-sustaining. 

The committee also is recommending that the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board consider a more fundamental question: Does the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) want to be involved in the kind of multi-faith peacemaking and justice work that co-directors Rick and Kitty Ufford-Chase have embarked on at Stony Point? 

Depending on the answer to that question, the committee report states, the alternatives that the board, or ultimately the General Assembly, might want to consider could include:

  • Financially supporting the center’s operations or requiring it to become fiscally self-sufficient;
  • Spinning it off to be operated by a mid-council or an independent entity; or
  • Shutting down Stony Point and selling the property to support other mission work of the PC(USA).   

The evaluation committee’s report is strongly worded, saying that the reports of earlier groups which considered incorporation for Stony Point did not resolve key budgetary and legal issues – including the question of financial viability for Stony Point and the capital needs of the property. 

Those earlier study groups – both of which the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board created – relied too heavily on a business plan that the Stony Point leadership team presented, and their reports “did not result from a full and robust analysis of the issues which would be crucial to determine whether an approved corporation would most likely succeed” if incorporation were recommended, the evaluation committee report states. 

Then there is the question of focus – and whether the PC(USA)’s leadership agrees with the emphasis on Stony Point’s being not just a retreat center or meeting space close to New York City, but an entity focused on interfaith peacemaking and nonviolence. As an earlier report stated:  “Increasingly, Stony Point Center’s identity is intertwined with what it means to nurture multi-faith partnerships in our pluralistic and global society.” 

The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board is expected to discuss the Stony Point issue at its meeting in Louisville Feb. 5-7. 

History: The board created the evaluation committee in September 2013 following a difficult discussion in which the leaders of a transitional task force, led by Presbyterian Mission Agency Board member Melissa DeRosia, sought to have the board consider its recommendation that Stony Point be separately incorporated, bolstered by a 131-page report.

The board voted a year before that, in September 2012, to “affirm and approve a path and process to establish Stony Point Center as a separate legal entity,” although it did not actually approve incorporation, and created the transition task team to develop a plan. The transition task team built on the work of the Stony Point Task Force, which spent a year working with the leadership team of Stony Point to investigate the possibilities for Stony Point’s future. 

Instead of debating the transitional task team’s recommendations, the board voted 17-14 in September to send the issue to a new three-member evaluation committee to consider whether the proposed incorporation would be both justified and viable, giving that new committee a Dec. 31 deadline to complete its work. Advocates of that approach argued that standards the board adopted in 2007 regarding proposals to incorporate require such a separate independent evaluation. 

Evaluation committee. The evaluation committee consists of three members – Molly Baskin, Conrad Rocha and Linda Scholl (a financial analyst; a synod executive who also is a lawyer; and an attorney) none of whom were involved with either the transitional task team or the Stony Point Task Force, and who met in Louisville in November to interview people involved with the issue. 

Among the findings of the evaluation committee:

  • The transitional task team “did not make the case” required by the incorporation criteria, and “a significant amount of further work would be required before an incorporation decision could be considered” by the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board.
  • If the board were to decide it wants to support the focus at Stony Point of multi-faith ministry, it would then have to decide whether to run the program internally (and whether it would be expected to be self-sustaining, or would need financial support from the board), or whether it wanted to recommend separate incorporation to the General Assembly.
  • If the board were to decide “it does not wish to remain engaged in this type of multi-faith ministry,” then it would refer the issue to the General Assembly, which would consider the same question – is this type of multi-faith ministry something the assembly would support?
  • If the answer is yes, the assembly would have to consider a number of financial and legal issues.
  • If the answer is no, the assembly would have two general options:  One, “spin the ministry off to a mid-council or to an independent entity.” Or two, “wind down the ministry as it exists.” 

The evaluation committee also laid out a number of financial and legal matters it stated would need to be worked through before incorporation could be considered. The transitional task team relied heavily on the Stony Point business plan, but “there was no evidence that a thorough analysis of this plan was performed,” the report states.

Among the report’s other conclusions:

  • Stony Point “is currently not financially viable as a stand-alone entity,” having only limited resources to accomplish deferred maintenance and needed upgrades. The board has covered operational losses at Stony Point of about $1.5 million so far.
  • So far, “there is no real plan to get the enterprise to financial viability.” The projections in the business plan “were not subjected to analysis and stress testing,” and “there is no consideration of a downside case: What happens if the economy does not improve or if it gets worse?” What if occupancy rates are lower than projected or energy costs higher?
  • There has been no consideration of the “opportunity cost” of the money the PC(USA) is using to fund Stony Point. What is the cost of keeping the property, “rather than selling it and investing the proceeds with the (Presbyterian) Foundation, using the income to fund world mission and potentially freeing up unrestricted funds now used” to support Stony Point.
  • Neither a specific capitalization plan nor a detailed marketing plan has been presented for Stony Point.
  • The option of selling Stony Point has not been discussed – nor the restrictions donors have placed on how various properties can be used.

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