Montreat Conference Center: Proposed Montreat development is 'a lodge, not a hotel'
MONTREAT - A lodge to be built between Assembly Drive and Georgia Terrace is not a hotel, a statement released by developer Montreat Conference Center says.
The lodge, which will replace the center’s three existing properties on the site, including Galax House, Lord Apartments and Chestnut Lodge, is expected to be completed in a “solid two years,” president Richard DuBose said.
It will be used to continue serving the center’s goals, the center says.
“We are proposing a lodge, not a hotel. Its purpose is to provide a lodge experience to conference and retreat groups who are attending conferences and programing that we host. While some groups prefer the experience at Assembly Inn, many guest groups want their own contained and discreet sleeping, meeting, and eating spaces. They want to cook for themselves and manage their time together.”
The new building will not require staffing and will operate with the same functions as the center’s other lodges.
“We operate lodges all across our campus. For the most part, lodges don’t need staff support or daily service, unlike Assembly Inn. For each of our lodges, the administrative, housekeeping and maintenance is handled from our offices. This lodge will be no different, except that it will substantially upgrade accommodations and provide the ability to offer a much better lodge experience for these guests.”
DuBose said the project was required to replace “outdated” properties while accommodating “a new generation of Montreaters.” The size for the development is undetermined, though it will be “substantially bigger” than the three existing properties.
A price for the development is also undetermined, though the project remains in its conceptual phase, DuBose said. An MCC board meeting held March 15-16 is expected to progress planning into a schematic phase.
MCC was founded in 1905 and is a private, nonprofit and national conference center. Its origins coincide with the founding of Montreat, once referred to as “Mountain Retreat,” and the center is also recognized as Mountain Retreat Association.
Emmie Alexander was “very surprised to learn” about the development “in the way we did, because there’s been nothing in any communication that I see from the town or anything else.” Building the new lodge “dramatically changes the character of the neighborhood.”
Alexander says her property on Georgia Terrace would look directly down on the proposed development site. Her father bought the property in 1959 after first visiting in the ‘20s.
“It’s been part of our life forever,” Alexander said. “It was sad to think that all was going to change.”
Alexander joined a group of other neighboring property owners in a Zoom call with DuBose on Feb. 14 to discuss the development. Prior to that meeting, which she says was called on by the property owners, Alexander says there was no communication between the center and the property owners about the development’s proposal.
Kate Hayner, whose family owns the closest property to the site, echoed Alexander’s statement and said DuBose had previously reached out “a year or two ago” about potentially buying the Hayner-owned property.
“We had eight direct neighbors around the property,” Hayner said. “No one had been informed.”
In response to concerns that he had not reached out to neighboring property owners, DuBose said his first email regarding the project was sent Jan. 22, with subsequent Zoom calls Jan. 26-27 and additional calls in February in addition to the Feb. 14 call.
DuBose had reached out to the Hayner family last March and told the family that the center was “looking at developing the property next door to your home.” There was an additional effort to purchase a Georgia Terrace property owned by Brian McEntire, DuBose said, after another discussion about developing the area.
In another statement paired with defining the development as a lodge, DuBose and the center clarified the project’s communication efforts:
“Regarding our schedule of communications, we initiated talks with neighbors in January. Almost immediately, I began hearing from more neighbors as word of mouth traveled up the street. Still, it remains true that anyone who knows about this project can trace the source of that knowledge back to us.
I have responded to every single inquiry and made myself available for calls and conversations, and will continue to do so. We’ve released no broad public announcements because we’re still working on our plans. As we move forward, we will continue to provide opportunities for neighbor input.”
There was something missing between DuBose and the neighboring property owners when concerns about the development were discussed, Alexander says.
“I didn’t feel like there was any empathy expressed toward the people whose property will be seen, and whose experience in Montreat will be significantly different because of the project,” Alexander said. “He gave his presentation. He gave his logical justification from the conference center point-of-view and came across, quite frankly, as this is a done deal.”
Discussions during the Zoom call did not imply that DuBose “(wanted) to hear from you and want to hear how we can make it more acceptable to you.”
A website titled “Montreat Stewards” has also been published to make the concerns of the neighboring property owners public. Concerns include “irrevocable changes to the look of the center of Montreat with the scale of the project” and “threats to the natural environment.”
DuBose, who says he has been “most attentive” to concerns about the project and will respond to any email or call, emphasized all feedback that had been relayed to him.
“We are taking their feedback and we are building their feedback into the conceptual design as it moves forward to the schematic process,” DuBose said.
Feedback suggesting that the conference center move forward with moving the project to another part of Montreat, repurpose Assembly Inn, which has recently completed renovations, or renovate the three existing properties will not be entertained, DuBose said.
In addition to denying the renovation of the existing properties, the center noted that they are also functioning with limited capacity.
Communication with the neighboring property owners will continue, DuBose said, and he says he is confident that the town will support the project down the road.
"I’m very confident that when we get through the schematic design process, and we make our case in the community, that on balance, our community is going to understand the value of this project for Montreat, not just the conference center, and appreciate what we’re trying to do,” he said. “I’m confident in that.”