Wednesday, July 25, 2012

LifeWay, Glorieta Conference Center and old fashioned money pits

I am venturing out of my geographical area in writing about LifeWay's 'other' conference center, Glorieta Conference Center, in New Mexico. I have always wanted to take in a conference there (my wife worked there one summer and loved the place) but it was just too far.

Last year LifeWay started looking for a buyer, so I may never get the chance.

Why sell a perfectly good conference center? Here's a factoid that got my attention: LifeWay reported that "Just once in the last 25 years has Glorieta achieved financial break-even."

Ouch.

LifeWay offered the whole thing to the Baptist Convention of New Mexico for one dollar.

Deal of the century?

Not according to the BCNM who said there was tens of millions of dollars of deferred maintenance to be done and wanted LifeWay to indemnify them if they took it over.

LifeWay, understanding that they would still own a money pit, declined that.

There was a possibility of another sale that fell through. It was interesting that the sale would have included

  • -- "Significant protections for individuals and churches that lease land from Glorieta for houses and conference facilities
  • -- "Permission for LifeWay to continue using Glorieta for summer camps
  • -- "Accommodation of use by New Mexico Baptists
  • -- "Preservation of memorials associated with rooms and structures, and,
  • -- "Prohibition of re-selling the facilities in the future without LifeWay's permission."
Come on LifeWay. Either sell it or make something out of it. What buyer would buy the thing with all the above stipulations?

The first stipulation in the list above, the one about "individuals and churches" leasing land from Glorieta, is interesting. I have always wondered what the arrangement was at Ridgecrest for all those on-campus houses that were owned by churches.

The Ridgecrest/Glorieta model of a centralized, dedicated conference facility fueled by national conferences is outdated, according to one of the news reports linked above. This matches my experience with Ridgecrest where summer youth conferences, my church went every year in the 1980s and early 90s, packed the place. 

LifeWay gets to operate differently than other SBC institutions and agencies, since it can raise literature prices to generate more income and is unaffected, directly that is, by any Cooperative Program revenue issues. 

I suspect that this is the only thing that has made it possible for LifeWay to pour money into Glorieta for decade after decade without too much worry. I suppose the sums just became too large to justify. 

I'd be curious to see a figure on how much money LifeWay has lost on Glorieta over the years. I read that Ridgecrest is profitable, but I'd like to see the details on that. LifeWay has put some significant money into Ridgecrest which was getting very long in the tooth.

I'd ask any of my west-of-the-Mississippi readers what they think of the whole, sad, Glorieta thing.


5 comments:

Howell Scott said...

William,

As I share with you on my blog, I will interact and respond to what you have written in a post that I will put up tomorrow. I appreciate you being interested in Glorieta and her future. As a teaser, I would just say that, based upon my own experiences both at Glorieta and Ridgecrest, Lifeway's increasing literature prices were most assuredly not poured into Glorieta. Poured somewhere. But, not in the infrastructure or upkeep of what was (in terms of land) a gift that had been received from New Mexico Baptists. What has become of Glorieta is a shame. Lifeway's leaders -- past and present -- should have to answer for that, but I'm quite sure that they will not. More tomorrow. Thanks and have a great day. God bless,

Howell

Matt Richard said...

Like much of our beloved Baptist tradition, it sounds like a pride issue. They don't want to be responsible for it, but also don't want to admit the need for such a facility is passed.

It reminds me of churches that continue to have revivals for the already saved and Sunday School directors that count the same heads Sunday after Sunday.

Howell Scott said...

William,

As promised, I now have a post up at From Law to Grace which shares some of my thoughts on the "whole,sad, Glorieta thing." Entitled "NM Baptists, Glorieta, & Lifeway's Shame," you might be able to guess where some of my thoughts are directed. As for Glorieta not being viable because of changes or that there is no need for such a facility (Matt's comment), I would point out the success of Ridgecrest. If that conference center can break even or make money, then Glorieta can as well. However, when you neglect to update, remodel, build or otherwise invest in the infastruture of your property, you shouldn't be surprised when is loses money. That would be true for any business. That Lifeway's leaders and trustees let Glorieta not turn a profit in 24 out of 25 years and not do something before now is astounding. They should be ashamed, but they will not be. Thanks again for bringing attention to your readers of the "whole, sad, Glorieta thing." God bless,

Howell

William Thornton said...

Howell's article is linked below. While I am not inclined to share his disgust at LifeWay, I am curious about the extent of the privately owned structures on the property, the ones that LifeWay promised to ensure "significant protections".

Exactly what revenue does LifeWay receive through these leases?

How long are the leases?

How many are there?

How encumbered is the conference center by such leases?

Howell's blog:
http://fromlaw2grace.com/2012/07/26/nm-baptists-glorieta-lifeways-shame/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nm-baptists-glorieta-lifeways-shame

Anonymous said...

Hi; just following your blog postings regarding Glorieta, and those of your NM compadre at From Law to Grace. A few added thoughts:

1. The first thing retracted from Glorieta by LifeWay's execs: passion for the place and its future, it appears; Ridgecrest and Gatlinburg both are closer to Nashville--much easier in, easier out, for LifeWay's staffers.

2. Baptists in the West, in terms of their numbers: not sure, but Texas conventions combined boast over 7000 churches, with some hundreds of new congregations passionately planted annually (the BGCT maintains--and uses--a Glorieta cabin; the BGCT "hostile to" comment by another blog commenter: people living the situation over the recent years know better--"acted 'Lone Star'" and wouldn't be told by the SBC what the new normal had to be maybe, and much maligned for it, but not "hostile"--and the SBC continues to receive BGCT Baptists CP funds annually totalling in the millions of dollars); add another 5000 churches of all other western conventions and a really large number is the total. Distance from and gas prices to reach Glorieta--an argument without much merit. The current chairman of LifeWay's trustee board is the senior pastor of a large California Baptist church--a day's drive or a few hours' flight; to Nashville for him: 2 days' drive and farther by plane;

3. Prefer the beach to other conference center locations? Cf. Falls Creek, Camp Kanakuk, etc.--not a beach in sight, but thousands of teens attend annually and are greatly blessed; again, the difference: passion for the place.

4. The Olivet thing: if Olivet can afford to buy and maintain Glorieta, it has money out the wazoo that other higher ed institutions private or public don't have, and its first conference held there should be "How to Spend a Lot of Money Your Educational Institution Really Doesn't Have and Cannot Afford";

5. It's condition and management have been Glorieta's real problem, and LifeWay's execs know it. I was present personally about 5 years ago when veteran SBC Ministers of Education told LifeWay Nashville program leaders that the people the MEs brought from their churches for a conference were horribly unimpressed by the conditions and management of the place, and that the MEs were going to have to work hard to get those church members to return in the future as they couldn't see the value in it (response of the LifeWay staffers: "Keep saying so; keep saying so . . ."). That sad assessment was both regrettable and unavoidable. Ask the MEs.

6. Last one: I attended a conference at Ridgecrest in January 2005 as its renovations were just getting underway--at that time, its condition was far, far worse than Glorieta's now; anyone believing that Ridgecrest always has been a nicer conference center than Glorieta has a great deal of unjustified sentimental attachment to that place--or is well over 100 years of age but somehow still can remember Ridgecrest when it was brand new.

People interviewing for vacant positions at LifeWay-Nashville always are told, "We only hire the smartest and brightest"--and I'm sure it must be true . . . So, why can't LifeWay's paid execs develop a solid business plan for Glorieta? Despite their market research, it appears they really don't want to--and that's something Southern Baptists ought to check into further (fortunately for those execs, the next SBC annually meeting now is 11 months away--a sell of Glorieta before then would keep them from having to answer those kinds of questions in a more public setting; everyone will simply shout "Hallelujah!" and move on to the next item on the meeting's agenda, while property owners would be left holding the bag, so to speak). The business world is watching; Mardel/Hobby Lobby execs have known about the matter for some time, and been asked to buy Glorieta from LifeWay just to keep it a going enterprise.