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Presbyterian Center improvements to allow it to host General Assembly will cost an estimated $2.4 million

The investment will save money at future assemblies, plus create opportunities to host others, including non-Presbyterians

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Pending approval by two boards, the Presbyterian Center in Louisville, Kentucky, is set for a $2.4 million renovation ahead of its role hosting the 225th General Assembly in 2022. (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — The Board of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation heard two main presentations on Wednesday: a vision for what future editions of the General Assembly could look like, and how the Presbyterian Center in downtown Louisville can be modified to accommodate that vision and much more — with an estimated $2.4 million price tag.

“After a great deal of collaborative work by staff, I am proposing that a conference center within Presbyterian Center be created,” the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the PC(USA), said in a letter to the board. The conference center that’s being envisioned “not only meets the needs of how to meet in a pandemic world, but also will help us anticipate new patterns of meetings and events.”

The Committee on the Office of the General Assembly has announced the 225th General Assembly will be held in hybrid fashion next year. Committees comprised of commissioners and advisory delegates will rotate into the Presbyterian Center four committees at a time beginning in mid-June 2022 to complete their business in person. Except for an in-person plenary session for a few commissioners in June, most of the assembly’s plenary work will be completed online during the week of July 5-9, 2022.

Nelson said the planned renovation, including the conference center, a welcoming center and a production studio, will provide a number of enhancements, including:

  • A more hospitable and effective space to host the assembly’s committees and initial plenary
  • Engagement of the greater Louisville area, including the presbyteries of Ohio Valley and Mid-Kentucky, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and other nonprofits and civic organizations holding gatherings and events
  • Space for video and online productions
  • Improved capacity for hosting hybrid meetings
  • Ways to embody hospitality, allowing staff to welcome people to the Presbyterian Center in new ways
  • Through use of the planned welcome center, the story of the PC(USA) and its witness in the world can be better told.

The planned renovation, Nelson noted, will also update a building that is almost 33 years old. Planned upgrades include the building security system, the creation of gender neutral and family restrooms on the first floor, new HVAC systems on that same floor, an updated catering area, modern and flexible technology that allow for updates and expansion as technology improves, and the welcome center.

The 225th General Assembly will be pivotal, Nelson told the board Wednesday. One example: Each commissioner elected will be asked to serve a two-year term so that that work begun before and during the assembly goes on afterward. “We haven’t held people to that commitment,” he said, leaving open the possibility that the assembly could even “reconvene if necessary.”

Consultants can be brought in, Nelson said, to help ensure commissioners and advisory delegates don’t feel like they’ve “won” or “lost” depending on how a particular vote went. “The question we have had to raise,” Nelson said, “is, how do we think through what it means in the 21st century to have a gathering that will unify and strengthen us?”

“How can the guy from Iowa sit down at the table with the woman from New York, when there are two different realities for how they live?” Nelson said. “We have struggled to find unity of spirit, to find ways to make decisions on where is the middle ground … We are suggesting there could be a better way of doing this while doing it in a way where individuals can hear the voice of the Lord and go home knowing there is something their church has been held accountable for.”

A Corp President Kathy Lueckert and Assistant Stated Clerk Kerry Rice took the board through some of the details of the renovation, which the board is scheduled to vote on during its Thursday meeting.

Three new conference rooms are planned for One West, the largest portion of the first floor at the Presbyterian Center. Two conference rooms will be separated by an air door to allow for larger groups when the need arises. During the General Assembly, the fourth committee will meet in second-floor conference rooms.

Plans also call for a dining area where commissioners can enjoy meals together, although probably in shifts.

If the project is approved, the design work for the renovation will be completed this summer, along with permitting and plan review requirements. At least 20% of the construction work will be completed by minority-owned subcontractors, Lueckert said.

Construction is expected to begin around Oct. 1 and completed within six months, allowing time “to do a shakedown of space and systems,” Lueckert said. As a backup, the nearby Galt House has sufficient meeting space to accommodate four committees at a time, Rice said.

Asked by A Corp Board co-chair the Rev. Bill Teng how much a traditional GA costs and what this hybrid assembly will cost, Rice said the usual price tag is $2.5 million. Notwithstanding the renovation to the Presbyterian Center, the coming assembly is expected to cost $1.4 million, including cancellation fees at the previously announced site of the 225th General Assembly, Columbus, Ohio. If another group takes over the space the PC(USA) planned to have used in Columbus, those cancellation fees would be reduced or eliminated, Rice said.

To date, the site approved for the 226th General Assembly, Salt Lake City, Utah, has not been changed, Rice said.

“We believe this is a time to do discernment, to get feedback from the whole church about where General Assembly should be held, how they should look, and how they should function,” Rice said. A General Assembly discussion on where to hold the 226th assembly won’t occur until that feedback has been gathered, he said.

Proposed funding sources include about $479,000 from per capita funds, about $325,000 from capital reserve and nearly $1.6 million from unrestricted reserve funds, which will require approval from the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board at its July meeting. That funding, if approved, would be advanced to help pay for the project, with the payback coming through the expected forgiveness of a Paycheck Protection Program loan, Lueckert said.

“I am very supportive of what we are doing here,” said the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, president and executive director of the PMA. “I understand the implications, and I know there will be questions raised.”

She said she’s spoken to the PMA Board chair and chair-elect, the Rev. Warren LeSane, Jr. and the Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo, but not yet to the entire board.

“I don’t want to speak for our board,” Moffett said. “This will be coming to our board, and it’s ultimately a board decision.”

After concluding its public agenda, the A Corp Board held an hour-long closed session Wednesday to discuss personnel and property matters. Following its closed session, the board issued this statement:

“Pursuant to the Standards of Ethical Conduct section 2.d. of the Ethics Policy for Elected and Appointed Members of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board, the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly, and the Board of Directors of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (“Ethics Policy”), the Board of Directors of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation concludes that no conflict of interest as defined by the Ethics Policy is present as to the A Corporation in a situation in which a member of the A Corporation Board of Directors is employed by a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mid council or congregation that is applying for a grant from the Presbyterian Mission Agency (“PMA”) when the grant decision-making will be made by the PMA’s Mission Development Resources Committee and the A Corporation Board member has otherwise complied with the Ethics Policy as to any position other than A Corporation Board member held by such member.

“For similar situations presented in the future the A Corporation Board member should submit information related to the grant application to the General Counsel or the appropriate staff person acting in the General Counsel’s stead for entry on the Ethics Log for Elected Members.”

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