Renovation under way at Lake Junaluska center

By Jessica Connor, Special Contributor…

LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C.—Armed with a new mission statement and a new strategic vision, Lake Junaluska is stepping into a bold new future. And it has Christian hospitality and transformation at its heart.

For the past year, the United Methodist conference and retreat center has been quietly working behind the scenes to explore, create and massage a new mission statement and vision. And this summer—when United Methodists from across the Southeast pour onto the campus for events, weekend getaways and annual conferences—visitors will begin seeing the dream start to become reality.

This summer the United Methodist conference and retreat center at Lake Junaluska, N.C., will unveil a renovated lobby at its Terrace Hotel—the start of a strategic plan to establish the center “as a Christian vacation destination,” says director of advancement Ken Howle.

In early June, work should be complete on a newly renovated Terrace Hotel lobby, featuring a slate tile floor and tile running up the east wall, plus new lighting, furniture and four distinct sitting areas designed for small group gatherings and interactions. Designed by Greenville-based architectural firm Craig Gaulden Davis, the work reflects a more modern, streamlined feel that is geared to make the guest experience more conducive to spiritual retreat and renewal.

“We are establishing Lake Junaluska as a Christian vacation destination,” said Ken Howle, director of advancement for the center, pointing out that everything they are doing is designed to help Lake Junaluska live into its new mission statement.

Adopted last March, the new mission statement of Lake Junaluska is to be a place of Christian hospitality where lives are transformed through renewal of soul, mind and body. Likewise, their five-pronged strategic vision, which was adopted in October, encompasses using hospitality, programming, value, environment and technology to carry out that mission.

“The renovation is a part of our steps to live into our strategic plan,” Mr. Howle said.

And it is a lofty goal, too. Their hospitality plan calls for becoming “the standard” against which all other similar organizations will measure themselves for Christian hospitality. The initial renovations of the Terrace lobby and other updates are just the beginning.

Thanks to about $900,000 in capital improvement funds, plus a $300,000 grant from the N.C. Department of Commerce Energy Office, Lake Junaluska is not only able to renovate the Terrace lobby in 2012, but also make other smaller but significant changes: upgraded heating and air conditioning units in the Terrace Hotel and Lambuth Inn, 5-foot-wide handicap-accessible sidewalks, new china and serving stations to enhance the dining experience, replacing the wood on boat docks and more. They are also working with a North Carolina firm to create a custom-designed Lake Junaluska rocking chair.

Change is in the air, and for those in charge, it cannot come soon enough.

“Anybody who’s been here before will definitely notice a difference when they arrive,” said Jack Ewing, executive director and CEO. “It will give people a taste of what the future renovations are going to look like.”

By the time the UMC’s Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference meets July 18-20, the Lake Junaluska staff hope to unveil their new campus master plan to the public.

From dated to dynamic

The mission does not have anything to do with facilities but with transformation, Mr. Ewing said. But he noted people cannot experience that transformation if they don’t choose to come to Lake Junaluska because the experience is stale or old-fashioned.

“The reality is the world has changed—what people want has changed, what people are willing to pay for has changed—and therefore Lake Junaluska has to change, as well,” he said.

As a nearly 100-year-old retreat center—Lake Junaluska marks its centennial in 2013—Mr. Ewing said their sleeping, eating and meeting spaces are dated.

“In the last 25 years, the bar has been raised rather dramatically for conference, retreat and convention centers,” he said. “We realize it is not just important, it is essential, for us to raise the quality of sleeping, eating and meeting spaces to be competitive. . . . We are a place of renewal—renewal of soul and mind and body—and it’s critical that we have facilities that match the expectations of our guests and potential guests.”

Lake Junaluska plans to honor the traditional arts-and-crafts-style architecture Lake Junaluska is known for, but with a modern approach: modern amenities, high-speed Internet access, updated rooms, etc.

Brenda Hook, one of four Lake Junaluska board members from South Carolina, has been going to Lake Junaluska since she became a United Methodist, about 50 years ago. While for her the experience has nothing to do with the facilities, she understands that modern, comfortable and convenient amenities are critical for other people.

Lake Junaluska Chapel

“It is a sacred place for me, and I want so badly for others to experience it, as well,” Ms. Hook said, noting that Lake Junaluska needs to do all it can to get people “in the door” so they, too, can understand the primal, mystical beauty of the lake and mountains there—and not someplace else. “We’re in competition. That’s where it’s at.”

Architect Scott Powell, one of the principals in charge of the project, said the Terrace lobby was a strong place to begin renovations because it is a confined space that will allow operations to continue while the renovation occurs, and the hotel is the most used residence facility on the Lake Junaluska campus. Work on the project started in March.

Mr. Powell calls the look “rustic yet refined.”

“From the lobby, there are extraordinary views of the lake and the mountains, yet there was diagonal wood siding reminiscent of the 1970s, and the finishes were rose and teal,” Mr. Powell said.

They chose to use a more natural palette, and the floor tile resembles a natural stone. They are continuing it up one wall of the two-story space to create an upscale feel and building a television cabinet out from the wall for a layered effect. The finishes are earth-toned browns and golds to create a warmer environment.

Long road

But the changes will not happen overnight. Not only is there a lot of actual work to do in order for Lake Junaluska to live into its mission and vision, but funding is an issue, as well.

Mr. Ewing estimates that all of the projects Lake Junaluska wants to complete could cost in the range of $30-$40 million. While the Southeastern Jurisdiction owns the center, funding will have to come from private fundraising, as well as from debt service. Mr. Ewing said the jurisdiction would need to approve that loan, and all of this is a long process.

And they embark on the project knowing they need to be good stewards and balance the needed capital expenses with the program funding challenges they have faced since the 2008 SEJ decision to halt apportionment funding of operational expenses. Twelve percent of operational funds they had in 2009 will not be available in 2013 because of this decision, Mr. Ewing said. And with apportionment payments down across the jurisdiction thanks to the economy, times are tough, they said.

If work is done in 10 years, Mr. Ewing said, he will be satisfied.

“It’s a gorgeous place,” he said. “There are few places in America that can compete with us for natural beauty. It’s easy to get here, the weather’s great, the mountains are always beautiful, the lake adds incredible value. . . . Now it’s our responsibility to be good stewards of those resources.”


Ms. Connor is editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, where this story first appeared.

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