Trustees talk capital investment, Amp, smoking at open forum

In an effort to engage in dialogue with community members and to increase its transparency, the Chautauqua Institution Board of Trustees held an open forum Saturday in the Hall of Christ.

Vice Chairman Tim Renjilian led the meeting as a proxy for Chairman Jim Pardo, who was unable to attend. Trustee Ron Kilpatrick, chair of the board’s Asset Policy Committee, kicked off the meeting with a presentation about the Institution’s capital investment.

Kilpatrick said that there are two types of capital investment: operating capital — capital that is sourced and usually put toward infrastructure maintenance — and philanthropic capital, which is generally used to fund construction and major renovations.

Kilpatrick said that the board has radically changed its capital strategic planning system in recent years. In the early 2000s, they were using a depreciation policy to determine Chautauqua’s capital investment needs.

“Depreciation’s good for some things, but it wasn’t good for that,” Kilpatrick said. “We knew we had an issue, but we weren’t sure how to fix it.”

Now, the board uses a multi-step process to organize capital. First, a yearly review of the Institution’s 100 buildings allows it to forecast the cost of capital maintenance, reconstruction and new construction. Then they identify sources of different capital funds and organize the most efficient way to divide resources among various projects.

This year, the board’s capital planning model has projected that the capital maintenance needs for 2014 are approximately $4,166,881, Kilpatrick said. With $4,689,000 capital funds available, this leaves the Institution with an excess of $522,119.

According to Kilpatrick, this is only the second time in seven years that Chautauqua has a capital surplus, rather than a deficit.

“We realized we needed to be putting more capital aside for maintenance, and now we’re getting closer and closer to what we estimate our capital needs per year are,” Kilpatrick said.

Renjilian then opened the floor to questions from the audience.

Chautauquan Steve Davis expressed concern that the plans for the upcoming project to rehabilitate Chautauqua’s 121-year-old Amphitheater do not take historic preservation adequately into account.

President Tom Becker stepped up to answer Davis’ question and provide in-depth information regarding the plans for the Amphitheater project and how such conclusions were reached.

“Your point of view may be different, but our passion is shared,” Becker said. “There was a great discussion about what was best to do with the Amphitheater. When you get down to it, we feel very strongly that the Amphitheater is our home.”

Becker explained that there have been a multitude of revision considerations that have gone into the new Amphitheater plans, including capacity, sightlines, environmental sustainability, safety, aesthetics, ergonomics, acoustics and storage space. He said he hopes that the reconstructed Amphitheater will be a blend of tradition and modernity.

“This is not a historic preservation project,” Becker said. “This is a rehabilitation of a historic building. We’re not a museum. The Amphitheater, like the Institution, has changed, and its purposes have changed over time.”

Becker then redirected his energy to answer a question put forth by Linda Johnson, a community member who advocates for an anti-smoking policy in Chautauqua.

“Why can we not ban all smoking within 50 to 75 feet of all lecture and performance buildings?” Johnson asked. She said that she would ultimately like to see all smoking banned on Institution grounds, although she does not think that is a realistically attainable goal.

Becker acknowledged Johnson’s points, explaining that, while he would keep it in mind, it wasn’t at the top of the administration’s priority list. When Johnson pushed Becker for some sort of confirmation to support an anti-smoking policy, Becker declined but noted that there are already signs in place around the grounds to indicate no-smoking areas. Johnson’s final word on the matter was a request to make the signs bigger.

“People may see [bigger signs], but that doesn’t change their behavior one iota,” Becker said.

One of the last inquiries of the day, put forth by Lorraine Glasden, concerned the issue of seat reserving at lectures and performances.

“By paying more, is there a way to assure you have a seat reserved?” Glasden asked.

She suggested that a policy of providing special reserved seating — available for purchase — would mean seat assurance for Chautauquans, eliminate the problem of seat saving and potentially generate more revenue for the Institution.

Renjilian said he understood where Glasden was coming from, but expressed skepticism about her policy idea.

“Frankly, that’s a controversial point,” said Tim Renjilian, vice chairman of the board. “There’s many people who thinks that’s not a very ‘Chautauqua’ way to go, and that it conflicts with other values in our community.”