Allowing Cedars to close may be option to consider

I know most Jewish Light readers will be horrified by the very thought of allowing the JCA to close, but it’s something we need to consider. To be sure, we in St. Louis are fortunate to have the leaders who have been in charge of the JCA from the board that made the mistake of building the new facility, to its gold plated standard, to those who are pulling out all the stops to save it. All these people deserve our thanks for trying to come up with a solution to an impossible situation

But to suggest as the Light does in its July 9 edition (Editorial, “Ruling Favoring JCA Gives Renewed Hope”) that “there is no alternative but to seek a permanent solution” belies the facts and plays into the hands of the note holder Lehman Brothers.

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The question of what the facility is worth and what amount of debt service the JCA can service are two separate questions with unknown answers. What good is it if someone can buy a house at an excellent price if he can’t afford the mortgage payments?

The underlying problem is that it’s extremely expensive to take care of older people. The goal of taking care of the Jewish, indigent, observant elderly in a first-class facility according to the JCA’s own numbers requires a subsidy of many thousands per year per resident and that subsidy goes to both Jewish and non-Jewish residents, as both groups have equal access to the facility. Seeing that the Federation grant to the JCA is only about $150,000 a year and the Federation raises only $11 million a year one can easily see how a deficit at the JCA could bankrupt the entire Jewish community organization group.

If the Federation, or a group of its largest and most generous donors, becomes the JCA’s real estate lender, nothing will stop the facility from going further into debt. Pledging the Federation endowment or making further loans would put the community at risk.

But suppose I’m wrong and one of the admittedly brilliant and generous people leading the charge can put this puzzle together, it makes no sense to tell Lehman that the community will pay any price to keep the JCA open as the Light has now done for a second time. If it were me I’d hand Lehman Brothers the keys. Let them try to resell this white elephant. Let their buyer try to deal with the bureaucracy in Town and Country and the State of Missouri in order to get new zoning and permits. The place would sit vacant with Lehman not only getting no income but having costs to insure and maintain for at least two years if not much longer.

Furthermore, and for reasons too complicated to go into here, there is a good argument that Lehman would be limited to releasing the premises to another nonprofit organization. In short they may face a monster legal bill to get some rent payments from another entity that might be more limited in resources than the JCA and the Federation.

Our community is Lehman Brothers’ best way out of its unfortunate purchase which it stupidly overbid for and now is trying to turn a profit on at the expense of our elderly, like a house flipper who learned his trade on cable TV.

The community ought to set a date for the closure of the JCA and use its resources to subsidize the few members who need help at other facilities. Alternatively maybe all of us could increase our Federation pledges by 20 percent and the Federation could allocate an additional $2 million a year to the JCA — but would the money be better spent elsewhere?

Norman Pressman

St. Louis

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