Brownwood ‘VIP Experience’ proves greed is driving young Villages brass

The Villages Entertainment Department embarked on an idiotic and potentially precedent-setting path Thursday night during the Fourth of July celebration at Brownwood Paddock Square.

Apparently, the entertainment powers-that-be – with the blessings, no doubt, of the millennial Morse family members who quickly are taking charge of The Villages – decided to toss aside a winning philosophy and a rich tradition by offering Villagers the chance to shell out big bucks for a “VIP Experience” at the “All American Brews and Cruise.”

The ‘VIP Experience’ at Brownwood’s July 4 celebration, titled ‘All American Brews and Cruise,’ didn’t prove to be very popular with Villagers who apparently didn’t want to pay extra to enjoy town square entertainment.

That package, which allegedly “sold out,” costs $50 per person, $80 per couple and $225 for a table of six and was promised to include VIP Tent access, reserved seating, “direct access” to the dance floor, appetizers, two free drink tickets and a VIP cash bar.

Unfortunately for those who bought into that mumbo-jumbo, the “VIP” area was located in the narrow entrance to the back of Paddock Square between the bleacher seats. It contained a few tables – judging by the small number of seats under the VIP tent, we’re guessing “sold out” is a misunderstood term for The Villages Entertainment Department – and a small group of people were enjoying appetizers and having drinks.

Granted, it poured rain a good portion of the evening. But the setup in the VIP tent included so few chairs and tables that we’d have to believe the majority of Villagers realized it was a bunch of hogwash and simply steered clear of it.

Also, from what we could see, the promised “direct access” to the dance floor was no different than that enjoyed by those who paid nothing and sat in the bleacher seats to enjoy Johnny Wild and the Delights. And we’re not sure what the VIP cash bar was all about, but Villagers sitting in the free seats sure seemed to be making trips to cash bars as well – without having to pay for the privilege to do so.

We’re also told by Village of Hadley resident Kathy Welsh that those participating in the car show on Thursday night were required to pay $10 apiece and send in three photos of their vehicles so the “entertainment brass” could decide which classic cars they wanted parked at the square. We haven’t figured out the angle here yet, because 20 cars equals $200, and even we don’t believe the Morse minions are that greedy!

While we’re at it, we’ll mention something that should irritate residents and every restaurant owner in Brownwood. The Villages brought food trucks to the event, even though several owners pay exorbitant amounts of rent to operate restaurants there. And at least three of those food trucks were from out of town, so they really did nothing more than come in, grab hard-earned money from Villagers and then scoot back to their home cities.

Food trucks were brought in for the Fourth of July celebration at Brownwood on Thursday night despite the fact that several restaurant owners pay exorbitant amounts of rent to operate there.

Frankly, we don’t understand the sudden fascination with food trucks – last month it was announced that the Developer is dispatching two of them to the Cattail Recreation area in the Village of Marsh Bend – in a community that’s known for providing a wide variety of restaurants for its residents. Note to Morse millennials: Retirees aren’t much on eating at vehicles oftentimes referred to as “roach coaches” in the blazing sun with temperatures topping 100 degrees when they have the option to sit in air-conditioned restaurants and enjoy tasty meals cooked in a kitchen without wheels.

Of course, as we all know, there’s a much bigger problem here than some silly “VIP Experience” that clearly was a waste of time and money. Unfortunately, this kind of thing signals a huge shift away from the philosophy preached by Founder Harold Schwartz and Villages architect H. Gary Morse, who both demanded that executive golf and town square entertainment would be free every day of the year. And let’s not forget their all-important message that all Villagers are equals, whether they have millions of dollars or live on a shoe-string budget.

Apparently, that way of thinking didn’t get passed down to the fourth generation. Because this group – the first family members who haven’t had to work for their riches – clearly seems to enjoy the idea of catering to the haves who line their pockets with wads of cash and forgetting all about the have-nots who still deserve to enjoy the same perks and benefits.

Let’s also remember that residents were promised – yes, we know Villages sales reps will say just about anything to sell a home but that’s a different discussion for a different day – many things when they signed on the dotted line to move to Florida’s Friendliest Hometown. And we have no doubt that an inordinate amount of time was spent bragging about free town square entertainment for all Villagers.

Here’s the bottom line: We fear that this Brownwood boondoggle was a test run for the future. The Villages Entertainment Department, with Brian Russo at the helm, has done its best to cut back on resident performance groups at town square events, clearly showing favoritism to paid acts instead. So we’re guessing the plan going forward will be to attempt to stick it to Villagers with some slick language about buying “VIP Experience” packages so they pay for the higher-dollar acts.

Village of Hadley resident Kathy Welsh said in a commentary that those showing cars Thursday night at Brownwood had to pay $10 apiece and send in three photos of their classic vehicles in hopes of being selected to participate in the July 4 event.

Let’s also not forget that Sumter County shells out big bucks to help subsidize town square entertainment at Brownwood and Lake Sumter Landing. So it truly could be precedent-setting in a very bad way if Villagers who pay taxes and don’t buy VIP Experience tickets aren’t afforded the same enjoyments as those who do.

Going forward, can you imagine such VIP tickets for the annual Mardi Gras celebration? How about the highly popular Christmas Parade at the polo fields? Or maybe a special “VIP North Pole Experience” at the highly crowded tree lighting ceremonies, complete with a cup of hot chocolate, a couple of dripping S’mores, a personal caroler and a “special” view of that magical moment when the lights come to life that actually can be seen from just about any spot on the town squares.

We can’t even begin to imagine what Schwartz and Morse would say if they could see what the younger generations are doing to The Villages. But we know that like us, they would find it quite sad that greed is quickly ruining the community they nurtured and loved so dearly.