Once again, we find it alarming that The Villages is accepting tourism grant money from Sumter County to supplement the cost of entertainment at two town squares.
And we find it equally disturbing that the Sumter County Commission – largely a rubber-stamp for The Villages Developer – would agree to spend taxpayer money in such an irresponsible way.
In case you aren’t aware of it, money for the grants is raised through hotel and motel room taxes and is then supposed to be used to promote tourism in the county. And the biggest criteria for getting the money seems to center around how an event will affect hotel and motel use.
Last week, the commission doled out $471,000 in tourism money, with the majority – $266,000 – going toward Villages-related projects. While we find that concerning in its own right, the biggest boondoggle in the whole stinky deal is the $120,000 that will be sent to The Villages to help fund nightly entertainment at Lake Sumter Landing Market Square and Brownwood Paddock Square (Spanish Springs Town Square is in Lake County).
That amount, by the way, is a whopping $40,000 higher than it was last year. So that makes us wonder if $160,000 will be coming to The Villages next year from the rubber-stampers. If we were betting people, we’d take that wager and start figuring out how to spend our winnings now.
If you want to enjoy some comical reading, check out the application (click HERE) from The Villages Entertainment Department that apparently was written with a straight face when it applied for the tourism grant money. The document actually suggests that more than 24,000 hotel rooms will be filled in the coming year by people attending the two town squares for entertainment. And it even goes so far as to guarantee that an estimated 20,000-plus rooms will be filled for that purpose at The Waterfront Inn in the coming year.
OK, let’s take a deep breath here before moving forward. Maybe grab a cup of coffee, a hot muffin and a comfy seat in a recliner, because we’ve got plenty to say about those ridiculous numbers and the fact that an elected body of supposedly highly intelligent people would accept them as gospel without asking a whole bunch of questions.
First off, we have no doubt that 20,000-plus rooms will be booked in the coming year at The Waterfront Inn. It’s considered a luxury hotel and many Villages visitors seem to enjoy staying there.
But’s let be honest – does anyone really believe those rooms are being booked by folks coming to town to partake in town square entertainment? Sure, they might stop by the town squares and enjoy a drink or two. But we defy anyone to find folks who will readily admit to flying into Central Florida or traveling from outside destinations for the opportunity to enjoy an average 2-for-1 beer while listening to a band they’ve never heard of.
Yes, there are some wonderful acts that perform at the town squares. Rocky and the Rollers, Uncle Bob’s Rock Shop, Johnny Wild and the Delights and Blake Guyre come to mind, as does the always energetic Scooter the DJ. But when it comes to people coming in from out of town to hear them and others perform, we’re not talking about the likes of Def Leppard, Lady Gaga, the Rolling Stones or AC/DC. These are local acts with a local appeal that bring out plenty of local people – very few of which have probably ever put their heads on a pillow at The Waterfront Inn.
The biggest thing that sticks in our craw, however, is the fact that this government money is really being used to help The Villages sell homes. Clearly, this $120,000 is a you-scratch-our-back-we’ll-scratch-yours-payoff to The Villages Developer. The fact that the town squares offer entertainment every night of the year is a huge plus for those thinking about moving here. So it should come as no surprise that on any given night there are plenty of potential residents enjoying the entertainment.
But again, that’s not what brought them here and The Villages Developer fully knows that.
Unfortunately, what this money represents is greed. The Villages is in part being run by members of the fourth generation of the Morse family – the group that’s never had to work for it. They apparently don’t see the issue or understand the implications of taking tax money to help pay for a venture that’s designed to line their pockets with wads of cash. We can only imagine what Founder Harold Schwartz or Villages architect H. Gary Morse would have said about this boondoggle and how quickly either one of them would have shot holes in the plan and then shut it down.
Interestingly, more than once we’ve heard members of The Villages brass – excluding, of course, the millennial fourth-generation cash lovers – speak about their conservative values and their disdain for government handouts. They’ve said it at events like the annual Lincoln Day Dinner and in editorials in their Developer-controlled newspaper. And they’ve made it clear that they’re not big fans of welfare, they have concerns about Medicaid and Obamacare gives them heartburn (Morse’s granddaughter, well-known liberal actress Megan Boone, excluded).
We, of course, have no problem with their conservative values and their feelings on all of those issues. We live in a free country – the greatest of all – and each of us is entitled to our own feelings and political beliefs.
But when you’re known for spouting and preaching one thing – yes, preaching is the correct way to describe it – and your actions take a different path, that’s a problem. So seeing a billion-dollar company claiming to abhor government handouts take a large one to benefit their business should rankle every Sumter County resident who pays taxes.
If you ask us – we said the same thing last year – this is a complete farce. Every step the Developer takes is done so with one thing in mind – selling homes. So if you think that government-funded town square entertainment exists for any other reason, you need to think again.
Frankly, The Villages Developer should be ashamed of himself for allowing this situation to exist in the first place. It smacks of hypocrisy at the highest level. And it says a great deal about the warped values of the folks who are running the sprawling retirement community these days.