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The Villages
Friday, June 21, 2024

Pay-to-view Christmas tree lightings show true greed of Villages brass

Welcome to The Villages, where the season of giving quickly has become the season of taking.

For the second time this year, The Villages Entertainment Department has elected to toss aside the very principles The Villages was founded on and add pay-to-view sections at two of the normally free Christmas tree lighting ceremonies.

The big Christmas tree at Lake Sumter Landing Market Square came to life last year as a plethora of lights put smiles on the faces of Villagers who were enjoying the holiday spirit.

This precedent-setting maneuver follows a similar path taken during the Fourth of July celebration at Brownwood this year and has to make one wonder if it’s a precursor of bigger – and more costly – things to come.

It certainly feels that way and it appears to be just another example of the greed among the Morse Millennials who quickly are taking over management of The Villages and changing things that have been near and dear to residents for many years.

The Villages Twirlers Show Team & Drum Corps, led by Capt. Ann Pelle, performed the closing act at last year’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony at Spanish Springs Town Square.

In case you aren’t aware of it, the Christmas tree lighting ceremonies at Lake Sumter Landing and Brownwood Paddock Square will offer a “VIP Experience” for residents who want to experience an “extra festive time.” Of course, that “extra” involves Villagers handing over even more of their hard-earned cash – more on that in a minute – to partake in something that has been free since the first one was held in Spanish Springs Town Square many years ago.

Tickets for this holiday robbery are $50 per person, $80 per couple and $225 for a table for six. Those participating are being promised two free drink tickets, appetizers provided by a yet-unnamed vendor and access to a VIP tent and cash bar, as well as reserved seating and “direct access into the square.”

Villagers and area residents filled Spanish Springs Town Square last year for the first Christmas tree lighting event of the holiday season in The Villages.

Interestingly, the Spanish Springs celebration isn’t included in the Entertainment Department’s latest cash-grabbing maneuver. We’re guessing the folks at the Entertainment Department know residents who live near the original town square – especially those in the Historic Section across U.S. Hwy. 27/441 – would never stand for such nonsense and would have no problem sharing their views about it – quite loud and quite clearly. Whatever the reason for leaving The Villages first town square out of the cash grab, it certainly sends a message to residents who for years have felt like – and often been treated like – second-class citizens.

Let’s also not forget that the nightly entertainment at Lake Sumter Landing and Brownwood is partially funded through $120,000 provided by the Sumter County Commission (Spanish Springs isn’t included because it’s in Lake County). That also makes putting exclusions on certain residents questionable, somewhat risky and definitely unethical, if you ask us.

Villager Linda Roberts enjoyed dancing during last year’s Christmas tree-lighting ceremony at Brownwood Paddock Square.

For the record, we know there will be free seating at the tree lightings at both Lake Sumter Landing and Brownwood. But we also know having a “VIP” area will take up space in both town squares where Villagers and area residents normally would be able to congregate. And judging by the size of the crowds we’ve seen at both events in the past several years, that could be an issue.

But the bigger picture here is that something that was once free for every Villager no longer exists. Instead, we’re seeing the creation of a caste system of sorts in a community that bills itself as Florida’s Friendliest Hometown. The message is loud and clear – if you have disposable income available, you can enjoy a different experience at town square celebrations that your fixed-income neighbors.

Apparently, the so-called powers-that-be at the Entertainment Department and the Morse Millennials – greed personified – haven’t bothered to learn much from their great-grandfather, Villages Founder Harold Schwartz, or their grandfather, retirement community guru H. Gary Morse. Before their deaths in 2003 and 2014, respectively, both of those men preached a simple-but-quite-effective philosophy – Villagers could enjoy a “millionaire’s lifestyle on a retirement budget.”

The message was hammered home to Villages employees time and time again – it didn’t matter if Villagers lived in affordable villas or multimillion-dollar homes or whether they had been high-level executives or blue-collar workers, once they signed on the dotted line to live in Florida’s Friendliest Hometown, the playing field was equal. Two of the examples that constantly were cited over the years included free golf for life on executive courses and free town square entertainment 365 days a year, barring inclement weather.

Harold Schwartz and H. Gary Morse

Apparently, that message didn’t filter down through the different generations of the Morse family and now that the fourth generation – the first group that hasn’t had to work for it – is taking over, Villagers wallets are fair game and the things they were promised by the babbling sales agents who will say anything to sell a home really don’t mean squat. After all, we must remember that the Morse Millennials are used to a certain high-level lifestyle, and with so many mouths to feed and extravagant vacations to take, the cash has to come from somewhere, which makes Villagers the perfect target.

If you think about it, this latest money grab is just one more piece of the disgusting state of affairs Villagers have had to endure this year. In September, the Sumter County Commission – well-known puppets of The Villages Developerignored pleas from area residents and voted to raise property taxes by whopping 25 percent, largely to cover infrastructure costs in the newest sections of the mega-retirement community. Amenity fee caps have been removed. Trash fees have increased. Recycling fees appear headed in the same direction. And the North Sumter County Utility Dependent District is in the process of purchasing the Central Sumter Utility Co. for about $98.5 million, which we all know is going to fall on the backs of Villagers in one way or another.

Village of Springdale neighbors Sally Grady and Annie Christopherson had a great time at last year’s tree-lighting ceremony at Spanish Springs Town Square.

Contrast that with Villagers who are purchasing expensive homes in the Village of Fenney and Southern Oaks and being greeted with things like food trucks instead of air-conditioned country clubs, inadequate parking at a putt & play facility, constant shaking from nearby mining blasts and loudspeaker announcements from the nearby Coleman Federal Correctional Complex, where a riot in August claimed the life of an inmate. And let’s not forget the mosquito issues from a nearby swamp that apparently led to a Villager dying of West Nile Virus earlier this year.

Here’s the bottom line: The Villages simply isn’t the place Schwartz and Morse envisioned and as long as the Morse Millennials are calling the shots, it never will be. Asking Villagers to pay for special treatment at tree lighting events is ludicrous at best. And it speaks volumes about the future as greed continues to drive the owners of this community that once stood for something special and didn’t try to rob residents’ wallets at every turn.

Toni Pagac, with Bill and Donna Smith at last year’s tree-lighting ceremony at Spanish Springs Town Square.

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