Charging for VIP tree lighting provides proof The Villages ‘small town feel’ is dead

Residents have expressed outrage at The Villages Entertainment Department’s pay-to-view scheme for this year’s Christmas tree-lighting ceremonies – but the majority clearly understand that it’s a much bigger issue than just paying to see a bunch of bulbs light up on a man-made structure.

The idea of selling seats at two of the three tree-lighting ceremonies – Spanish Springs Town Square (Monday, Dec. 2) near the Historic Section of the community was left out of the “VIP Experience” – shows a clear philosophical change in the way the Developer now oversees the community. The mantra these days seems to be for the Developer to squeeze every dime he can from the residents while providing them with an inferior product that clearly shows the community’s glory days are behind it.

The big Christmas tree at Lake Sumter Landing Market Square came to life last year in front of a large crowd that enjoyed the free event.

In case you aren’t aware of the pay-to-view tree-lighting controversy, tickets costing $50 per person, $80 per couple and $225 for a table for six were sold for the tree-lighting events at Brownwood Paddock (Saturday, Nov. 30) and Lake Sumter Landing Market Square (Thursday, Dec. 5). Those who purchased those tickets were 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.”

Unfortunately, this isn’t a new concept for the folks at the money-grabbing entertainment department. They tried the same scheme at the July 4 celebration at Brownwood, but since it rained, the VIP portion of the event appeared to pretty much be a bust. But it signaled a disturbing trend to segregate Villagers that roared to life again this month.

There are many issues associated with offering paid seating at events that typically have been free for all Villagers and area residents for many years. For starters, it creates a system of haves and have-nots. That isn’t what Villagers were promised when they purchased homes here, but the variety of wacky things they’re told by Villages sales agents is another story for another day.

The packed-house crowd at the Brownwood tree-lighting event last year held up candles while singing Christmas songs. The event was free for everyone who attended.

Apparently, what has happened here is that the latest generation of Villages management – the Morse Millennials – and the yes-people at the entertainment department have either forgotten or never really understood what the community is all about. Many Villagers can’t fathom the fact that pay-to-view tickets were sold for Christmas tree lightings. After all, isn’t Christmas typically known as a season of giving?

Clearly, that philosophy no longer exists in the Morse compounds off County Road 466 and over at the executive suite in Brownwood. Because from where we’re sitting, this is just one more example of gluttony where the Morse Millennials have joined the bandwagon of reaching into Villagers wallets and taking their hard-earned cash.

Tree at Lake Sumter Landing
Pay-to-view seating is available at two Christmas-tree lighting ceremonies this year.

If you don’t believe that, then consider these greed-inspired examples:

Apparently, what we have here is a massive failure to communicate. It certainly signifies a staunch change in the philosophy the community was built on. And we’re guessing it won’t be the last time this generation of so-called leaders attempts to take money from Villagers in cockamamie, bush-league schemes.

Harold Schwartz and H. Gary Morse

We’re also guessing that the Morse Millennials either don’t know a whole lot about their great-grandfather – Villages Founder Harold Schwartz – or their grandfather, retirement community guru H. Gary Morse. Those two preached a simple philosophy when it came to their beloved community – Villagers could enjoy a “millionaire’s lifestyle on a retirement budget.”

Schwartz and Morse also made it quite clear that 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 hammered home to employees over the years were free golf for life on executive courses and free town square entertainment 365 days a year, barring inclement weather.

Those two never would have stood for the caste system that’s being created across Florida’s Friendliest Hometown. And we suspect they’d be quite sad and upset to see what the community they worked so hard to create has become.

A crowd of several thousand Villagers and others from around the area attended last year’s completely free Christmas tree-lighting ceremony at Lake Sumter Landing.

Sadly, the bottom line here is quite simple. The Villages has become a sprawling, mega-retirement community that’s driven by the almighty dollar at all levels. The Morse Millennials – the first generation of the family that’s never had to work for it – have shown that they’ll stoop to the lowest of depths to fill their coffers with Villagers’ money. And as long as they’re calling the shots, we’re afraid residents have seen just the tip of the greed iceberg.

Asking Villagers to pay for special treatment at tree lighting events is ludicrous at best – but it’s not the real problem. That, unfortunately, lies in a much deeper philosophical shift that signifies the end of the days when the Developer actually put the residents’ needs first and cared what they had to say. It also speaks volumes about the future of The Villages, a place we’d suggest promptly be renamed “America’s Greediest Hometown.”