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The Villages
Thursday, May 5, 2022

Amenity Authority Committee should not take Katie Belle’s for any reason

Patsy Oburn
Patsy Oburn

I strongly disagree that the Amenity Authority Committee should take Katie Belle’s for any reason.

My opinion won’t be popular, and I accept this AND feel compelled to share why I disagree. My comments are intended to be professional and not personal.

Northern (north of 466) Villages residents are angry at The Villages and are emotional and want quick results. I understand.  We want to feel that we have more control over our current and future amenities and especially our beloved Spanish Springs. However, I can’t allow my emotions to cause me to support a seemingly quick fix that will cost us a lot of money and probably not return a successful Katie Belle’s and certainly doesn’t punish The Villages.

Let me count some of the ways I disagree:

• So far, I haven’t heard or read any desire by the AAC to agree to “take Katie Belle’s” and I hope that I don’t. However, I have seen this type of action cause a domino effect that is difficult to stop once in motion.

• The AAC (not all members, but enough) has demonstrated the ability to “throw residents, who elected them, under the bus” as they did when they caved to The Villages threat of building a big box store at the Hacienda Hills Country Club and approved a change to allow apartments to be built. As a result residents expended tremendous energy and money fighting having apartments built in our backyard. I spent months of my retirement, as did a handful of others, fighting and negotiating to NOT have apartments outside my/our window. With huge neighbor support we managed to get from apartments to villas, thankfully.

• The AAC has demonstrated making poor financial decisions with residents’ money, in the past, and could again with Katie Belle’s. The AAC previously took ownership of other facilities (Chula Vista) that ultimately cost residents a lot of money. Therefore, residents and the AAC should not take additional property management that costs residents, especially without thorough cost and total end-2-end ownership/management analysis.

• The Hacienda Hills Country Club was offered to residents and THANKFULLY enough people remembered the Chula Vista debacle and said NO. Be careful or The Villages will see your emotional outcry as an opportunity for a similar offer.

As residents change in the northern Villages (north of 466) there is a loss of historical knowledge of what was and how the changes came to be. And this loss is dangerous as new residents don’t realize the full complexity of The Villages infrastructure. Therefore, they may support what seems like a good idea that has long term negative unintended consequences. I would not understand most of the history had I not organized the V2PW against the Hacienda apartment debacle. I and a group of residents learned more about The Villages than we really wanted to; however, this is good knowledge and provides cautionary insights.

It’s important to understand that the rest of The Villages residents, below 466 probably have little opinion, other than cursory and are not part of the AAC Villages structure. AAC is unique north of 466, developed as part of a won lawsuit against The Villages years ago. So, you also probably don’t get a lot of participation and support from the other areas either with usage or business sustainment.  I discovered this when we fought the Hacienda Hills apartment issue.

The AAC has no professional experience in food management and hasn’t demonstrated any capability that indicates we should expect success. Why would we, the residents, believe that the AAC has restauranteur experience? I don’t believe they should practice with residents’ money.  And I seriously doubt that they want to. 

AAC pays for amenity upkeep but so far The Villages provides employees, contracted vendors, and volunteers. The emotionally charged outcome “to take over Katie Belles” requires end-2-end full-time ownership, management, and funding. This is a huge risk of AAC efforts and resident money. Maintenance, salaries, contracts, insurance, etc.

Katie Belle’s was a beautiful venue and fabulous amenity; however, it lost money because residents abused the music and dancing without also paying for meals and drinks for hours. This behavior won’t change and therefore requires a very progressive/aggressive strategy to return to the previous venue, music, dancing, food. Who in the AAC has this experience… AAC is part time volunteers.

Entertainment… who in the AAC will be the full-time program manager for daily entertainment?

Now consider sustainability over the off-season months. Are residents, north of 466, willing to absorb the financial loss due to limited attendance during most of the year? I know that I am not interested in funding this concept.

Employees… so where is the personnel department within the AAC who will find and keep employees when the rest of the established commercial world can’t?

• A major issue; true, but unpopular, is that residents in the northern part of TV are not as willing to pay higher prices for food and beverages as in the newer southern villages’ areas. Simple Demographic, match daily cost to housing cost, equals different in Spanish Springs compared to Fenney or Southern Oaks. This will change some over time, but not completely.

The Villages should have kept the venue and charged a cover charge. When the new restaurant was installed it didn’t succeed either. Terrible reservation system and had higher prices at a time and location, that couldn’t support the costs of a very nice venue. Demographics.

This isn’t everything I can think of, but summarizes my biggest concerns.

I mean no disrespect to Jim Cipollone, who I think highly of or the AAC as a whole; and I am thankful for both. However, I believe that the rally cry for AAC to take Katie Belle’s is HIGH RISK to residents and could be too easy a solution for The Villages.

Imagine the long-term outcome if folks push for this and The Villages gladly says, OK, you got it. The residents will have started the very prophecy they claim to dread, The Villages pulling out of Spanish Springs! This would be a huge win for The Villages, and I can’t understand how residents don’t see this.

Re-read Chicken Little for a good metaphorical analogy.

I support the apartments because I believe that’s how you keep The Villages investing in Spanish Springs. Adding apartments to already commercial space is a great way to add vibrancy to Spanish Springs and places an immediate responsibility on The Villages to maintain the square for the tenants. Tenants who will rent there for the business and entertainment access and the nightly music. Yes, there are people who live in downtown cities and prefer lots of activity and sound. There would now be residents’ voices, as tenants who by contract have direct communication with The Villages and will demand not just the existing Spanish Springs business offering but will ultimately demand more. That’s how it works. And this is a boon for the existing businesses to have immediate customers who can just walk in and will build at least a short term behind the counter relationship.

Not supporting apartments is one thing that I believe will help The Villages justify pulling out of Spanish Springs. And residents calling for the AAC to take over Katie Belle’s is a gift that The Villages could leverage to accelerate additional withdrawals. This really is simple business logic. 

I love The Villages. I don’t love everything they do. And I am willing to respectfully speak up and act when something is very off or risky to my retirement lifestyle, health, safety or wallet. Change is constant and I want to remain open and relevant and not allow group think or mob mentality to cause me to make emotional judgements and certainly not make emotional decisions that affect my wallet or quality if life.

People need to be careful what they ask for. Because they may get what they wanted without realizing the full impact and ultimate costs.

Patsy Oburn is a resident of the Village of Hacienda North.

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