EDITORIAL for July 14-16, 2015

Iím CAVE MANager Paul Lotsof. Back in 1988 I attended a Benson City Council meeting. The City Manager at the time was the late Paul Nordin. Nordin was excited to announce that within a year or two a sensational new tourist attraction would be opening and from that moment on Benson would never be the same. People from all over the world would be showing up and spending money in Benson as never before. And so began the boom town line that would continue for eleven years. 

Between Nordinís announcement in 1988 and the opening of Kartchner Caverns in 1999, Benson got subjected to a sensational hype campaign. Newspaper articles were printed nationwide proclaiming that when the caverns opened Benson would become a boom town. Similar articles got printed in magazines and TV videos were produced. All of these news items became sales material for local realtors. The sales pitch was that you should immediately buy property in Benson and get in on the boom town. One local realtor specialized in commercial property and she made so much money off the boom town line that she was able to retire by the time the caverns opened.

Most people appeared to believe the boom town line. One notable exception was Paul Lotsof who looked at the facts and figures and they didnít appear to add up. I spoke out about the boom town and suggested that it was a hoax. I was promptly accused of having a negative attitude. Donít listen to naysayers, warned Bensonís Community Development Director. We need to think positively and good things will come our way. Kartchner Caverns would be Arizonaís second biggest tourist attraction, second only to the Grand Canyon. Weíre all going to get rich!

Right before the caverns opened, some officials of the Arizona Parks Department formed an organization called ďFriends of Kartchner CavernsĒ. They hooked up with an advertising man in Tucson who came up with a promotional idea. Tickets would be printed up and given to people when they paid their admission into the caverns. On the back of each ticket would be an ad telling people to come to downtown Benson and shop. I took a good look at the idea and my advertising background told me that the concept was rubbish and would never work.

I vividly recall one evening when I attended a meeting of the Benson Merchantsí Association. The president of the association was a local realtor who told the gathering that the Merchants Association must get behind the ticket promotion. He added that he didnít want to hear one negative word from the radio station. 

The ticket ad proposal was presented to a councilwoman and her job was to sell it to the City Council. The ticket ad was also peddled to the Chamber of Commerce and they agreed to do fund raising. The cost of the advertising was $25,000 a year and there was a required commitment for three years for a total of $75,000. The con line was that if Benson didnít approve the ticket promotion right away Sierra Vista would grab it. The City Council foolishly voted to guarantee that the money would be paid.

Just as I had predicted the ticket ad proved to be almost worthless. The chamber couldnít raise the money and neither could the Merchantsí Association so the city got stuck with nearly the entire tab and the taxpayers of Benson got rooked. And needless to say, the boom town hype proved to be another hoax.

Now, here Iím not suggesting that Kartchner Caverns hasnít been a good thing for Benson. Since it opened sixteen years ago it has been a very valuable asset to the area but nothing approaching the exaggerated claims that were made by a collection of swindlers who made out like bandits for eleven years until reality set in after the caverns opened.

So whatís my point? My point is that Benson is desperate. We all wish this town would be more than a dot on the map. When a pie in the sky comes along we grab it and we seem to be very vulnerable when approached by con artists from the big city. 

The latest pie in the sky is called the Villages of Vigneto. And like the hype campaign for Kartchner Caverns, our city officials seem ready to buy into the notion that this real estate development will put tiny Benson on the map. But the reverse ticket ripoff is small change compared to the risks in setting up a community facilities district. The community facilities district could do the city out of millions and our naive city council appears ready to buy into it.

Iíll have more to say on Vigneto in a few more days.

Iím CAVE MANager Paul Lotsof and the opinions youíve just heard are mine and not necessarily anyone elseís. If youíd like a copy of this editorial or youíd like to express your opinion go to the CAVE web site. Weíre at CAVEFM. Com. Thatís CAVEFM.com