EDITORIAL for November 26-29, 2019
Iím CAVE MANager Paul Lotsof. As some of you may have noticed, November marks the twentieth anniversary of the opening of Kartchner Caverns State Park. Although nobody can question that Kartchner Caverns has been a valuable addition to Bensonís economy, the actual benefit has proven to be trivial compared to what we were led to believe between 1988 when the caverns were announced and 1999 when the park admitted its first tourist.
It was back in 1988 that I attended a Benson City Council meeting during which City Manager Paul Nordin announced 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 nay sayers, 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.
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 twenty 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.
Todayís pie in the sky is called the Villages of Vigneto. And as our community leaders of twenty years ago were taken in by the hype campaign for Kartchner Caverns, our city officials of today are totally committed to the notion that this real estate development will put tiny Benson on the map. But the parallels between the hype campaign for Kartchner Caverns and the exaggerated claims for Vigneto are impossible to miss. For years before the caverns opened we were told that they would attract 150,000 visitors a year. Today weíre told that the actual number is 130,000. Astronomical dollar figures are being cited as the benefits from Vigneto. The actual impact will be vastly less. Our community leaders would do well to study history instead of foolishly repeating it.
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. Select Editorials and then Vigneto. Weíre at CAVEFM. Com. Thatís CAVEFM.com