I’m CAVEMANager Paul Lotsof.   In May of 2014 a company called El Dorado Benson LLC was formed and they bought about twenty square miles of mostly vacant real estate along Highway 90 on the south side of Benson.   The purchase price was $26.6 million dollars. Some records at the Arizona Corporation Commission showed that El Dorado Benson had investors as far away as Florida.    We don’t know who organized El Dorado Benson LLC and we don’t know what these investors from across the nation were led to expect in exchange for the capital that they put up.   What we do know is that through some undisclosed process, a character named Mike Reinbold emerged as the project manager.   The public was never told exactly what Reinbold’s position was with El Dorado Benson but we were told that Reinbold is a part owner of a much larger company called El Dorado Holdings Inc which is based in suburban Phoenix.

We do know that the El Dorado companies have expressed grandiose plans to build 28,000 new houses on the land along Highway 90 and we know that the retirement  development is to be known as the “Villages of Vigneto”.   “Vigneto” is the Italian word for “vineyard”.   Accordingly we’re told that there will be three main drawing cards that will make Vigneto blossom.   First, it will look like Northern Italy.  Second, it will have vineyards full of fresh grapes.   And thirdly, it will have four golf courses.   And as we all know, there is nothing that retired people love more than golf.   That’s why golf courses all over the nation are shutting down and that’s why Benson’s existing golf course is losing money like crazy.   It’s hemorrhaging cash because all elderly folks love golf and they freely unload their money to be able to play golf.

Shortly after Reinbold began to make claims that El Dorado would convert Benson from a tiny nothing town into a booming metropolis, I got a tip that Reinbold had a rather sordid past involving a hangar project at the Portland International Airport.   It seems that in the late 1980s Reinbold and some friends convinced the airport authorities that there would soon be a huge demand for aircraft maintenance at PDX and an expensive maintenance hangar needed to be constructed.    Reinbold and his associates set up several corporations to undertake the massive project which was to be financed with public bonds.   To make a very long story short, the huge demand for aircraft maintenance never materialized, the companies went bankrupt and the bond revenues disappeared.   The Oregon Attorney General’s office filed a lawsuit claiming that Reinbold and his buddies did the state out of sixty million dollars.

I was able to get the details and I put them on the CAVE web site where they have been for several years and are still there for all to see.    I provided the information to Benson’s public officials but they weren’t very interested.   They were more interested in all the jobs that supposedly would be created as the 28,000 houses were built.   Plus all those new Benson residents would be spending money in Benson and bringing in tax revenues to the city that have been unimaginable.

Shortly after the Vigneto plans were submitted to the city, some environmental groups got interested because they feared that 28,000 houses would drain the aquifer and also kill off endangered species.   The environmentalists filed lawsuits aimed at making sure that the federal agencies did their jobs and that the ecology wasn’t destroyed.
Meanwhile, the city approved the establishment of ten special taxing districts even though experts advised that the taxing districts could become disasters if not properly managed.   The city officials ignored those warnings and told El Dorado to run the districts any way they wanted.
Here it is important to understand that no other El Dorado development has been financed with public bonds.    To me, the parallels between the bonds that were used to finance the Portland airport project and the bonds proposed for the Benson project are impossible to miss.   If the Benson bond proceeds are wisely spent it would be a miracle.

But the biggest question is whether there is a market for 28,000 houses in Benson and will El Dorado create such a market?   Our research clearly shows that most of our listeners are skeptical and don’t believe that there is likely to be a market in Benson for all those houses in the foreseeable future.. So the public isn’t all that dumb.

Now let’s take a look at recent developments:   This spring  a retired federal employee told the Arizona Daily Star that he was pressured politically  to approve the Vigneto development even though he had doubts that it complied with federal regulations. Steve Spangle’s story received massive coverage in newspapers and on TV.    The story made El Dorado’s leadership look like scoundrels.

Then on the evening of July 22nd environmentalist Tricia Gerrodette attempted to give the Benson City Council an update on Vigneto during the call to the public.  Vice Mayor Joe Konrad moved to adjourn the meeting effectively preventing Gerrodette from saying a word.  She filed a complaint with the Arizona Attorney General’s office which ruled that the council had violated the Arizona Open Meetings law.  Mayor Toney King decided that the solution to the problem is to do away with the call to the public and let no member of the public speak to the council about anything.

The most recent development is that fans of Vigneto have formed a group to try to make El Dorado look good despite all the bad publicity.    The new group is called Southwestern Communities Coalition.   Their pitch is property rights.   So if El Dorado owns property they can do whatever they want with it.   The coalition had a meeting in Benson on Wednesday and two Tucson TV stations covered that meeting but the TV news reporters also interviewed Tricia Gerrodette and a spokesman for the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity.  Also covering the Wednesday meeting was the Sierra Vista Herald and it is more than likely that their report will soon appear in the Benson paper.

I’ve stated my view many times.   There is no market for thousands of new houses in Benson and Vigneto may never be built.   Benson’s leadership has been hoodwinked.  Worst of all, we’ve put all our economic development eggs into the Vigneto basket and these are chickens that will never hatch.  Meanwhile Benson continues to stagnate as it has for years.

I’m CAVE MANager Paul Lotsof and the opinions you’ve just heard are mine and not necessarily anyone else’s.   If you’d like a copy of this editorial or you’d like to express your opinions go to the CAVE web site.   We’re at CAVE FM.com.   Select Editorials and then select Vigneto.