One of my few hobbies – outside of bitching and moaning over local politics – is keeping tropical fish.
I enjoy the peace and satisfaction of watching saltwater creatures thrive in an environment of my own creation.
Perhaps it’s a manifestation of my God complex? Or maybe it’s the only thing in my world I can control anymore – who knows?
When you take a glass box, mix just the right amount of salt and water, then stimulate the life-giving biological cycle, you begin an ethical – and symbiotic – relationship with a host of interdependent organisms.
Once you have created your new eco-system, it is a simple – but expensive – matter of regular feeding, and periodically cleaning out opportunistic organisms that want to multiply in the absence of natural predators.
Fail to support the system, and your self-created biosphere will go haywire. Fast.
While I enjoy fish tanks, I never cared for zoos – places that confine wild animals in weird, man-made “habitats” that attempt to create a tableau of what the creature would look like in the wild.
They never quite get it right, and what you end up with is a frustrated old elephant pacing his gilded cage – while a tired zookeeper sweeps away his copious excrement.
I justify the unnatural confinement of an aquarium with the knowledge that most tropical fish sold commercially are farm raised. These little creatures have never known anything but cradle-to-grave care, and they wouldn’t last a minute in the “real world” of the open ocean where competition and survival of the fittest rules the day.
Sounds a lot like what our movers-and-shakers in Volusia County are working hard to build, eh?
An artificial marketplace that will require external care and feeding until it dies.
I’ve said before, I hate to be the proverbial Turd in the Punch Bowl of Progress – the lumpen asshole who stands on the sidelines and heckles the ‘doers and dreamers’.
It’s just my way.
You see, I’ve seen too much and I remember everything.
I’m just cynical enough to take offense when someone uses my hard-earned money to create a non-natural economy – a pretty façade – then act like they’re doing me a favor.
It’s like Daytona International Speedway removing grandstands they can no longer fill, and replacing them with painted seats that give the appearance they’re full of fans.
A colorful illusion.
There is quite a buzz around Volusia County these days – sparked by optimistic “rah-rah” editorials from the Daytona Beach News-Journal, like a recent piece by business writer Clayton Park entitled, “Bass Pro, Buffet, Protogroup: Oh, my!” – and cheery outlooks by Team Volusia, the mysterious CEO Business Alliance, and any of the redundant tax-funded advertising and marketing groups operating across the county.
Perhaps I’m not overly impressed because these same powers-that-be have been taking credit for their version of “progress” for years.
You may recall that in the 1980’s, the City of Daytona Beach spent some $15-million dollars to bring the Marriott-Adams Mark-Hilton, etc., etc., to the much heralded “E-Zone.”
This grand hotel was to be the anchor. The panacea to the myriad problems on the beachside.
The property went through bankruptcies and “rebranding” – yet neither the city nor the county was willing to do the heavy lifting required to fundamentally tamp down the dumpster fire of blight and crime that continues to hamstring our core tourist area.
So, in the late 1990’s, the city threw some $19-million in community redevelopment area (CRA) funds to help build the Ocean Walk Shoppes and an adjacent condo/hotel complex.
Even more bankruptcies, mismanagement and shady partnerships ensued.
Later, the city would refinance the bonds used to pay for the Hilton and Ocean Walk projects, taking on some $37.7 million in debt that will haunt us like a golem until at least 2031.
In a 2013 article in the News-Journal discussing the relatively cheap cash and tax incentives for the doomed Hard Rock project – and our latest knight in shining armor, Protogroup’s convention/hotel towers – reporter Jeffrey Cassidy wrote, “In the mid-1980s, when the city OK’d the first of the roughly $15 million that would go toward the Daytona Beach Marriott — now the Hilton — the beachside was seedy, its hotels were dated and the Boardwalk was a magnet for unsavory characters.”
With over $30-million in debt heaped on the shoulders of Daytona Beach taxpayers – and millions more taken on by Volusia County – again, what has changed?
Now, we have a new sporting goods store and upmarket movie theater (that we helped fund to the tune of some $40-million in tax support), and the Protogroup recently held a “low-key” groundbreaking ceremony where the out-of-town construction company was announced and everyone who is anyone murmured uncomfortably through a rendition of “Happy Days are Here Again” (in pidgin Russian. . .).
I’m kidding, of course. They’re not “Russians” – don’t you read the paper?
Then, Jimmy Buffet’s own Margaritaville dynasty announced it is a “strategic partner” of Canadian developer Minto Communities in building a pseudo-beach community west of I-95 – right on top of our sensitive water recharge areas – and with apparent disregard for our less-than-stable transportation and utilities infrastructure.
(Wonder what that cost us?)
And don’t forget the perennial feather in the cap of local economic development-types that is “The Great JetBlue Deal” which brought nonstop service between New York City and Daytona “International” Airport.
They’ve been beating their chests about that one since at least 2013.
What no one remembers – or cares to talk about anymore – is the $2.3 million dollars in “incentives” the taxpayers of Volusia County coughed up to bribe the airline into coming here in the first place.
That package included $400,000 in public funds for an advertising campaign, and a “travel bank” of promises by members of the Regional Chamber of Commerce to purchase nearly $250,000 worth of tickets for JetBlue flights in 2016 and 2017.
It’s called a “guaranteed income” and it flies in the face of a free and open market.
Does the county spend hundreds of thousands to advertise your business? Or provide you with an assured revenue stream every month?
Dr. Kent Sharples, the goofy “President” of the CEO Business Alliance (a private “economic development” consultancy run by uber-wealthy locals that serves to skirt the public records laws – and provide a lucrative payback job for Sharples who took the fall on the doomed American Music Festival), commented in the News-Journal, “In and of itself, any one of these things is marvelous, a bright shiny stone. But when you put them together, you’ve got an exciting vision of a renaissance that’s taking place in Volusia County, a community that’s reinventing itself.
The last time Dr. Sharples got involved in “reinventing” Daytona Beach, he personally pissed through $1.4 million in public funds from Daytona State College, a debacle that openly exposed our “power brokers” for what they truly are.
With all due respect, Doc – count your blessings that you didn’t have to flee town in the trunk of Manny Bornia’s car – and shut your pie hole.
It’s “too soon,” okay?
So, while the powers-that-be slap each other on the back and blow hot smoke up our collective ass about “progress” and “synergy” – remember George Santayana’s maxim, “Those who cannot remember history are doomed to repeat it.”
And historically, the artificial manipulation of the local marketplace has been a colossal failure – regardless of how enthusiastic those who stand to prosper in the short term may sound.
The newspaper’s riff on that old Wizard of Oz ditty got me to thinking – perhaps all we really need are leaders with courage, a heart, and a brain.
And to publicly expose all these greedy little men manipulating things behind the curtain.