Sunday, September 25, 2011

When you wish upon a star….

(Note: this post has been updated to correct the horribly miscalculated numbers for BP&G.  Apologies.)

Side doesn’t know how many of you remember the opening of the original Sunday Night Walt Disney Show, in which the singing of this theme set the stage for all things to follow, most notably the Disney belief in a purely magical existence.  We can remember watching it raptly, and especially with our kids.

It occurred to us that the modern day equivalent of Uncle Walt’s optimism, at least as it relates to matters of governance, is finding consultants who have inside connections to the stars.  We tried really hard to come up with some sort of rhyme that would make the case, but fell flat on our tuchus.  And so we are reduced to dry and meaningless narrative to make our case.

Which is one hell of a segue into what follows.  ‘Tortured’ comes to mind; but you’ve got to cut us some slack after months of absence.  Let’s see if we can make the connection.

It shouldn’t come as any surprise to regular readers that this correspondent and Herschel Sternlieb are on completely different ends of the ideological spectrum.

So it may surprise you that we think of Herschel as a kind, honorable, and most decent member of our community.  With one rare exception several years ago, Herschel is the only person who ever took the time to send us a personal note of thanks for something we wrote or said.  He is, to put it simply, a prince of a man.

Which is why we are confident that forsaking his dream of creating ‘Brunswick Park and Gardens’ on the former Brunswick Naval Air Station property is more difficult than you might think.  Herschel and his friends believed fervently that the concept was noble, workable, and economically viable.

One aspect of their fervor caught our attention, because it exemplifies the methodology (or should we say pathology?) for swaying public opinion, and more importantly, freeing up access to the public treasury.

The BP&G group claimed their development would draw 1 million visitors a year to Brunswick.  That number can be difficult to grasp, just as the notion of borrowing $1.5 trillion a year at the federal level can be.

So let’s see what we can do to make it meaningful.  Averaged over a year, 1 million visitors would amount to about 2,750 a day, every day of the year.  Which translates to about 114 per hour, 24/7/365.

in other words, if you stood outside the gates of the proposed gardens, you would see a car nearly every minute of every hour of every day all year long bringing two people to visit the site.  We’ll leave you to calculate how many visitors per hour would be necessary if they didn’t come 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 12 months a year to get to 1 million.  (Here’s a clue: if it were 8 hours a day, 6 days a week, 8 months a year, it would be 625 per hour, or more than 10 per minute.  Yikes times ten!)

There’s another way to appreciate what this number means.  We happened to watch a special recently that focused on the state of Virginia.  It talked about Colonial Williamsburg, a long established and very successful major public attraction.

They stated this destination draws ‘1 million visitors a year.’  Think for a moment about the historic relevance of Colonial Williamsburg as compared to what Brunswick Park and Gardens might be. 

Consider the location of, and concentrated east coast metropolitan population that Williamsburg draws upon compared to what Brunswick would have access to.

Given these specifics, we have no choice but to conclude that BP&G advocates were either living in a fantasy world (the Disney connection!), or more likely, had employed a consultant who knows that you make your money by telling people what they want to hear.

This phenomenon is all too pervasive in public discourse in the modern era.  We are convinced there is a ‘consultant industrial complex’ that exists to rationalize and lubricate the transfer of taxpayer funds to all manner of ‘investments’ and ‘public-private partnerships’ in the name of economic development, no matter how non-sensical they might be.

Here’s a couple of examples, in addition to the BP&G case. 

Remember several months ago when the MRRA publicized the possible sale of the ‘hotel property’ on the former Brunswick Naval Air Station?  As we recall, this property has something like 270 rooms. 

The MRRA, in a brief publicity flourish, claimed that a number of commercial entities were interested in operating the facility, and that ‘studies had shown’ that the property would generate  ‘50,000 room nights a year.’ 

That equates to booking nearly 140 rooms every night of the year.  Which would mean there is a huge unfulfilled demand for hotel rooms in the area.  Tell that to those operating established inns and motels in the region; tell them that demand exceeds supply by 140 rooms a night.

And then ask who paid for the consultants who came up with these numbers, and why the entire scenario evaporated in a matter of weeks.

Then there’s the Portland to Brunswick Amtrak extension.  “Studies predict” that the result will be 36,000 new visitors to Brunswick per  year.  Or 100 per day.

No matter that the bus that runs between the train station in Portland and Brunswick averages about 10 passengers per day.  And that the bus service can conveniently take you to Logan Airport to catch domestic and international flights, while the train can’t.

It must be the ‘romance of the rails’ that will attract customers to take a more expensive option with less flexibility.   There’s a model to build an economic expansion on!  And on which state and federal officials could justify, above and beyond that, a new ‘rubber tired bus service’ between Portland and Brunswick to pick up the slack.

Are you kidding?  Is there any wonder we’re going broke in public sector finances?

Now we read that Amtrak extension funding is at risk.  If you ask us, it should never have been authorized in the first place. 

Related reports talk of six trains per day.  We’ll assume that means three coming from Portland, and three going to Portland.  if you believe the predictions of 36,000 passengers per year coming to Brunswick, that means an average of 33 passengers per train.

Or less than one bus can hold.  How many cars will be on that train, and how many Amtrak employees, compared to the driver of one bus?  A bus service that already exists, by the way.

Hopefully, someone wiser than us will soon explain what it is about the passenger train that makes more sense than a bus that provides better service and better convenience for air travel connections.

And it better not be ‘romance,’ because if that’s the best they’ve got, they can kiss our tuchus.

Romantic as that sounds, it doesn’t count for squat in the grand scheme of things.

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