Barter would be huge gamble

To the Editor,

Barter Theater … Wow, they’ve got the air; all they need is our airplane.

Last Thursday night Barter Theater’s presentation was about an hour long flashy show with about a dozen people. I thought it a hardball sales pitch and way overdone. At end I felt someone might try to sell us time shares. Naturally the presentation was good but these people are professionals at showmanship and play acting. Before the Barter group we saw projections of all the revenue Barter claims it could bring us. It said we’ll all win and everything will be just great. The projections looked highly exaggerated and unlikely to even come close, much like those infomercials on late night TV.

I’d like Barter to come and they would attract visitors, just not likely the huge crowds they claim. I only want them if they pay for themselves but that’s not the plan. Barter would need a theater but seems to have zero money to build one. The deal is for us to build a $13 million facility, maintain it, and also provide hundreds of thousands each year until they “get established.” It’s a one way street with us doing all the paying and taking all the risk. Barter says it will have a $2 million fundraising campaign but that doesn’t mean much. Fundraisers get a lot of pledges that never get paid. Whatever they get will mean our own local places like museums, the arts council, and maybe even churches could get shorted. There’s only so much money in town.

Barter is a non-profit organization and it looks like they’re living up to it. Their financial info is public and should be found online. The summary I’ve seen of past five years shows they lost around $2.5 million just in that time. If they can’t help themselves how can they help us? They would have lost even more but the State of Virginia helps support them. I doubt that state will send money to us.

There’s a consultant in town all the way from Missouri to help sell this “great” opportunity. If the deal is so good why a consultant to convince us? And who’s paying him? We were told at the meeting how the $13 million theater will only cost us around $3.5 million after all the tax credits. Really? How much can we count on that?

As an example we’ve already paid around $250,000 in legal fees when the original estimate was under $40,000. We’re told the extra is due to this Barter deal, but it reminds us how original cost estimates can be so totally wrong. Market Street was only $50,000 when first mentioned 2-3 years ago but may run $500,000 now. The large annexation years ago was to cost $9 million but the city ended up borrowing over $20 million. I’d say any estimates for Barter would go far higher in the end. The city has already spent over a million on Spencers, plans another $4.5 million for street/water/sewer work; and now maybe $13 million for Barter. That’s over $18 million for something we were originally told would all be paid for by private developers.

The sales pitch claims Barter will bring in many thousands of new tourists who will pay big money for Barter tickets, The proposed 4 star hotel, and lots more for food and shopping. They claim it will bring tons of new property and sales tax money to repay the city and make us rich. The problem is facts don’t support such claims.

This type of “pay-for–itself” deal sounds good and has been tried over and over but never works. Some examples: (A) Global Transpark in Kinston. Big failure for many years. $400 million in tax dollars to keep it open so far. Was to bring 144,000 jobs but actual is only in hundreds. (B) NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte cost over $200 million and only brings in about half what was promised and is a loss. (C) Shakespeare Theater High Point closed in 2014 after loads of tax money and $1.5 million from a rich donor. (D) Randy Parton Theater. The town of Roanoke Rapids borrowed $21 million to build what supposed to be the “Branson” of eastern North Carolina. Failed completely. Years later the town still owes $18 million on a vacant building. That could be us.

Our property taxes will go up big time with this deal. The city misleads us by saying our rate is 48 cents. It’s really 58 because we all pay the 10 cents city schools tax. The bill comes from the county but only we city folks have to pay it. The city has said Barter could raise rate to 70 cents (80 with school tax). If they guess that high I’d say maybe 90-100 cents. The state average is only 44 so we’d be double that and no new industry would even look at us.

The city is now saying they must vote on this next week even though most citizens never heard of it until last week. The city has had three years to work on Spencers and can easily hold off voting a little longer while citizens get up to speed.

Commissioner Yokeley is for this deal and wants a quick vote. Brown also supports it. Committing the city to spend multi-millions on an ultra high risk deal is bad enough but to do so in a big rush doesn’t even give citizens time to understand what’s happening. Maybe that’s the whole idea. A former commissioner had a saying about high risk issues. “It would be like playing roulette in Vegas and betting it all on red.” Let’s be wiser than that.

Commissioners have asked citizens to tell them what they think, but I’m afraid they are being flooded with favorable comments from a small but vocal group of leftover Redevelopment Commission supporters. This would never pass if on a ballot but it can’t be on one. They need to hear from the real majority or they might think most people want this very risky deal.

Emailing the commissioners is easy. Mayor David Rowe is Just take the first letter of the first name, then full last name, then Commissioner’s names are: Jon Cawley, Dean Brown, Steve Yokeley, Jim Armbrister, Shirley Brinkley. They really want to hear from you.

Commissioner phone numbers are usually at bottom of this newspaper page. You can even leave them a message.

John Pritchard

Mount Airy