Valley Forward does not realize it, but at the press conference last Friday for the "Inn/Restaurant on Mill Mountain", they defined their role in the future. First, the "press conference" was not your traditional press conference. There was no moment during, or after, when they took comments and questions from those in attendance. Well, not on the public scale. Any questions or comments were "off-podium" and decidedly away from the camera's lens. They were quickly surrounded by their well-wishers, and the media were kept at bay for a short time. Only when they spawned off into smaller groups did the news stations get a shot at interviewing Fralin, Lugar, and whoever else would stand still. I know I saw a couple of folks shoot straight for the door when the cameras went mobile.
So it was more of a press release, than an actual conference. But it was the meat of the matter that truly set them apart, and laid the path to the future of Valley Forward, and Roanoke.
First off, the new revamped "Restaurant on the Mountain" will boast a "destination restaurant", a cafe, and a public meeting room (affectionately called the Fishburn room, in an attempt to win the family's support). They will actively seek $1 million in public support funds to get the ball rolling on this, and when they have it - will turn around and go to the "5 or 6" banks they have lined up to give them loans for the rest of the money. That $1 million is also known as "community investment," or - in this case "a buy-in" program. Gas prices, higher food costs, and the like are all contributing to the drop in funding of worthwhile things like the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, and actual useful and needed services. Those contributions normally come from average folk, poor and rich folk alike. So who will be in the best place to really donate to, and benefit from a restaurant on Mill Mountain?
Wait for it...
Ownership of the physical structure would be by the Mill Mountain Community Foundation. A new Foundation (for profit, or non- has not been specified) consisting of 9 open seats, which will be filled thusly: 1 member of the Fishburn Family (of which there are 4 left), 1 member of the City Council, 1 person from the MMZoo (unclear as to Zoo Board, or Zoo actual), 1 person from the Mill Mountain Committee, 1 person from unknown group, and 4 people selected "at large" by the City Council.
So what they are really saying is, a minimum of 5 people serving the interests of those who support the Restaurant in the first place. And considering the makeup of our current council, I can say with confidence - You would be facing a SoRo, OSW heavy Foundation. Thats a given of course. What really stuns me is the way they intend to operate.
All net profits will be disbursed to the Mill Mountain Zoo, and to improve the trails and greenways. And yet they still claim they will be cash-flow positive in the first year. Must be teaching Enron math at Radford. Let that be a warning to all you parents out there. But here's the "emotional hook." They are basically eluding that if this project fails (due to the public - always the public's fault), the Zoo will not be able to sustain itself. This "Community Restaurant/Cafe/Not An Inn" is the best hope the Mill Mountain Zoo has to survive.
Valley Forward, you're doing it wrong. Usually you show some sort of involvement in something before you go spouting about it's future. Get up there and get to know the folks at the Zoo before you make statements like that. They tend to have more of an impact that way.
The new thing - whatever it's going to be called - will not be visible from downtown. And will have no direct link from downtown. Other than perhaps an ad or two. But it's going to be (at the very least) a tax windfall for the city. I guess in meals tax, or property taxes... if they pay property taxes. If they declare non-profit, there goes that source. Aside from the fact that it is located atop a mountain, with one road access - how often does the city plow that road in the event of a snowfall? No matter what they may claim, it will still cost money to keep this thing open - money from the city, money from the community... Support from a community where you are really engendering none.
And how long before a quicker route is looked for? A back way to get up there. Perhaps something off Yellow Mountain Rd.?
No, something was wrong with this plan. It seemed very thin - rushed. The speeches were obviously very well rehearsed, but the subject was not. They even admitted time was an issue in pulling this together. I wonder if this is the same plan they submitted to the Council back in October, considering they should have had a better concept and presentation in the time allotted. Then again, they have not even bothered to release the actual proposal on their own website. However, you can go and see the original proposal for the Inn, and draw your own conclusions.
So this is it. Valley Forward's path to the future. Talk in a huddle, and expect everyone else to immediately grasp the concept. And pout a lot if you don't get your way. As evidenced by the "Public Park. Public Park. Public Park." statement by Lugar. Although I do give them some credit for trying again. And I still don't mind the idea of having some form of food up there. As long as I don't have to see the golden arches, and proper accommodations were made for the public AT LARGE to get there.
Ah well.. It's worth a shot, right? But maybe Valley Forward needs to take a page from NewVaConnects and engage the public before assaulting them with ideas. Just a thought.