Branson Missouri Downtown Fire and Water Show

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Downtown Branson

Larger view of photo 2006The photo's you see are of the Branson Landing construction site less than a year ago today. I'm posting live from Sullivan's after visiting Downtown Historic Branson. While the streets of the "new downtown" are bustling, the once tourist filled streets of Historic downtown are virtually empty. When covering the story last week I got heat from both sides. An elderly woman threatened me (an employee of the Downtown Branson Mainstreet Association DBMA) if I continued coverage. On the other side merchants felt my writing was biased towards the downtown association. Many of the merchants feel they're not being represented by their lobbying organization and a meeting last week with 35 irate merchants and the DBMA left only more questions.
When everybody gets paid, everyon's happy. Everyone isn't getting paid - particulary the downtown merchants. The once $37 million district has experienced wanning profits since the "new downtown" construction started. The convention center opening is just months away which brings some hope. A handful of merchants started an organization called the Historic Downtown Business Owners Organization HDBBO. They want to either force the DBMA to change their ways or split ways...Construction has been amazingly quick...see updated picture below.
View of Photo 2007

Branson Wants to get deep in the heart of Texans

(Click Here To See Large Version of the Branson Texas Ad)The ad posted above is part of Branson's 2007 marketing campaign. Their are some changes to the Chamber's marketing approach. One is more targeted ads. Though the message is generally the same, markets and segments are approached with greater focus. The subtle message is, "shop here, you won't look fat in these jeans". Which is not a bad message for the descriminating housewife. She's 35-45, has a lot of cash, pretty much makes the decisions and can leverage more shopping time if her husband is happy with Branson's world class fishing. Bonus - the kids are with dad. It's just her and visa - everybody's happy.
On the flip slide is an ad targeted for the Texan Man. BDN reported the Branson Chamber and Visitors Bureau is getting ink in Texas.

Branson Landing Infomercial to Dominate Vacation Channel

Branson's Vacation Channel is a powerful inctercept medium - perhaps the most powerful as it has "must carry status." This means local cable operators have to broadcast the content whether they like it or not. HCW has inked a contract which will make them the channel's top advertiser. The infomercial will be broadcast for 15 minutes every hour when production is finished.

Senator Nodler's Branson Connection

Joplin Schoolteacher and blogger Randy Turner is always talking about the big Branson money that pays off the Jasper Senator that represents him. Studying the Branson lobby has been a pet project of mine. This path led me to Tsunamis night club in the dark side of Branson called district III (not really so dark, but, if you like - imagine).
The truth is Branson has many lobbying interests and they're not all on the same page. But who, why would anyone from Branson want to pay off Gary Nodler? My quest led to the 'pimp and ho' contest just a block away from Nodler's top contributer. As it turns out, the winner of the contest is TJ (seen above). TJ is a hustler. He sells travel club memberships (if you don't know then you're not laughing). Thing is, travel clubs get in quite a bit of trouble from time to time with the Attorney General. Earlier this year, a record $1.9 million punishment was delivered to a Branson Travel Club. The judge, now retired, said the demonstrated ethics, or lack thereof, threatens our entire tourism industry. Many agree, thus the great divide in lobbying interests. TJ, winner of the Tsunami's Pimp contest, happened to sell Nodler into one of his products. TJ says, donations help keep "the man" aka "the Attorney General Man" off his back.

Branson Resident Support For Presidential Candidates

1 HERSCHEND, JODEE $2,300 W. Mitt Romney
3 Joslyn, John westgate entertain mt corp $2,000 Barack Obama
4 Kellogg-Joslyn, Mary westgate entertainment corp $2,000 Barack Obama
9 Williams, Andy $4,600 John McCain
10 Williams, Debbie Info Requested $4,600 John McCain

*Source NYT Data Center

Predator World Wolf Shot Dead

One of the wolves that escaped from Predator World was found Saturday. Unfortunately, the wolf was found dead after being shot by a local farmer. The individual who shot the wolf claimed he was afraid the wolf might kill livestock. – Enter Speculation Here -

After the wolves escaped in February, Predator World began a public relations campaign to help educate residents most likely to come in contact with the wolves. Brent Wakefield of Predator World said, “There has never been a report of a healthy wolf attacking a human in the United States.” Wakefield was pleased with the community response. The wolves raised in captivity weren’t successfully seduced back into captivity with raw meat but responded well to dog food placed in the vicinity of reported sightings.

Wakefield said Predator World sent teams of ten to twelve staff members and volunteers out daily since the first week in March at a cost of $700 - $800 dollars per week. The teams scouted a two mile grid but were unsuccessful in finding the den. Wakefield felt it would be irresponsible to continue the search expenditure. “Wolves mate for life”, explained a not so hopeful Wakefield. A 500 dollar reward remains for the discovery of the den.

Dick Gass says "I want 10 million visitors to Branson"

Ten million is the magic number for Branson tourism. Dick Gass spoke out after what Mayor Raeanne Presley called Branson 101. Clearly, Branson has to grow. Debt service demands are high and keeping up with infrastructure demands will inevitably add weight to Branson's financial burden.
Branson wants to be number one. Nixa and Ozark were cited in a number of public meetings last month whose policies provide a marker for Branson pay rates and services. A study conducted by a major developer last month revealed the Christian County market is going to experience a decline. Though rapid growth has been a theme over the last decade occupancy is relatively low. Inevitably, this will result in a decline of property values.
The housing market in Stone and Taney County should slow down as well though Branson's core tourism market is healthy. Full funding for tourism at the state level and local funding for tourism at an all time high could make Gass's goal a reality.
The biggest threat and determining factor, according to city documents, is gas prices.

Silver Dollar City gets Cakewalk TIF Commission

Silver Dollar City and Indian Point (they hate it when I call it a Silver Dollar City TIF) will very likely be getting the financing they need to build new access roads. Here's the scoop...

Members of the Stone County Tax Increment Finance (TIF) commission have been selected. The nine member board will be making a recommendation to the Stone County Commission on what they feel the fate of the Herschend Family Entertainment Corporation’s (HFEC) proposal should be. Although the Stone County Commissioners are not obligated to follow advice given by the TIF commission, Stone County Presiding Commission George E. Cutbirth says, “The TIF Commission is a watchdog group. Whatever recommendation they give us is the one we will go with.“
Six of the nine members on the board were selected by the Stone County Commissioner’s. Eleven Stone County citizens applied. The six chosen were Richard Chaney for two years, Dan Seaman for two years, Richard Erickson for three years, Ray Wilson for three years, Nita Ayres for four years and Jeanette Hoynacki for four years.
The Reeds Spring school board selected Jennifer Busen and Angela Besendorfer who will serve on the board for the duration of the TIF project. Kevin McCoy was selected to represent the other tax districts affected by the TIF. McCoy was the only qualified applicant proposed to the Stone County Commissioners.
If HFEC’s plan is accepted by the TIF commission $5 million in redevelopment bonds will be issued to improve road access to Indian Hills and Silver Dollar City. The members of the TIF commission are expected to assemble for the first time within the next two weeks and submit a recommendation to the county commissioners within 90 days. Fifty percent of tax revenue about and beyond Silver Dollar City’s 2006 contribution would be used to finance the construction project.

It's a cakewalk, if you care - ask me why.

Branson Missouri 101

Everyone's shuffling at Branson City Hall. Tomorrow's the big day. Mayor Raeanne Presley invited the public to attend the new city council's orientation at 9:00 AM. Every department is preparing for presentation and everyone wants maps. The GIS department phone's are going off the hook.
I had a five page after Monday's aldermen meeting. Only two were ready for the paper and probably not the best two...1. Citizen thinks sewage lines stink 2. Goodbye to the old guard. I guess I'll finish up for Friday's paper. Been studying the numbers today...tomorrow should be revealing.
Props to Presley for inviting whatever concerned citizens to the meeting that want to attend1

Springfield News-Leader Editor Don Wyatt - Editorialist Tony Messenger & John Stone

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Branson's New Leadership

An air of uncertainty lingers as a new crop of leaders prepare to take the city reigns.
Whether real or perceived persistent theme was voiced was heard by candidates, “There’s a party at city hall and the citizens of Branson aren’t invited.”
Raeanne Presley promised a kinder gentler Branson – a Branson friendlier with geopolitical entities with overlapping jurisdictions – a Branson open to hearing citizen concerns and leadership of a city council that invited citizen participation. Though she didn’t acknowledging victory until results from the last precinct were counted, Presley said a mayor is only as good as her aldermen and supported the candidates most distant from the previous administration. Political playgrounds are something Presley knows well. In Jefferson City she was hedged out of a renewed appointment as Missouri’s Tourism Czar to a major financial contributor to Governor Matt Blunt.
Developer Rick Huffman must have seen the writing on the wall pushing three agenda items through at Branson’s last alderman meeting. Usually, agenda items are proposed then given a second reading two weeks later when the governmental body meets again. The three agenda items relating to Huffman projects were given a first and second reading at Lou Schaefer’s last public appearance as Branson’s top patriarch. One of the rushed items involved property Huffman was purchasing from Lou Schaeffer on the condition City Council rezoned the land from agriculture to residential.
On Wednesday, Huffman took Springfield city councilpeople on a tour of the Branson Hilton and Convention Center construction sites gathering support for a Springfield subsidized construction hotel project. In Tulsa, Huffman’s instructed officials to begin purchasing land in preparation for a project similar to his lakefront development on Lake Taneycomo. As the Branson Landing provides a launching ground for Huffman’s new projects it isn’t adding up to 25 stories in Branson. Huffman has put his controversial sky rise project on hold leaving the possibility of revival in two years.
Whispers of an anti growth policy are put to rest by Titanic Museum owner Mary Joslyn who credits the Raeanne Presley’s promotion of Branson as a reason she chose to establish her operation here. The Titanic Museum was the 8th largest tourism tax contributor last year coughing up $200,368 and 1.83% of the total collected by the city. Alderman Stephen Marshall is the general manager of Chateau on the Lake which was Branson’s most highly assessed property at $7,244,290 accounting for 1.91% of Branson’s booked value. “My Daddy” and “My Grandaddy” are expressions commonly used in Taney County politics. Marshall truly breaks this mold as his country of birth is Canada and his life as a United States citizen is only four years old. The Marshall Families contribution to Branson is better measured by his wife Daphne’s Branson Believers award than years as residents. Marshall said,”Toronto is where I was born but Branson is where my heart is.”
Differentiating from an opponent is a necessity in any political race but Branson is more of a family than those campaigning may have wanted people to believe. One of the most heated rhetoric came from the Sandra Williams – Ron Huff race. Williams claims she prayed all night before making the decision to run. Her greatest fear was losing the friendship of the Huff’s. During interviews while campaigning she shared her love and respect for the Huff family and fears the race may have damaged a valued relationship.
Getting off the growth track would financially derail Branson’s financial health as substantial debt has accrued to develop infrastructure. Financial documents prepared for the city on March 1 reveal $9,608,504 dollars in debt payment pledged this year, $8,408,504 is interest. Between 2012-2016 payment due will be $55,855,923.00. Failing to keep up with infrastructure could really raise a stink. One of Branson’s untold successes in keeping up with infrastructure is our ability to handle the 5 O’ Clock flush.
Tourists coming to Branson are likely to visit Silver Dollar City. After they leave the theme park and prepare for dinner they often visit the “toilet ride” - Branson can currently handle between 80,000 to 100,000 visitors many of which flush at the same time. As far as infrastructure is concerned a monorail is an amusement Branson tourists will not be riding. The consensus among our new leadership is that the project is too expensive though being ranked again as one of the most traffic congested tourist destinations in the country could be costly as well. Perhaps, entrepreneur and former Ride the Ducks owner Bob McDowell will provide innovative solutions to our transportation issues.
During her brief victory speech Presley said,”We’re going down there, we’re going to give the city government back to elected officials and we’re going to do it in short order.”

**Tonight is the first Alderperson Meeting. It doesn't flow well - the word Alderperson. It would be nice if the name was changed to City Council of something gender neutral.

BAC - Branson Landing Convention Center (Update 2 Weeks Old)

The Branson Convention Center construction is on schedule. The first three levels of the parking garage will be open to the public on Friday April 1. When finished, the parking structure will be able to handle space for just under 500 vehicles. By the end of this week 300 spaces will be available for use. The convention center parking structure will be accessible from Pacific Street in downtown Branson.
City Engineer David Miller introduced convention center Senior Project Manager Jim Martin of Benham Monday night at Branson’s Alderman meeting. Miller said the Benham group brought expertise needed to address daily issues that arise with the massive project. Miller said even with the dedicated staff that he spends many hours on site weekly and believes the convention center is on schedule for an August ribbon cutting.
Martin works on the convention center project full time consulting with Miller on a daily basis. Martin communicated that the project is a collaborative effort involving several firms who manage various aspects of the project. Martin and Ron Mallare, Turner construction Project Manager estimated 400 people are currently being employed between the Hilton and Convention Center constructions sites.

Robert Cohn, Branson Arts Council (BAC) President went before the board of alderman Monday night to ask city leaders for support in the form of dollars from the tourism tax contingency fund. Cohn said, “The Branson Arts Council board of directors has decided to raise the cultural bar a notch by producing the first Branson Festival of Arts.” Cohn’s vision is to attract high quality artists with the help of three jurors who will act as a filtering process to make the make the goal is reached.
Cohn says tourism tax contingency funds won’t be spent until BAC has a large enough pool of talent to make sure the show is a success. Cohn believes the show will require a one time push and will be self-supporting after the first year. The famous Arkansas War Eagle Fesival occurs a week after Cohn’s event is scheduled for display at the Branson Convention Center.
BAC’s festival is slated for Oct 11-13 at the Branson Convention Center.

Kansas Passes Gambling Bill is Missouri Next?

Kansas passed a gambling bill. This from the Witchita Eagle.

TOPEKA -After a 13-hour filibuster, gambling proponents found the Senate votes they needed early today to expand casino gaming across the state.

Following speeches that dragged late into Wednesday night, the Senate voted 21-19 — the minimum needed for passage — just after midnight to allow casinos in Sedgwick and three other counties and as many as 2,800 slot machines at horse and dog racetracks, including Wichita Greyhound Park.

Oklahoma has it. Is Arkansas going to get it? If it does we may be seeing another song and dance from the anti-gaming groups in Branson. At least, that is the suggestion from some in Branson. The Missouri Senate...I'm gonna save this for another post. In the meantime can someone tell me something nice about Senator Bartle?

Blogger John Stone Passes



John Stone, the Curbstone Critic, recently passed. Seeing Stone at the Springfield Blogger's Meetings was like seeing a kid in a candy shop, after he had his fill of candy. Raw. I'm putting up these photos 'cause if you only read him online - you wouldn't know what he looked like. We'll miss you John.
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Ethics Among Criminals - Branson Lights

Heard at the courthouse:

Judge Orr: "You should have committed crime with people that were a little more honest."

In 1999 a woman committed the crime of destroying Christmas lights in Branson. The total damage was $45,000. The Branson Festival Of Lights,(the City of Branson), was the victim. The woman paid $15k and the other two paid nothing. The woman will be required to pay the remaining $30,000 as the two people that committed the crime with her are in jail.

Live Blogging at the Taney County Courthouse

The Honorable Judge James Justice is irate. Justus says House Bills 33, 34 and 35 are attempts to eliminate the judiciary - (I haven't had a chance to read them yet) but it's a good heads up.

Casey Moore - (See Picture Below) ....just rescheduled for April 15th ..Good News - he's being kept in Greene County. It's probably a good thing they didn't lock him back up in the came cell he escaped from a couple weeks ago.

Taney County Commissioner Ron Herschend has the plague. He's currently taking a tour of Hollister with the city's leaders. Guess he partied a little hard in the "Victory After Party." Herschend, who MC'd Presley's celebration has walking pneumonia. Herschend was in rare form. Tuesday Night..listen to the audio below.

Some Historical Trivia - A total of 25 people cast votes for Mayor Schaefer that won't be counted in official results Half didn't fill out the little box and the other half didn't write two names.

Branson Missouri Political Winner's Circle


Branson Mayor Raeanne Presley, Branson Ward 1 Alderman Bob McDowell,Branson Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Williams, Branson Ward 3 Alderman Stephen Marshall stand together after final counts arrive from county seat. Click (Darin's Special Audio File Link) to hear 15 minutes of audio from the victory party. Final numbers are posted below.

Taney and Stone County Election Highlights

Rockaway Beach - divide continues among citizens with votes split near evenly in every run. Former Rockaway Beach Alderman Sue Riggs is certain to ask for a recall losing to Carol Szabo by two votes...ouch. Wait until they see my Missouri Senate update story about gambling tomorrow in the Taney County Times...

Branson - Major Shakeup. Raeanne Presley wins with 82% of the vote. When on the campaign trail Presely said the Mayor is only as good as her aldermen and helped to secure victory for Sandra Williams (who won by a surprisingly large margin) and Bob McDowell. Ron Herschend MC'd Presely's victory party.

Stone County - Ousted Reed Springs School Teacher Mike Collins gets revenge. Superintendent Angie Besendorfer got a fat raise after the community questioned her competence. The entire Reed Springs School Board was punished at the polls and a political lynching may be on the horizon. Collin's made a personal appearance at the Stone County seat in Galena.

Taney County Election Results

Taney County Road And Bridge Tax Extension
Total Votes 4417
Yes 3219 72.88%
No 1198 27.12%

Branson R4 School District Operating Levy Increase
Total Votes 2952
Yes 1522 51.56%
No 1430 48.44

Forsyth R3 School Board
Total Votes 1062
Dean Harmon 450 42.37%
Jack Johnston 267 25.14%
Cathy Hilliard 344 32.39%

Hollister R5 School Board
Total Votes 655
Andrew N. Penrod 228 34.81%
Joe Donavant 180 27.48%
Debbie Redford 247 37.71%

Spokane R7 School Board
(Christian County Has Majority of Votes 3 Cast in Taney)
Paul Weber 1 Josh Tate 1 Ryan Wallace 1 (Bolin and Harp 0 Taney Votes)

Mark Twain R8 School Board Director
Craig Trotter 56 votes Glenna R. Hodges 53 Votes

Mark Twian R8 Board 1 Year
Total Votes 59
Todd Wilkinson 19 32.16%
Lisa Jo Stevens 32 54.24%

Taneyville R2 School Board
Total Votes 291
Danny Neal 107 36.77%
Mike Thomas 69 23.71%
Glenn Dalton 103 35.40%Write in Votes 12 4.12%

Bradleyville Trustees (School Board)
(All Won)
Total Votes 16
John Combs 5
John R. Cook 5
Brandon Burkhart 6

Branson Mayor
Total Votes 1681
Raeanne Presley 1390 82.69%
Lou Schaefer 291 17.31%
Schaefer Votes were assumed - Schaefer is the only registered write-in candidate

Branson Ward 1 Alderman - 584 Votes Cast
Eric Farris - 237 Votes (40.58%)
Bob McDowell - 347 (59.42%)

Branson Ward 2 Alderman
Ron Huff - 119 (26.92%)
Sandra Williams - 323 (73.08%)

Branson Ward 3 Alderman
Stephen Marshall - 577 (97.08%)
13 Write-In Votes (Unknown)

Bull Creek Trustees
Total votes 24
Jody LeMaster 13 54.17%
Mary Mink 11 45.83%

Forsyth Ward 1 Alderman
David Oliphant 144 99.31 (1 Write in)

Forsyth Ward 2 Alderman
143 Votes
Glen L Mattheisen 90 62.94%
karl A. Smith 53 37.06%

Forsyth Annexation
Yes 215 70.96%
No 88 29.04%

Hollister Municipal Judge
Randy Anglen 166 of 168 (2 Write In's) 98.81%

Hollister Ward 1 Alderman
Scott McCaulley 70 of 71 (1 Write In) 98.59%

Hollister Ward 2 Alderman
David Willard 103 Votes (The only person to receive 100% of votes cast)

Hollister City Question (Natural Gas Initiative)
191 Votes Cast
Yes 127 66.49%
No 64 33.51%

Kirbyville Trustees
19 Votes Cast
Aaron Rogers 8
Write-in 11
(This should be an interesting one come tomorrow)

Merriam Woods Trustees
Total Votes 347
Greg Buresh 42 12.1%
David Winne 65 18.73%
David Popejoy 48 12.83%
Ed Blackburn 36 10.37
Michael Wilkerson 69 19.88%
David Pendleton 81 23.34%
Write in Votes 6 1.73%

Rockaway Beach Mayor
Lawrence E. Cline 115 53%
Jerry Simms 100 46.08%
Write in Votes 6 1.73%

Rockaway Ward 1 Alderman
Total Votes 106
Judy Daniel 59 55.66%
Don Burche 46 43.40%

Rockawy Ward 2 Alderman
Susan Riggs 48 43.24%
Carol Szabo 50 45.05%
Pat Still 13 11.71%

Taneyville Trustee
Total Votes 83
Shellia Braden 24 28.92%
Marilyn McDaniel 18 21.69
Dennis House 16 19.28%
Teresa A. Brown 24 28.92%
Write In 1 1.2%

Central Taney County Fire District
Total Votes 426
Dennis House 227 53.29%
Charley A. Bech 192 45.07%
Write-in Votes 7 1.64%

Branson Missouri Election Results

Branson Mayor - 1,681 Votes Cast
Raeanne Presely - 1390 Votes (82.69%)
Lou Schaefer - 292 (17.31%)
Assumes Write-in Votes were cast for Lou Schaefer

Branson Ward 1 Alderman - 584 Votes Cast
Eric Farris - 237 Votes (40.58%)
Bob McDowell - 347 (59.42%)

Branson Ward 2 Alderman
Ron Huff - 119 (26.92%)
Sandra Williams - 323 (73.08%)

Branson Ward 3 Alderman
Stephen Marshall - 577 (97.08%)
13 Write-In Votes (Unknown)

St. Louis Area Senator Michael Gibbons and Branson Native Jolie Justus's Parents

Parental Shot 
Being in Taney County and covering the courts means I usually call Senator Jolie Justus's father by his political title but this shot was taken for Jolie. In an interview prior to shooting, Gibbons made some complimentary statements about Senator Jolie Justus but made sure to remind me that she was a liberal. Though this may be a dirty word in this part of the state to Jolie it's the equivalent of calling her 'good looking.' I have to admit that I enjoyed taking this shot saying, "Oooh I have to take this for Jolie" before shooting, which may explain the general posture. Jolie claims her father has never had a bad hair day - which may be true (I haven't had one since 1999) but, a few weeks ago he knew I was coming and made it an exceptional hair day (I'll put this one up here later). PS Can you set that guy Tony in your district straight and let him know we outlawed outhouses on the strip nearly a decade ago?

Peter Herschend on Gambling

Pete Herschend stepped up to the plate today to discuss gambling. The co-owner of the Herschend empire had a couple other issues on his mind today that he wanted to discuss face to face. From what I gathered it's going to be a tough trip to Jefferson City tomorrow. Herschend just got back from Atlanta which he prefers to the state capital. Herschend said, "In Atlanta I have family and people don't sleep by my door." The issue of the week is the St. Louis School District who will have to yield power to a transition board due to the fact they've shown incompetence in MAP (Missouri Assessment Program) Testing. When asked about the "funding formula" suit Herschend shared the results will have little impact, certain to be heard in an appellate court.
Back to Gambling - Peter Herschend reiterated his position. "We address Casino gambling the same way a doctor addresses Cancer." Herschend's philosophy is to contain gambling in Missouri to the 13 venues gaming already has and has presented concessions to ensure those who have established equity will get on the same page as him. The elimination of loss limits was presented by the anti-gambling lobby whose allies Herschend didn't want to reveal. Herschend's concerns stem from a moral stance in addition to a corporate philosophy of good corporate citizenship. He believes Gambling would inevitably result in the destruction of Branson's economic roots saying "if a large casino were established the theater industry disappear."

Election Day - KRZK Debates

Click Here to Listen to KRZK Branson Candidate Debates