How to Save the Greenbrier

First, take a hard look.  The Greenbrier is not and never will be a destination resort.  It is a regional resort.  It has a rich history and has a truly unique infrastructure.  The beauty of the mountain setting is unmistakeable.  Forget about ideas like the “fusion” restaurant and the disco bar.  Upscale comfort is what the Greenbrier can offer.

So what should the owners do?

Sell of a piece to a casino operator with a proven track record.  A successful casino must also have first class entertainment.  This means converting space to create performance areas and performance theaters.  The retail shopping needs to be greatly expanded, and this should be done in converted space that might look like Fremont Street in Las Vegas which has a canope that runs a light show and music.  Package concessions for skiing at Snowshoe, white rafting, tours of local caverns, horseback riding, fishing, hunting, golf, hiking, mountain biking, road courses, hands on participation arts and crafts along with extreme skate boarding, a teen hangout and all the existing activities.

Then promote, promote, promote.  Emphasize that anyone can spend a week at the Greenbrier and do something and see something different every single day.  Sell it as a regional multi-day vacation spot with gambling, good food, shopping, entertainment, abundant activities all in a pristine mountain setting with access by interstate, airplane or train.  Market heavily in the DC area.  Also provide for a 20% discount if you have a West Virginia driver’s license and see what happens. Second only to the profits from the casino and shows, the convention business will seriously consider this package.  Vegas plus the Greenbrier plus unparalleled outdoor activites all in one place sitting in a mountain setting that many people have never seen?  A marketing dream come true. 

Now here is the important and slightly tricky part.  Do all of this while preserving the quiet, comfortable elegance of the hotel itself.  Put all of the “activities” away from the insulated “cocoon” of the main hotel.  This “marries” the “action” of Vegas with the “peace and quiet” of a famous Southern spa and resort.  As things stand now, the sedate, comfortable elegance of the Greenbrier is all there is.  It needs to be “surrounded” by “bright light” action.  The idea is to pair “sleepy time down South” with near constant activity elsewhere.  Because hardcore gamblers will be coming, provide non-Carlton Varney rooms near the casino action for those folks who will gamble all day and night (and produce most of the profit).  Others who might gamble for an hour or so a day would be willing to pay to stay in the historical section with its peace, quiet and comfort but they would know that if you are tired of playing golf, reading on the porch, having tea, etc., you can “cross over” into the “wild side.”

Finally, you need something unique.  The Greenbrier has it – the bunker.  Turn that into a first class museum with “tons” of interactive features.  Rather than walking people through the bunker and telling them what it was model it after the numerous museums that have video presentations, simulated activity and a gift shop.  Capture that time in our history.  If properly done, this feature would be incredible.

If all this happens White Sulphur and Lewisburg need to prepare to grow.  The employees this will attract will become permanent residents of the area.  .Crime and the need for increased social services will increase so be prepared.  The hotel/motel tax should help here.  The state legislature should allow all not just half of those funds to be used by Lewisburg and White Sulphur Springs.  Half going to a CVB is unnecessarily redundant.  Let the new Greenbrier do its own promoting.

Put all of this in a new company where the casino operator has a large stake.  Register the stock that would be owned by CSX so they can sell out to the public.  The railroad really needs to get out of this business.

All of this would take two to three years to create.  That would be about the time the national recession should be reversing.  Also now is the time for this type of investment to be made when interest rates are down and prices should be stable.


Having done this if a theme park can be attracted to some of the Greenbrier farmland acreage, my goodness things wil be interesting here in West Virginia.

Just a thought..

In Further Defense of Justice Benjamin

I practiced law with Brent Benjamin from the time he graduated from law school until he was elected to the West Virginia Supreme Court.  The Massey recusal case pending before the US Supreme Court has justifiably generated a lot of interest and commentary.  Unfortunately, much of the arguments assailing Justice Benjamin are in my opinion typical misguided political assaults.

The question presented by this appeal is “twisty” to say the least.  The fact that Don Blankenship spent tons of money to defeat Warren McGraw is easy to “flip” and say he spent the money in support of Justice Benjamin.  Truth be known, McGraw’s opponent could have been Daffy Duck and Blankenship still would have gone after Justice McGraw. 

Suppose this wasn’t about money.  Suppose I had saved Justice Benjamin’s daughter from stepping in front of a speeding car.  Should he recuse himself in a case involving me or in which I represent one of the parties?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  How do we draw these lines?  I suspect that the reason the US Supreme Court took this case may have less to do with deciding this murky recusal issue and is more about giving them a platform on which to examine the propriety and legality of these 527 organizations that Congress inserted into the campaign laws.  Don’t be surprised if the case ultimately deals with that not whether or not Justice Benjamin should recuse himself.

In closing, let me tell you a few things about Justice Benjamin.  In all the years I worked with Brent I NEVER heard him cuss or say anything critical or mean about anyone.  Believe me, that is not something I can say about most of my other law partners!  Brent is also very, very bright.  Now he may not be the hardest working person I have ever met (he habitually put things off until the last minute) but having said that Brent understands the law and has the kind of brain power that you want in a judge.  In short, Justice Benjamin has the qualities which I admire in a judge, namely, judicial temperment (see above) and smarts (see above). 

 If I was representing Caperton against Massey would I be concerned that Justice Benjamin would be prejudiced against my client?  Not at all. 

Bernie Madoff

What a sad and tragic mess.  It is always amazing how people can be scammed and hoodwinked despite all we know about the dangers of investing.  I am reminded of President Reagan’s admonition:  “Trust yet verify.” 

About the only thing that investors can do is take a few steps to partially recover some of the losses.  First of all, consideration should be given to taking a  loss deduction for the investment as a theft loss.  The IRS could challenge that on various grounds but I doubt politically that the government which failed to monitor Madoff will want to issue assessments against the thousands of cases this could involve.  Of course, the deduction only helps if you have income to write it off against.  Secondly, investors can file SIPC claims with the trustee in New York.  Again, there are grounds upon which the government can deny these claims but nothing ventured nothing gained.  Finally, investors who paid advisors to handle their investments should ask for a refund of any and all fees which those advisors earned in placing their money in Madoff investments.

All of this won’t recoup these losses but it is something to try.