Media Truth

Adriana Trigiani Has Done Nothing for Big Stone Gap

by Lewis Loflin

To quote Bill Lohmann of the Richmond Times Dispatch, "Though Trigiani has lived in New York for years, Virginia remains home in her heart.."

She only lived here a short time - has left years ago and has never came back. She has done nothing for this community and spends her time and money elsewhere. Yet she gets $900,000 in economic development grants to make a movie! Why isn't New York paying for it? Why doesn't she write about what really goes on here? Because she doesn't have a clue.

Click the above banner to find out why rich, beautiful, and successful Adriana Trigiani dumped this community and never looked back. The rest is simply history.

Adriana Trigiani is rich, beautiful, and successful. USA Today (10/31/06) calls her, "larger than life." Her books have been #1 at The New York Times best seller list. She grew up in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, and wrote a novel about the town titled Big Stone Gap. It was followed by three sequels, Big Cherry Holler, Milk Glass Moon, and Home to Big Stone Gap. She came to Big Stone Gap at six, at 18 she went to Saint Mary's College and never came back, except perhaps visits. In other words, she doesn't live here and contributes nothing. Like Ralph Stanley, she made her money elsewhere and keeps it elsewhere. She wants millions in local economic development funds to make a movie in a town she abandoned years ago.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Brian J. Moran (D. Alexandria, he doesn't live here either) is in love with Adriana. He wants to give her $3 million in economic development grants. It seems we have a bidding war with South Carolina on who can hand-out the most money to get the movie filmed in their respective locations. State Delegates Bud Phillips, D-Clintwood, and Terry Kilgore, R-Gate City, are co-sponsors of the budget request also love Adriana. They (in the past) have been instrumental in diverting millions of tax dollars to special interest pork across the region. Mr. Kilgore is on the Tobacco Commission, which has spent about $425 million on these kinds of projects. In 14 years it has yielded nothing.

The following is an extract from the Kingsport Times-News January 25th, 2007.

Efforts to convince filmmakers to shoot the proposed production based on the novel "Big Stone Gap" in the town where the native-born novelist set her plot got a shot in the arm at the Virginia General Assembly with a push by House Democratic Caucus Chairman Brian J. Moran (D. Alexandria) in support of a $3 million budget amendment. The $3 million appropriation would be used in an incentive package via the Virginia Film Office to woo the movie producers to film the work in Big Stone Gap. The proposed film is based on the novel by Adriana Trigiani, who was born and raised in Big Stone Gap but now lives in New York City.

Moran wanted the "fictional movie" (based on a fictional Big Stone Gap) to be shot in Big Stone Gap;

"I want to keep this movie produced at home, where it belongs. It's a testament to Virginia's rich tradition and heritage, a chance to showcase the region, and an opportunity to attract good, high-paying jobs," Moran told fellow lawmakers. "We can't let this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity slip away."

What high-paying jobs? Adriana Trigiani didn't even bother to show up to beg for the money. Mr. Moron (I know it's Moran) also read from a letter sent to lawmakers by Trigiani:

"I have been moved by the grass-roots movement to keep the movie at home where it belongs," she wrote committee members. "I think it's important to hear why there is only one place, in my heart and mind, to make this film...(A) good movie can be made anywhere, a great movie requires authenticity and truth. We need to make this movie in Wise, Lee, Scott and Dickenson counties, and especially in my hometown, Big Stone Gap, because there is nothing like the real thing...will engage the community in a cohesive and exciting way. What a glorious opportunity for our students, for our town, for our state! The people of Southwest Virginia should benefit from this production."

But the Big Stone Gap in that book doesn't exist. Who cares if she "was inspired and encouraged by her upbringing in Southwest Virginia as a budding artist" she still left and hasn't been back. She didn't even bother to show up to ask for the money! Second, if shot somewhere else, who will really know the difference?

To quote the Times-News in regards to Mr. Moron,

Virginia's incentives may be provided in the form of direct equipment purchases or cost deferrals, or tax incentives. Any funds provided by other public sources like the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority or Virginia Tobacco Commission would reduce the amount provided from the General Fund via the state proposal.

Then why doesn't he fund it out of road funds for wealthy Northern Virginia? The corrupt Virginia Tobacco Commission has approved $300,000 and the Virginia arts whatever will throw in another $300,000. When I questioned Mr. Kilgore about the lack of accountability (brought up in their own study) and lack of an enforcement mechanism, he stated we have one now. (Virginia Tobacco Commission hearing Bristol, Virginia summer 2008.) After eight years and over $400 million they decided to look at an enforcement mechanism in 2008?

This is not about a movie, it's pork barrel dollars. And it's not about anything for the average person. The following was turned down in July 2008 because officials said they will not fund anything to help citizens directly, just "economic development" as they define it. To quote them, "support to expand healthcare services to schools and churches along with employers is a low priority for TICRC funding."

Mount Rogers Health District Mount Rogers Health Works (#1647) $206,386 requested Funds are requested to expand the services of a mobile medical unit throughout the Mount Rogers Health District. This mobile unit provides testing/screening and educational opportunities on-site at industrial facilities, allowing the workers greater access to these services. Currently these services have been provided to industries in Bland and Wythe Counties with funding obtained from the Wythe-Bland Community Foundation. However there is not funding available to expand coverage into Washington, Smyth, Carroll, Grayson Counties or the Cities of Bristol and Galax. The mobile services would also provide clinical experience for students nurses.

Total project cost is $351,720. Other funds include: VDH/Mount Rogers $84,843 (awarded); Bland, Bristol, Carroll, Galax, Grayson, Smyth, Washington and Wythe Counties (funds included in local funding for health departments) $46,191 (awarded); Wythe-Bland Community Foundation $14,300 (awarded) Staff comments and recommendation: Although the project illustrates a positive partnership between the Health District and local industries to improve the health of 2,500 - 3,000 employees, a request for operational support to expand healthcare services to schools and churches along with employers is a low priority for TICRC funding. Staff recommends no award.

How about zero priority? In a region desperate for decent jobs and affordable healthcare, it's immoral to spend funds that was supposed to go for that purpose to make a fictional movie. To quote BHC Editorial Make the movie in Big Stone Gap Jan 17, 2007,

Trigiani...wants to film the movie in the hometown of her youth. However, the production company, Storefront Pictures, isn't likely to be swayed by sentimentality...As in industrial and retail recruitment, the incentive package is now king in the movie industry...The first steps to bring the movie home are under way. The Virginia Tobacco Commission approved a $300,000 grant for the project - money that will flow through the Virginia Film Commission. And Delegate Brian Moran, a Northern Virginia Democrat, and local lawmakers plan to introduce a $3 million budget amendment that would provide additional state incentives for the film...

It isn't clear, now, if the $3 million is upfront cash to cover production costs or some type of tax deferral. The details will become clearer as the legislation is vetted and debated. Obviously, $3 million is a large sum that shouldn't be pledged without due deliberation. But it is also true that it is an investment that could pay dividends for the region now and in the future.

Storefront Pictures, who will pocket most of the millions, in located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Their website is www.storefrontpictures.com and mentions nothing about this project. (I hope I have the right people.) This is a recurring pattern of millions of tax dollars designed to boost the regional economy often goes into the pockets of outside companies. This is the best part:

The film-it-here campaign isn't entirely a top-down effort. The Wise County Board of Supervisors has offered its official support, and a grassroots Web site, www.bigstonegap.net, has sprung up. On the Web site, locals are encouraged to offer their homes, offices and expertise to the production company and to write letters of support for the incentives package now percolating in the legislature.

Let's take a hard look at www.bigstonegap.net.

What is www.bigstonegap.net?

Its supporters and Adriana Trigiani claim this is a grass-roots effort to film Big Stone Gap in Big Stone Gap, Virginia. But is this really a grass-roots effort or lobbying ploy? Their website does reveal some things they don't want the public to know. According to "whois" record for the website, Tabitha Peace is the admin contact and she lives in Big Stone Gap.

Her husband John Peace, is on the Wise County board of supervisors. I've met both of them, they're good people and mean well. I question the claim of "grass-roots" when it's in fact run by people in political office with a direct stake in the issue. But that's not all. To quote them (http://bigstonegap.net/resolutions.aspx),

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE October 30, 2006 Wise County Board of Supervisor member, John Peace, who represents District 3 encompassing Big Stone Gap and East Stone Gap, also serves on the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA). Peace stresses the importance of making this movie in Big Stone Gap because of its potential as an economic development tool. "The tourism dollars will come not only after the filming of the movie, but during the entire filming process."

Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA) has wasted millions of dollars on pork-barrel "tourism" projects. They are in a panic because all of those millions have failed to produce the promised results, but they continue to spend and waste money anyway. Their "About us" page (http://bigstonegap.net/aboutus.aspx) says,

A Virginia Commonwealth University study found that every dollar spent on incentive money or tax breaks for a film production returns $14.

That claim is a lie. Yes the study exists, but was paid for and put out by people with a direct financial stake in the study. I have asked for over two years what the study was based on and what hard proof they had to back the claims. I have open space on this website and demand they present proof of that claim. Claims such as "estimate" or "hard to measure" doesn't cut it. They claim it's fact, then they need to present facts. But it gets even better. The page says to contact "Geneva O'Quinn Heart of Appalachia Tourism Authority" the only problem is Geneva has been suspended as of December 2007. From www.thecoalfieldprogress.com 21 December 2007 (extract):

"the Heart of Appalachia Tourism Authority suspended embattled executive director Geneva O'Quinn Tuesday, but more action could be forthcoming as early as Friday...The action came after board members voted to table their agenda and met behind closed doors for more than two hours. After emerging from the closed portion of the meeting, Vice-Chairman Jeff Rolen called for action on the personnel question. "I'd like to make a motion that we ratify the personnel committee's decision to suspend the executive director until this board reconvenes at 10 a.m. Friday."

Tuesday's action is the latest volley in a contentious campaign that began in late November when questions arose regarding the alleged mishandling of the authority's funding. Citing issues related to the financial management of the group, both O'Quinn and Project Manager Kathy Roberson were suspended without pay on Dec. 4, pending a possible vote on their termination by the full board...Allegations of mishandled money and unpaid debts, as well as alleged unwillingness of authority staff to release records requested by the tourism board, have reverberated throughout the coalfield region...

Tourism authority board members had alerted Wise County administrator Glen "Skip" Skinner that they believed the authority owed the county money to reimburse it for pay and benefits provided to O'Quinn and Roberson. An internal investigation revealed that the authority is currently in arrears for $162,800. The funds account from bills that remain unpaid from 2003-2006, according to Skinner.

Chairman dismissed from tourism board

Authority board Chairman Tim Long was notably absent from Tuesday's authority meeting, where board members voted to suspend Executive Director Geneva O'Quinn with pay, pending further action at a meeting set for tomorrow at 10 a.m... Long dropped a bombshell, "I'm dismissed from the board. I wasn't there because our (Lee County's) commonwealth attorney said I can't sit on that board.."

Apparently, Long, who is director of the Lee County Industrial Development Authority, was not a member of that county's tourism committee...Long said Lee County officials will need to appoint a chairman of the board who will be able to attend the authority's meetings...

This goes on all the time here, in particular meeting behind closed doors and the same people on multiple boards. This very organization is also funded by tax dollars and operates out of a PO box in St. Paul, Virginia. Spending tax dollars is the only reason they even exist. For more see (Southwest Virginia) Tourism board suspends executive director and tourism hype. Their entire website is unbelievable. To quote them,

CONTRIBUTE TO INCENTIVES Do you have office space you are willing to donate for use during the filming? A car from the 1970s you are willing to loan to the set? Lodging or a vacant house that could be used to house crew? You could help increase our incentive package with your donation.

ADD YOUR LISTING TO THE PRODUCTION GUIDE Are you a carpenter, a certified electrician, or maybe a professional performer? Do you own an airplane, an antique car, or have scenic property? Heart of Appalachia is compiling a Production Guide, a "bible" of every asset in the area that could be useful in the production of a movie. Submit resumes or information for consideration of listing.

Why in the heck should local people donate their time and property for free so a company in Michigan can get $3 million in corporate welfare? Their reasoning on why that out-of-state company should get $3 million is even more interesting.

Filming the entirety of Big Stone Gap in The Gap will provide greater opportunity following the film for the area to capitalize on the success and popularity of Adriana's beloved series.

Really? The books have been out for years and have produced no measurable results. If they have proof, this space is open to them to provide it.

The spotlight of Big Stone Gap would benefit the region as a whole by feeding new tourism that will consist of Adriana Trigiani's loyal readers and the resulting fans of the movie.

But that is what they said with the Ralph Stanley Museum in Clintwood (cost about $2 million) that has produced nothing. I'm still waiting for proof and this space is open to them. But here is the real reason to quote them:

This "new tourism" would validate the millions of dollars that have been spent in tourism infrastructure, much of which is currently being under utilized.

Exactly! There was no valid business or economic reason to spend tens of millions of economic development dollars on special interest pork and political paybacks. There was no demand because most of those venues have been there for years, continue to lose money, and have to be bailed out by the taxpayers. Like much of the region they are on welfare. After 40 years of this type of welfare it's time to end it.

And one final quote,

In addition to standard incentives, special monies will be needed to make filming Big Stone Gap in The Gap as competitive as possible. Possible sources of revenue include Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority and Tobacco Commission grants, local dollars and incentives, and Governor Opportunity Fund dollars.




 


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