Hidden Pond is having a gala. And a showcase. And a luncheon. Invitations have littered the mail from one end of Kennebunkport to the other. But while the Maine Democratic Party finds The Hangover worthy of an invitation to their signature event, Hidden Pond does not. Unlike many of our neighbors, we did not receive an invite to the aforementioned events. We are not surprised by the slight.
It was a shock, however, to find that the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust is one of the sponsors of the upcoming festivities. What could a conservation group have in common with developers who are turning 60 acres of woodland into a super fabulous motel? Apparently, money. The KCT is one of three listed sponsors that will benefit from the $150 per person Preview Gala, the $40 per person Luncheon with the Designers, and the Decorator Showcase, in which you can walk the grounds of Hidden Pond for only $20.
(If you are budget conscious, feel free to stop by Hangover Headquarters where you can play wiffle ball in the backyard and throw a rock in our hidden swamp for the low, low price of 39 cents. And while the Decorator Showcase is not handicapped accessible, our thin and well-trodden lawn is.)
It’s great that Hidden Pond is taking care of local non-profits. For the Child Abuse Council of York County and The River Tree Center for the Arts, it’s a no-brainer to hook up with the “Tree and Brie” milieu of Hidden Pond. Of course, there’s a benefit for Hidden Pond, too. In an attempt to appear warm and fuzzy to consumers, corporations regularly align themselves with charities and non-profits. “It’s become compulsory because it’s how corporate citizenship is now defined,” said Douglas Quintal, Professor of Marketing Communication at Emerson College. Quintal added: “The ones that make sure their contributions are known are usually the ones doing it as a fashion show.” Yes, those charities are prominently displayed on invitations and the HP web site: Hidden Pond would like potential customers to feel good about their impending conspicuous consumption.
Then there’s the matter of the conservation group partnering with the developer. (A developer whose project is far different than their original proposal and one who has exploited every opportunity provided by state loopholes and a poorly written land use ordinance.) The Trust-HP connection raises questions about an environmental entity that wants to maintain its integrity.
The Kennebunkport Conservation Trust is “dedicated to preserving the natural beauty of our town” and “to protect the landscape and character of the town we all love.” The Trust’s mission as advocated by Executive Director Tom Bradbury is to find places special to all and set them aside for all to enjoy. They’ve done a great job of it over the past 30 years, preserving 1604 acres. But by attaching its sponsorship to these Hidden Pond events (and providing them with the KCT mailing list), the Trust places itself in an awkward position. The mutually marketed sponsorship gives the impression that the KCT supports the Hidden Pond development, a concept which would seem at odds with the Trust’s goals.
Upon raising this issue to Bradbury, he noted that the Trust is not against development, but for protection. The Hidden Pond land had already been purchased and the project was a done deal when the KCT became involved. In the Trust’s view, they are trying to take a practical, positive approach and do what they can to benefit their cause. They will receive funds with which they hope to keep their children’s educational program active for several years. As the Hangover Children will benefit from that program, one would think The Hangover would be happy about how this is playing out. However, that the Trust even appears compromised by the deep pockets of Hidden Pond makes these machinations sting like a shot of cheap tequila.
The pursuit of the Trust’s goals is a noble undertaking. And perhaps the KCT-Hidden Pond tryst will be one of those rare cases where the ends will justify the means. Nevertheless, another picture can be drawn, too. When the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust’s name is printed beside that of Hidden Pond, no matter what the practical applications and windfalls, it functions as a stamp of approval on the development and this developer. While The Hangover contends that “statement” is something the Trust should have avoided, Bradbury sees the partnering as “not an endorsement of this development but a working reality.” And he may be correct.
Reality bites again.