In the Loop: Fed conference spares no luxury

Speaking of money . . . is what Fed types recently did at the Bacara Resort and Spa near Santa Barbara.
Speaking of money . . . is what Fed types recently did at the Bacara Resort and Spa near Santa Barbara. (Chris Carlson/associated Press)
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By Al Kamen
Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Remember the uproar a few months back after AIG and other federal bailout recipients were holding conferences and meetings at luxury resorts? The national outrage caused many TARP recipients to cut such travel, or at least opt for less-opulent venues.

Fortunately, the Federal Reserve never took a dime of TARP money. So when Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, who's been worried about the federal deficit, went to speak Oct. 19 at the San Francisco Fed conference on Asia and the global financial mess, he was obliged to travel to the spectacular Bacara Resort and Spa near Santa Barbara, where suites in high season can run up to $2,000 a night. (We're told the resort discounted the rooms -- it's off-season -- to a mere $300 a night, though it's unclear whether that included the primo suites.)

The conference included about 100 academics, central bankers from various countries, and a number of folks from Asia, including China, the biggest foreign holder of U.S. debt and a country that seems to have trouble working out a realistic currency valuation. About a third of the participants were Fed employees.

Where better for conferees to worry about saving more than at the uber-swanky Bacara?

A Fed spokesman told the Santa Barbara News-Press that he resort is a good venue for those flying from Asia to Los Angeles. It's a bit more than 90 miles away -- but the town cars make it seem oh-so-closer. And all that opulence offers a soothing distraction from spending the mornings fretting about the economic crisis.

"Like an intimate Mediterranean village," says the resort's Web site, "Bacara sprawls over 78 beachfront acres, nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez mountains." What's more, "every one of our 311 rooms and 49 specialty suites is like the rest of the resort: luxurious, understated, intimate and relaxed. Every room features a private patio or balcony." Take a look at

The beautiful pool area might even have a topless section -- at least judging from the photo on the site of a woman lounging on a beach chair with a martini.

But was Bernanke satisfied with jawboning the Chicoms about their trade surpluses and their need to increase consumption? Not at all. There were other issues of import to discuss.

So on Friday he was off to speak to 100 more academics, policymakers and bank folks at the Boston Fed's annual economic conference. It wasn't exactly in Boston, which may not have had facilities to handle such an enormous crowd, but rather at the stunning Wequassett Inn on Cape Cod, only 90 miles from Logan Airport, where the best suite, in-season, lists for just $2,800. (This time of year it's only $1,860, while the really cheap rooms run $320 and nicer ones up to about a grand. Get the one with the fireplace on the deck.) We trust the Fed got a real deal here, too.

The resort's Web site begins with a "virtual tour" that modestly announces: "You have arrived." Pause. Pause. "We could tell you we are quite simply the finest resort on Cape Cod, but we wouldn't want to be guilty of understatement." It sits on 22 acres overlooking a splendid bay and marshes and calls itself a "secluded paradise for the discerning traveler."

What better place for Bernanke to hold forth against corporate "compensation plans that encourage, even inadvertently, excessive risk-taking can pose a threat to safety and soundness." The restaurant -- the menu, of course, doesn't list prices -- features "hand-blown glass chandeliers, nautical etchings, Limoges china and Riedel stemware" to provide an "atmosphere of eclectic style and quiet luxury."

There probably are lower-priced accommodations to be had in the Boston area, and we're not talking a Motel 6 or Days Inn. Even if you must go to a waterfront resort to focus on corporate compensation plans, the perfectly lovely, newly redone Hyatt in Newport, R.I., lists a government rate of $166, and surely the folks there would work with you in these difficult times.

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