Wednesday, December 16, 2009

....Father-son team's latest – a circus – is scrapped....

By Billy Cox

Published: Wednesday, December 16, 2009 at 1:00 a.m.

It was billed as a larger-than-life New Year's Eve dinner extravaganza featuring singers, dancers, acrobats, comedians and an eight-piece band entertaining hundreds in a posh tent to be set up in downtown Sarasota. Ticket packages started at $550, but for $2,400, couples could get a host of amenities, including a room at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, a Swedish massage and a round-trip stretch limo.

But on Tuesday, Richard and Niles Garden -- a Sarasota father-son promotion team with a complex and controversial history of business ventures -- suddenly canceled the show, which was to be held in a vacant lot between Central and Lemon avenues off Fruitville Road.

"It's too bad," Richard Garden, 67, said. "It would've been a hell of a show for Sarasota, I think."

Tickets to "Cirque-A-Licious" were purchased online, and the Gardens said that refunds would be delivered via PayPal credits.

This is not the first time the Gardens have pulled the plug on a show at the 11th hour.

This spring they canceled their Ice Capades act just weeks into a scheduled three-month tour. During the show's last stop in Williams Lake, British Columbia, a dozen or so skaters were informed they were being terminated by notes slipped beneath their hotel-room doors in the middle of the night.

Several performers said they had to buy their own airfare home and are still owed back pay.

The Gardens also produced a contentious home show at Robarts Arena involving 120 vendors in February. Operations were suspended on the second morning of the three-day event.

Robarts Arena manager Rory Martin said the Gardens still owe $5,000 from the home show.

"We tried to get a good national home show to come in, but none of the local vendors were interested," Martin said. "This whole thing has impacted our ability to put on a home show, and it will take several years to recover."

Richard Garden said that Robarts was to blame for the show's faliure, and that the arena owes him "probably more than $50,000" for failing to hold up its end of the deal.

The Gardens have also had problems paying their bills over the years. Together they have been sued more than 40 times in Manatee and Sarasota counties, largely for nonpayment of bills. Many of the cases were dropped for "lack of prosecution" after the Gardens simply folded the company being sued.

In August, the Postal Service filed a lawsuit against Niles Garden, 36, for failing to pay nearly $150,000 in bills that began piling up in 2003.

The suit claims that in a six-month period in 2003-04 Niles Garden bounced 21 checks totaling more than $70,000.

The Gardens said that they are in settlement talks and are not allowed to discuss the case, but that they hope to resolve the dispute by the end of the year.

Things began to unravel for the "Cirque-A-Licious Big Top Dinner Show" this week when the local chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation withdrew its support. Make-A-Wish regional director Michelle Butler said the Gardens had breached the contract they had with the group by using the wrong logo on their promotional literature.

Niles Garden said the dispute with Make-A-Wish was "more of a misunderstanding than anything else." He also said the biggest reason for shutting down the show was slow ticket sales.

"Let's just say I wasn't comfortable with the numbers," he said. "I was hoping for a sellout or for three-quarters capacity, and we weren't near that."

It is unclear how much money the Gardens owe in connection with this latest venture.

Larry Cavalluzzi, the president of the store Sign Zoo, said he is out $2,900 worth of free signs he made for "Cirque-A-Licious" in exchange for exposure as a sponsor.

Cavalluzzi said he was "pretty surprised" to learn of the "Cirque-A-Licious" shutdown.

"I got an e-mail this morning from Niles saying they were going to close the show because ticket sales weren't meeting their expectations, like it was no big deal," Cavalluzzi said. "Well, $2,900 is a big deal to me, now that I'm not getting the exposure."

An e-mail to Niles Garden raising Cavalluzzi's concerns received a brief response late Tuesday afternoon: "All refunds have been made."