The Morning Report
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Early this year, I reported this story about a ballyhooed Christmas festival in Point Loma that became a yuletide nightmare for arts groups and small businesses. Many hadn’t been paid by mid-January for their ballet performances, reindeer rentals and caroling at the event, called A Christmas Tabernacle.
Organizer Jamie Sutton told me then he’d hoped for 30,000 people to attend, and had calculated a stripped-down budget in case only 10,000 people came through the gate. But actual attendance, he said then, was just about 5,000 people. “That worst-case scenario didn’t even come true,” he said. “It was just mind-boggling.”
Many of the performers and featured acts — like live reindeer — he contracted with are out thousands of dollars. Some had asked for deposits but had performed even when he didn’t pay the full upfront amount.
I wanted to follow up with those businesses to see what’s happened since January, when the Christmas Tabernacle’s attorney, Jerry Hemme, said the company was trying to proceed in the “best, most ethical way it can” and was planning to disburse a share of whatever money’s left.
San Diego Ballet, which brought about 100 dancers to perform the full Nutcracker, was supposed to receive $2,000. The ballet company got a check a few weeks ago for about $100, said co-director Robin Sherertz Morgan.
She said the attorney told her Sutton was apologetic. He laid out their options: “We could either all sue him and he’d go bankrupt and we wouldn’t get anything” or they could opt for a small share of what was left. That’s what she chose, she said.
“So much time has gone by,” she said, “and what am I going to do?”
Other groups like the ballet that hadn’t received a deposit or any other money yet received some money. The San Diego Master Chorale received a “very tiny check,” said executive director Joanne Couvrette.
David Scovel, the event stage manager, didn’t receive any money personally for his freelance work organizing more than two dozen acts and running entertainment logistics.
The audio/visual company Scovel otherwise works for rented A Christmas Tabernacle a video projector for a price of $775.
The company just got a check for $50.79, Scovel said.
Now that the firm has distributed the remaining cash to creditors, Hemme’s firm has “ended our involvement in the matter,” he wrote me this week.
Several of the people I talked to said there was one weird part of the letter. It said someone involved in the festival had withdrawn $10,000 and had refused to return it when asked.
Diana Frieling, who brought live reindeer to the event, said she plans to pursue the rest of the money she’s owed through the courts.
One of the still-livid vendors is Vonna Ruiz, who paid $1,160 to put up an Italian gift shop booth called “Soprattutto Per Voi.” Her booth was moved behind the stage away from the other vendors “at the last minute.” Then, organizers closed the stage due to weather and low attendance, which affected the foot traffic past her booth. Ruiz didn’t sell anything. She said she and her husband are seniors living on fixed incomes otherwise. They count on the “little bit we manage to make at these few events each year,” she said.
Sutton did not respond today to a request for an interview for this update. Last month he wrote me an email to say he felt unfairly targeted by my initial story. “I found it very distasteful and was very disappointed in you and your organization to say the least,” he said.
I’m Kelly Bennett, a reporter for Voice of San Diego. You can reach me directly at email@example.com or 619.325.0531.
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