Tuesday, January 16, 2018
News Roundup

Red Rose Inn owners file for bankruptcy

PLANT CITY — The owners of the shuttered Red Rose Inn & Suites have filed for bankruptcy protection to allow time to sort through millions of dollars in debt related to the hotel and other businesses.

Owners Evelyn and Batista Madonia Sr. did not list liabilities or assets in their initial filing to the U.S. bankruptcy court in Tampa. A schedule detailing the extent of debt owed and a list of creditors is expected by March 20 along with statements of financial affairs and monthly income.

It is believed the couple owe millions related both to the hotel and their numerous agricultural holdings. One court document indicates the family owes creditor MetLife Agricultural Investments $46 million.

In addition to listing themselves, the Madonias included as debtors their companies Oakwood Place, which does business as the Red Rose Inn & Suites; East Coast Brokers & Packers; Circle M. Ranch; and Ruskin Vegetable Corp.

The Madonias, from Erie, Pa., made their fortune in the produce business and quickly established themselves as one of Plant City's prominent families. They purchased the hotel in 2003 and immediately launched a $4 million renovation to transform it into a showplace for weddings, banquets and charity events.

The couple gave lavishly to charities over the years, including to the Florida Strawberry Festival's new agricultural center and the heart and vascular center at South Florida Baptist Hospital. Evelyn Madonia gained prominence herself, often appearing in glittery ball gowns on TV commercials to promote the hotel.

The filing in Tampa last Wednesday came as little surprise, though.

The 261-room hotel at Interstate 4 and N Wheeler Street, the gateway to downtown Plant City, abruptly closed after brunch service last May and never reopened. More than $360,000 in taxes is owed on the property, according to county records.

The couple's financial troubles continued mounting when in December the 13th Circuit Court in Tampa ruled they owed creditor Triangle Chemical Co. $3.5 million after they defaulted on a loan last March.

The Madonias, who last year mourned the death of their daughter Laurie, are in near seclusion, according to friends. Calls this week to East Coast Brokers & Packers in Mulberry and to their attorney, Scott A. Stichter of Tampa, were not returned.

The Madonias filed under Chapter 11 of the U.S. bankruptcy code, which allows them time to pay creditors and reorganize their businesses.

Even before the filing, though, the couple had indicated a willingness to at least trim some holdings.

An online statement posted last month by a company that specializes in agricultural land sales said the Madonias retained Murray Wise Associates, based in Champaign, Ill., to explore several options, including "the possible sale of certain farmland and other assets" in Florida and Virginia.

The posting does not mention the Red Rose Inn but lists numerous farm holdings, including 4,230 acres of workable farmland in Hillsborough, Manatee, Martin and Polk counties.

Also listed was a 312,000-square-foot packinghouse, some greenhouses and several labor camps near Mulberry. The Virginia assets include 12 operating farms with 2,950 acres in Accomack and Northampton counties.

"We're entertaining offers on any and all of the assets, which include operating farms, six packinghouses and labor housing for more than 1,300 employees," Murray Wise president Ken Nofziger said. "We are also looking for partners for the Madonia family to continue operating the business."

Rich Shopes can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2454.

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