Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Tall Stacks owed big payment

Getting $232,000 for souvenir sales from defunct firm unlikely

By Sharon Coolidge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A defunct local souvenir company was ordered Tuesday to pay the Greater Cincinnati Tall Stacks Commission $232,000 it owes the festival, but it's unlikely the commission will ever see the money.

The debt-ridden Tall Stacks Commission sued Pro Sports International, blaming it for its financial woes.

When company officials did not show up for court last week, Hamilton County Common Pleas Magistrate Richard Bernat ordered the payment.

But Forrest Fairley, owner of the company, filed for personal bankruptcy in March and the company has been shut down and has no value, Fairley's attorney, Robert Goering, said Tuesday.

The Tall Stacks festival in October drew a record crowd of 800,000 downtown. It did not make as much money as anticipated, in part because of Pro Sports International's failure to pay, said Tall Stacks attorney Leonard A. Weakley Jr.

"I'm anticipating it will be tough to get this," he said. "But we're going to pursue it."

The commission still owes the city about $248,000 for police and fire overtime. Tall Stacks has been placed on a payment plan, which should eliminate the debt by the end of 2005., said Bill Moller, the city's director of finance.

The commission lawsuit against Pro Sports International alleged that the souvenir company hadn't paid $50,000 in sponsorship fees or royalties from the sale of Tall Stacks T-shirts and other novelty items. The company sold merchandise through the Tall Stacks store at Tower Place Mall, on the Internet and at the event. The commission was supposed to get up to 20 percent of the profits on those sales. The commission estimates the loss, based on festival attendance and past souvenir sales, at more than $175,000.

Attorney Norman Slutsky, the trustee overseeing the bankruptcy filing, closed the case, saying there were no assets. However a U.S. District Court magistrate has not yet granted it.

Tuesday's order comes at a time when Tall Stacks is asking the city to help pay for a music festival it hopes to sponsor this summer. The group plans to meet in the coming days with Vice Mayor Alicia Reece.

But some members of City Council said they have reservations about giving money to a group that owes the city money.

"I'm not sure that's the direction we want to go as a city," Reece said. "Fiscally, I don't see how that would be very responsible."

Kevin Aldridge contributed to this report. E-mail

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