|By Dave Nicholson, Tampa Tribune,
Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
March 10, 2013--PLANT CITY -- The owners of the Red Rose Inn and Suites have filed for bankruptcy protection for themselves and three of their businesses, including the shuttered hotel once known for its Southern charm and sappy TV commercials.
Evelyn and Batista Madonia Sr. cite at least $53 million in liabilities in their voluntary petition filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Tampa. Their Chapter 11 filings would allow them to reorganize their finances.
The Madonias own a multimillion-dollar farming empire, but they are best known for their ownership of the 261-room Red Rose, which closed in May. They are also famous for their philanthropy, and their names are on the Florida Strawberry Festival's agricultural center and South Florida Baptist Hospital's heart and vascular center.
Television commercials for the Red Rose featuring the red-haired Evelyn Madonia dressed in elbow-length gloves and sequined dresses made her a celebrity around the Tampa area.
The Madonias filed bankruptcy petitions for themselves and three of their corporations: Oakwood Place Inc., which formerly did business as the Red Rose; Circle M Ranch Inc.; and Ruskin Vegetable Corp.
The petitions listed total liabilities between more than $53 million and $130 million, and assets in the same range. They listed hundreds of creditors.
The Madonias, who have been married about 56 years, could not be reached for comment. Their son, Batista Madonia Jr., declined to comment.
Their lawyer, Scott A. Stichter of Tampa, could not be reached.
In previous interviews, Batista Madonia Jr. said a number of factors played into the financial difficulties, including poor harvests and their grief over the April cancer death of the couple's 50-year-old daughter, Laurie.
Laurie fought cancer for three years, and that diverted attention from their family businesses, he said.
Mayor Mike Sparkman, a friend of the couple, says they have been largely in seclusion since the closing of the Red Rose. Sparkman said that as a retired oil company owner, he can relate to the risks of owning a business and the possibilities of a financial calamity.
"What happened to them could happen to any of us business people," he said.
The Madonias' rise to local prominence started in 2003 when they spent about $5 million to buy and renovate an aging Ramada Inn at Interstate 4 and Wheeler Street. The hotel, built more than 40 years ago as a Holiday Inn, was always an important part of the city, in a prime location and prized for its restaurant and ballroom space for as many as 500 guests.
Evelyn Madonia added the Southern charm and grace that made it such a part of the community fabric; rooms and decorations often reflected her love for the movie "Gone with the Wind."
Previously, Batista Madonia Jr. said the couple hoped to reopen the hotel, which Sparkman said the city would love to see happen.
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