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Minneapolis Convention Center.

, Courtesy PDI World Group

Minneapolis taxpayers are stuck with sex shows' bad debts

  • Article by: ERIC ROPER
  • Star Tribune
  • August 4, 2012 - 1:28 AM

Sex came to the Minneapolis Convention Center six years ago, but it left without paying the tab.

After years chasing unpaid invoices related to several conventions, the city of Minneapolis has given up. The City Council voted Friday to write off about $207,000 in debts, largely owed to the Convention Center, as simply uncollectible. It's a pittance compared to the convention center's annual revenues from events, which totaled about $14 million last year, but the city tried for years to collect the money.

Two of those invoices stem from a pair of sex conventions. "Sex and So Much More" brought porn star Jenna Jameson, wet T-shirt contests and sex toys (and so much more) to the city's publicly funded Convention Center. News of the upcoming event garnered enough controversy that the Minnesota Family Council warned the city to avoid an "on-land" version of the Minnesota Vikings boat party orgy.

While that never happened, Canada-based Showcase Productions did leave owing the city $25,000 for space rental and labor costs.

"Sexpo '06" also strutted through the Convention Center, offering a meet-and-greet with porn stars, tips from sex therapists and a singles dance party. Exhibitor Productions didn't pay about $11,000 of its $67,000 tab.

City officials say that most of the organizations on the list of unpaid bills are now bankrupt. Sure enough, a quest to reach them led to many dead ends and disconnected numbers. The city even enlisted an outside collections agency to get the money, to no avail.

The largest invoice on the list was for a company called "The MBB Group," which had booked space for a four-day Fall RV Show in 2006 at a rate of $27,000 a day. The event was canceled when RV sales started tanking at the beginning of the recession. MBB stiffed the city $96,000.

One organization that does not appear to be bankrupt is the Gospel Music Workshop of America, which held its 2001 convention in Minneapolis. No one at the Detroit-based organization returned a voice mail message or e-mail about its outstanding bill of $20,000.

Getting money from the group hasn't been easy. The city's theatrical stage employees labor union sued Gospel Music Workshop of America in 2003 over $25,000 in unpaid labor bills related to the 2001 convention. Even after the parties settled, the union said in court filings that the group wasn't making its payments.

The Gospel Music Workshop of America is heading to Cincinnati for its next convention in 2013, according to the group's website.

Doctors won't pay either

The anti-aging industry also left some debts behind. The Body Miracle Makeover Show, a collection of cosmetic surgeons, dermatologists and other anti-aging experts, didn't pay $24,000 it owed after a 2006 convention.

The Convention Center's executive director, Jeff Johnson, said the city has tried for years to collect from these groups. "None of the groups have hosted an event at [the Convention Center] since," Johnson said in a statement. "We host about 450 events a year. Since 2005 we have hosted over 2,500 events."

In addition to the convention invoices, the city also wrote off about $11,000 owed to the Police Department as the result of an auto accident and another $19,000 intended for the Public Works Department.

Writing off bad debt from the past is an annual exercise for the council. Last year's collection of unpaid bills totaled $440,000, though much of that was the result of reduced city prices for water main work it billed to other government agencies.

Eric Roper • 612-673-1732 Twitter: @StribRoper

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