PICO RIVERA — The California Latino Fair at the Pico Rivera Sports Arena this month was a bust, with boxing events and concerts canceled, the state investigating possible labor-law violations and vendors demanding payment from the fair's promoters.
When the 10-day fair closed last weekend, it had drawn little more than 10% of the crowd expected. Because of low attendance, the nonprofit group that organized the fair had no money to turn over to Latino charities as planned.
In fact, Linda Orozco, the promoter who ran the fair, said her company, Regis Productions of Montebello, will have to dip into its own coffers to pay the fair's debts.
The fair, held July 10 to 19, was billed as a showcase for Latino culture, featuring entertainment from 10 Latin American countries. The attractions were to include performers such as Estella Nunez, Tierra, Lisa Lopez and Maria Conchita Alonzo, boxing exhibitions by Olympic gold medalist Paul Gonzales and a Latino charro , or rodeo, competition.
Promoters Backed Out
But on opening day, the promoters for the Latino performers and the boxing exhibitions backed out.
Jim Ripslinger, president of Multi-Media Productions, said only three people were in the audience when the singers arrived for the opening show. "The performers outnumbered the crowd. It was kind of embarrassing," he said.
Ripslinger said the other concerts were canceled because of poor advance ticket sales and poor attendance. Arena staff said only 1,000 people went through the fair gates on opening day, when promoters had expected 20,000. Admission was $5 at the gate plus $7 per concert.
Business was so slow on opening day, Ripslinger said, that "some of the rides were never turned on. They didn't have a single rider."
Orozco said she may take Multi-Media to court, contending that it should have held the concerts regardless of the size of the audience. The cancellations hurt attendance on subsequent days and "put the fair in a terrible position with the community," she said. "It was a nightmare."
A Success for Arena
The boxing promoter also dropped out because of poor attendance, Orozco said, though the charros went on as scheduled.
Ralph Howser, vice president and general manager of Ventura Productions, which is in charge of leasing the arena, put total attendance at 35,000 to 40,000, far short of the 300,000 that organizers had predicted. But Howser said that from the arena's perspective, the event was a success.
"I think they expected more people, but I think it went well," Howser said. "They had problems with not enough advertising in the Hispanic markets, and it didn't go 100% as scheduled, but if we do it again it will go better."
Like Orozco, Howser complained that cancellation of the concerts "really threw a wrench into the fair."
The promoters have paid the arena, which was rented for a flat fee that Howser declined to disclose.
Meanwhile, Regis Productions will have to contend with the state Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, said Victor Juardo, a deputy labor commissioner. He declined to specify what is being investigated, but said his division enforces laws on workers' compensation insurance, work permits for minors, minimum wages and payroll deductions.
Orozco said she learned about the investigation from The Times and called to assure the state agency of her cooperation. "It's my responsibility, not that of the fair," she said.
The fair's budget was $150,000, obtained mostly from private donations, but organizers had been counting on an additional $300,000 in corporate sponsorships that never came, Orozco said. She said the sole corporate donor was AT&T, which contributed $10,000.
Regis Productions will lose about $60,000 on the fair, Orozco said. She pledged that all debts will be paid.
The board of directors of the nonprofit California Latino Fair Inc. has been working for two years to organize the event, Orozco said. The fair also included an International Latin Culture Center with displays from 10 countries and a Plaza de los Artesanos, where Latin American artists demonstrated their work.
Board Chairman Timothy Lassig of Alhambra said he was shocked that so few people attended the fair.
"It's awfully easy, after the fact, to second-guess what went wrong," Lassig said. "I hope the fair can continue (next year). . . . We've gotten a lot of positive comments from people, and I would hate to see the concept just fade away."
Part of the fair's master plan was to donate proceeds to charitable Latino groups and set up a scholarship fund for Latino students. But that won't be possible this year, Lassig said. The board will meet next week to decide on the fair's future.
Orozco said there were bound to be mistakes organizing an event of this size. She said there were also positive things to report: "We didn't have one incident. No fights, nothing." About half the turnout was non-Latino, she added.
"We did a heckuva job and we're very proud of it," Orozco said, "and we're going to do it again next year--differently. Very differently."