Troubles follow Pinellas-based exhibit creator
By ALICIA CALDWELL, Times Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG -- It was a classic Broughton production.
There were jeweled Faberge eggs borrowed from collections around the world. Promotional material touted the Wilmington, Del., show as the "largest and most stunning Faberge exhibition ever." And, of course, there was a well-stocked gift shop.
In many ways, the 2001 Faberge exhibit in Delaware was like the shows James Broughton brought to St. Petersburg in the mid-1990s. Remember "Treasures of the Czars"?
But there was one major difference: The Faberge show ended in a smattering of lawsuits filed in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court.
Broughton, whose exhibits were a boost to a then-foundering downtown St. Petersburg, appears to have come upon hard times.
His St. Petersburg-based company, Broughton International, has been sued by a half-dozen suppliers who claim the company failed to pay more than $300,000 for gift shop items, marketing services and advertising. In several of the cases, judgments were awarded.
Broughton, who still owns a house in St. Petersburg, did not respond to numerous verbal and written requests for comment. John Dew, a St. Petersburg lawyer representing Broughton in several of the actions, declined to discuss the details.
"What went on there -- I'd just prefer that you hear it from him," Dew said.
The lawsuits, filed during the past 18 months, tell part of the story. Invoices included in the court files show shipments of hundreds of gift shop items: enameled crowns, crystal vodka glasses and Himalayan bears.
Another lawsuit, this one filed by Broughton against Delaware's Riverfront Development Corp., a taxpayer-backed entity, may shed more light on Broughton's take on the situation.
In short, Broughton alleged that Riverfront Development failed to keep its end of the bargain, crippling his ability to put on a successful exhibition. The development corporation, a state-created company, countersued, and the matter was settled in mediation. The terms are largely undisclosed.
"It's history for us right now," said Michael Purzycki, Riverfront Center's executive director. "Frankly, that's not a whole lot I want to talk about."
What the parties did say publicly was that Broughton would put on one more show, the Faberge exhibit, and then he would leave the center.
Broughton put on the show, his third at the Riverfront Center. The News Journal, a Wilmington newspaper, estimated attendance at 150,000.
That was a far cry from the first Wilmington exhibition, "Nicholas and Alexandra," which drew more than 560,000 visitors and "succeeded beyond all expectations," according to Broughton's lawsuit.
The "Nicholas and Alexandra" show got a reception akin to that of Broughton's shows in St. Petersburg, at least at first.
"He really did produce for us," said David Fischer, who was mayor of St. Petersburg at the time Broughton was putting together his first exhibit. " 'Treasures of the Czars' was superb. And it was one of the things that helped turn around downtown before baseball."
The first hiccup, Fischer said, came when Broughton tried to bring an Egyptian exhibit to the Florida International Museum and the exhibition fees kept escalating.
Eventually, Broughton found a replacement exhibit, but nevertheless, "Splendors of Ancient Egypt" fell short of attendance projections. The next show was an even bigger disappointment. About 172,000 tickets were sold for "Alexander the Great," when sales of 550,000 were needed to break even.
Fischer said that creating blockbuster exhibits, as Broughton did in St. Petersburg and in Wilmington, is a dangerous proposition. Building specialized shipping crates, shipping fees, insurance, curators and exhibition fees to originating museums added up to substantial overhead.
"The exhibits were really fraught with risk," Fischer said. "Coming from overseas, the shipping was terribly expensive, almost prohibitive."
Broughton needed gift shop revenues to make ends meet, the former mayor said, and attendance became critical.
When that began falling, Broughton decided to move on.
Connie Kone, a former City Council member who was active in the museum, said the museum board decided that originating exhibits was too expensive and risky.
She said she had heard Broughton was running into some trouble in Wilmington. But given the nature of what he does, she said she wasn't terribly surprised.
"It's a tough business," she said.
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