by Kelly Bennett / Voice of San Diego / Jan. 26, 2012
Hyped as an epic holiday tradition-to-be, A Christmas Tabernacle in Liberty Station last month turned into a yuletide nightmare. Scores of performing groups and small businesses haven’t been paid for their involvement, ranging from carolers and ballet companies to reindeer owners.
Jamie Sutton was selling Christmas. The 31-year-old businessman dreamed of fathering an epic tradition in San Diego, the Christmas-only version of popular but religion-neutral events like Balboa Park’s December Nights. Last summer, he made his way around town wooing vendors and performers, painting them into his Rockwellian vision.
For a debut event, he snagged an impressive lineup. He secured the San Diego Ballet to perform the entire two-hour Nutcracker. He had carolers. A mariachi band. A veteran brass quintet agreed to play, a theater troupe would perform, and the San Diego Master Chorale signed on to sing.
The yuletide smorgasbord would spill over offstage, too. Sutton envisioned a winter wonderland complete with a snow hill, live reindeer, actors embodying Nativity characters, a forest of Christmas trees, Santa Claus and horse carriage rides.
Sutton was sick of the inclusive nature of events that celebrate other traditions and holidays. He wanted to put Christ back in the holiday, he said. To provide a space where people could say “Merry Christmas.”
But the groups he hired harbor different words for him now. The event, A Christmas Tabernacle, turned into a holiday nightmare. The four-day event in Liberty Station in December drew a slim portion of the 20,000 to 30,000 ticket buyers Sutton had forecasted. Now the group of professional and side-job artists and small business owners are out thousands of dollars and don’t know what to expect.
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