COLUMBUS — Wedding event chain Noah’s Event Venue has closed abruptly after filing for bankruptcy protection in May, sending couples scrambling to find alternative venues.
The Utah-based company, legally known as Noah Corp., had 42 event venues in 25 states and more than 500 employees when it filed for bankruptcy, according to a court filing.
Kenneth Cannon, an attorney with Durham, Jones & Pinegar in Salt Lake City who is representing the company, told an Arkansas TV station that there could be as many as 7,500 people affected by Noah’s closures and refunds were unlikely.
“Noah legally owes (refunds) to everyone, there’s no dispute about that,” Cannon told the USA TODAY Network’s Des Moines Register in an interview. “The problem is that there’s nothing that I know of, there’s not very much, to be able to repay people with.”
The company had struggled to negotiate down unaffordable leases and faced a lawsuit, filed in April 2019, alleging fraud after investors put millions of dollars in a planned Noah’s Event Venue in Indiana that was never built.
Noah’s was founded by William Bowser, who was still serving as president when the company filed for bankruptcy. He blamed the company’s failure on poor business decisions.
“In short, we simply grew too fast and lost our ability to react quickly to an ever-changing market by focusing too heavily on new locations versus making sure the fledgling locations had all the proper support,” he said in a court filing May 31.
He also blamed the “unmitigated failure” of a property acquisition venture called Duo to attract weddings, “which deepened the already brewing financial distress of the core business.”
Bowser also blamed smaller wedding guest lists, excess expenses, escalating lease costs and increased property taxes.
But investors who sued accused Bowser of leading a Ponzi scheme, saying he used money intended for certain projects to pay off other projects and operations.
A federal judge in June issued a writ of attachment requiring founder Bowser to surrender $845,000 from the sale of his $2.4 million home in Park City, Utah, to the investors. Cannon, the attorney for Noah, was not immediately available to comment Wednesday on those accusations on behalf of Bowser.
Brides, grooms scrambling to find alternative venues
Morgan Redman and her fiancé, Mike Evans, are among the couples across the country who are scrambling after locations closed abruptly.
Redman had planned an intimate destination ceremony this month in Hawaii and a 200-person reception back home in the Columbus, Ohio, area in March. They paid Noah’s about $17,000 for their venue, bar tab, lighting upgrades and linens.
But the night before the couple were set to leave for Hawaii, Redman found out that the site of their reception, Noah’s Event Venue in New Albany, Ohio, was closing its doors for good.
“We were blindsided,” said Redman, 25, of Dublin.
Redman said that when she and Evans met with their coordinator late last week to go over last-minute details and make their final payment, everything seemed fine. But when a friend told her Saturday that she heard Noah’s was closing, Redman quickly emailed her coordinator.
“She said it was true. I told her I needed to speak with corporate, but the corporate lines are turned off,” Redman said. “I don’t think we can talk to anyone about getting money back.”
Since she landed in Hawaii on Monday morning, Redman has called more than 60 vendors looking for a new venue.
The sudden closure has also sent Alan Gudiño and Alicia Champagne scrambling.
The Ankeny, Iowa, couple, both 25, had already sent save-the-date cards to family members and friends for their Aug. 15 wedding when they learned Friday that the West Des Moines venue they had paid thousands of dollars to reserve for the big day had shut down.
Now, they plan to go to a local courthouse to say their vows.
“We spent close to $7,000 (at Noah’s) and we really don’t have any more money to get a venue,” Gudiño said.
Gudiño said he and Champagne heard about the closure in news reports Friday. Noah’s did not contact them until Monday afternoon, when it emailed a statement to clients informing them it was bankrupt and would not be hosting planned events.
The statement says clients “will be eligible to file for an administrative claim” to recover the money they’ve spent but does not give information on how that process works. The phone number and other contact information for the venue have been removed from its website.
Gudiño said he and Champagne had reached out to the West Des Moines Noah’s location after she heard other locations had closed their doors.
“She called them a month ago, and they reassured her that they were still open, that they weren’t going to close,” Gudiño said.
Venues in Ohio, Iowa and elsewhere quickly offered deals to help stranded couples.
A nationwide Facebook group created Sunday called “Those Affected by Noahs Event Venue Closing & Venue’s Willing to Help Out” ballooned to nearly 1,500 members Tuesday.
Joe Gatto, owner of Baratta’s and the Forte event space in Des Moines, offered free rental of Forte for couples spending over $5,000 on catering through Baratta’s. Gatto said he hopes to use his connections with other event spaces in Des Moines to help couples who lost their space at Noah’s.
“We don’t want them to have a bad experience. I want to be able to help them through that, and I think we can,” said Gatto, a Des Moines city councilman. “We have the means to be able to do that in the Des Moines area.”
When Josh Staley heard about Noah’s closing, he told his wife, Michelle, that they needed to help. The Staleys, who host the Columbus Wedding Podcast, bought an event venue in November in Chillicothe called the Postmark.
The Postmark’s grand opening was set for March 29, but the Staleys decided to open early to help any former Noah’s customers who need a venue. They’re also waiving the rental fee for those clients.
“Our wedding wasn’t exactly perfect, and we had some experiences that we don’t want anyone else to deal with,” Josh Staley said. “Our hearts play a bigger role than our business sense or making money.”
Several other central Ohio wedding venues are offering discounts to couples affected by the Noah’s closure, including the Annex at 801, the Estate at New Albany, Magnolia Hill Farm, Via Vecchia Winery and the Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks.
Courtney Heibel, an event planner with her Columbus-based company Rooted Together, said she’s offering to help plan three former Noah’s couples’ weddings at no charge, and half off for any additional couples.
Heibel suggested that couples check with their bank or credit card company to see if they can get some of their money back. She also said to alert all vendors and ask for suggestions on how to proceed.
“It is insane and beautiful to see how the Columbus wedding vendors are getting together to help,” she said.
As for Redman, she said she’s still trying to find a Columbus venue that is available for her March 14 reception.
Follow Columbus Dispatch reporter Sheridan Hendrix on Twitter @sheridan120.