PLANT CITY — A large part of the farming empire owned by a couple best known for their iconic hotel was auctioned Thursday for $48.7 million.
Nine bidders bought thousands of acres of Florida farmland, plus tomato packing houses, labor camps and more owned by Evelyn and Batista Madonia Sr. and their affiliated companies.
Three more auctions are planned, including one today of the Madonias’ Red Rose Inn and Suites, a shuttered hotel known for its Southern charm and hospitality.
In March, the Madonias filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection for themselves and three companies they own, citing $50 million to $100 million in debts. The auctions will help repay the debts.
Evelyn Madonia became a local celebrity for the elegant gowns she often wore in TV commercials for the Red Rose and the couple were known in Plant City for their generosity to charitable causes.
A capacity crowd jammed the auction room at The Lakeland Center for Thursday’s auction, which was managed by Murray Wise Associates, Woltz & Associates and Crosby and Associates.
Auctions scheduled for Monday and Tuesday include 3,228 acres of farmland, packing houses and homes in Virginia.
All bids will have to be approved by the bankruptcy court. A family spokesman has said the Madonias hope to eventually restart their farming business.