Spokesman: ML King merchants prefer Bessie Smith Cultural Center stage 'Strut'
Riverbend's operator 'Friends of the Festival', has indicated it wishes no greater role.
And a spokesman says ML King merchants have a clear preference: the Bessie Smith Cultural Center itself.
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield is adamant that ML King Boulevard can't host the Bessie Smith Strut blues festival unless, in his words, "a responsible party steps up" to oversee it and to secure liability insurance.
But, only 60 days out, the point man for the merchants there sees no 'deal breakers.'
"Right now, we're operating on a handshake," Moses Freeman says. "And we believe that the people we're hand-shaking with, that it's like money in the bank."
Freeman won't identify the donors or the dollars. But he says the scenario likely would require that the Strut charge admission.
"I'm thinking somewhere between $5 and $10. But a Riverbend pin would get you in with no extra charge."
Vendors, too, would be expected to chip in, by paying for their curb space and for permits. The Mayor's office has required all vendors be registered.
But who would assume all those responsibilities?
"We'd like to see another agency (besides Riverbend's 'Friends of the Festival') step up," Freeman says. "And we're working with one now. The Bessie Smith Cultural Center."
"Our Board is deciding whether we can take on a more supportive or lead role in the Strut," BSCC Director Rose Martin tells Eyewitness News.
The BSCC meets qualifications Mayor Littlefield has established, according to Mayoral spokesman Richard Beeland.
"It has non-profit tax status. It's staged festivals before," he says.
"We're working with them," says Chip Baker, Executive Director of Friends of the Festival.
"We intend to do everything that we can to 1) do what we've always done, and 2) help facilitate the process with the new requirements."
"'Friends of The Festival's role at the Strut has been limited to providing the entertainment, and setting the stages," Baker says.
"'Facilitating' could include helping the BSCC, or whoever the Strut's operator is, pay for the liability insurance," Festival Chairwoman Holly Harwell says.
Neither Harwell nor Baker have said whether Friends of the Festival is willing, or reluctant, to take on full responsibility for operating the Strut.
"Whoever it is, we'll work together," Baker says. "We'll be meeting with them (the BSCC) Friday, and Monday, so hopefully we'll have something for City Council next Tuesday."
Unanswered, is the cost of the liability insurance. Riverbend's insurer is BB&T Huffaker & Trimble.
Agent Roger Smith has not returned phone calls.
Freeman remains far from singing the blues; in any sense of the words.
"By Tuesday, we'll be able to announce the responsible party," he says. "I think it's a go."