The question of whether the Bessie Smith Strut remains in downtown Chattanooga, Tenn., or is moved to the Riverbend site may hinge on who takes responsible for it.
The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports that Chip Baker, executive director of Friends of the Festival, said his group will spearhead an effort to keep the Strut on Martin Luther King Boulevard in downtown.
Baker said the issue to be resolved is whether the friends group can get liability insurance for the event on MLK.
“I cannot and will not put my organization at risk,” Baker said.
Mayor Ron Littlefield angered many black residents of the city last month when he announced the celebration would be moved to the Riverbend site and renamed the Bessie Smith Celebration.
The Strut takes place during the longer Riverbend Festival.
Baker and the M.L. King Merchants Association spoke to Chattanooga’s Legal and Legislative Committee about how to keep the festival on the street where it has taken place for three decades.
Councilman Peter Murphy, chairman of the committee, said the future of the Strut could rest in the hands of Friends of the Festival.
“If you can’t get insurance, we don’t have a Strut,” he said.
Although Littlefield was not available for comment, he presented a memo to the council explaining what he wanted addressed for the Strut to continue, including having an organization take responsibility, licensing of vendors and fencing around the area.
“I do understand that people are meeting to try and find ways to redesign the Strut so that it can be salvaged and made safer in its present location,” Littlefield wrote in the memo. “We are willing to work with the community.”
Moses Freeman, spokesman for the merchants association, said they are seeking volunteers for ticket takers and will be looking for more assistance from the community to meet the changes that the mayor identified.
“We’re willing to help put up that fence and charge an admission fee,” he said.
But Council Chairwoman Pam Ladd said she had concerns that neither the merchants association nor Friends of the Festival would take sole ownership of the event.
“Who’s going to put up fencing?” she asked. “Who’s going to pay for that? Who is going to be responsible for wrist bands? I’m not hearing ‘We’ll step up and take responsibility.”‘
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