published Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

Chattanooga City Council delays Bessie Smith Strut vote

by Cliff Hightower
A crowd watches Bernard Allison at the M.L.K. Stage during the 2009 Bessie Smith Strut.
A crowd watches Bernard Allison at the M.L.K. Stage during the 2009 Bessie Smith Strut.
Photo by Angela Lewis.
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Is the Bessie Smith Strut worth saving?
  • Yes. 47%
  • No. 53%

573 total votes.

The Chattanooga City Council decided Tuesday it will wait another week to consider a resolution on the Bessie Smith Strut.

The council voted 9-0 Tuesday night to defer for one week a resolution supporting a plan that Friends of the Festival, which manages the Strut and the annual Riverbend Festival, and the M.L. King Merchants Association throw the Strut on M.L. King Boulevard, where it has been held for 31 years.

Mayor Ron Littlefield told the City Council he had been speaking to community leaders about the Strut and thought progress was being made on the idea.

“By next Tuesday, we should have the ingredients to approve this plan,” he said.

The Bessie Smith Cultural Center has taken the lead on trying to obtain liability insurance for the event. City Attorney Mike McMahan told council members he had spoken to an insurance agent Tuesday morning and was told the center was closing in on acquiring the insurance.

Now, Friends of the Festival has insurance on staging and things it controls at the Strut; the cultural center is seeking liability for food and alcohol.

McMahan said if the center was able to obtain the insurance, he would have no reservations about exploring a plan to put on the Strut.

“It would certainly be worthwhile,” he said.

The Strut has been a hot-button issue over the last month after the mayor asked Friends of the Festival to move the event to the Riverbend site. The executive committee of the festival later denied that request, and the Bessie Smith Cultural Center stepped in to try and keep the festival going.

The council has been considering a resolution for the last two weeks on giving support to the community to hold the event, but it has delayed a vote as new developments keep arising.

On Tuesday, Councilman Manny Rico asked the city attorney if there should be caution about pursuing the Strut.

“What we do here won’t put us at risk for liability, will it?” Rico asked.

McMahan answered that it would not.

Councilman Sally Robinson said that, with the possibility that the cultural center may be able to pull the Strut off, a resolution for support could become a moot point.

“I hope by the time this is worked out, we may not even need a resolution,” she said.

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