Has Kentuck Move Been Long in the Works?
Another episode in the soap opera concerning the location of the Kentuck Arts Center and Festival plays out tonight. The Tuscaloosa City Council will vote on a Memorandum of Understanding between the City of Tuscaloosa and Kentuck. That is expected to set the wheels in motion for a move from Northport to Tuscaloosa. A move that some claim has been in the works for some time.
This morning, Northport City Council President Jeff Hogg told the 95.3 The Bear Steve and DC Morning Show that he agrees with the assessment that Kentuck officials have been wanting to make the move for some time and are attempting to make Northport look like the bad guy in doing so. However, Hogg told listeners, "There's not been one time that the City of Northport has wavered in our commitment to the Kentuck Arts Festival".
Hogg says he understands there was concern about the new youth sports complex being built nearby Kentuck Park, but he emphasized that property is south of where the festival has been conducted for 52 years. Hogg added, "I think that is just an easy scapegoat (for Kentuck) to try to blame the sports complex and look for other options."
Hogg pointed out that the threat to remove Kentuck from the city didn't start with the sports complex but dates back years. "Ever since I have been on the council the threat to leave Northport has happened."
Hogg told the morning show he received a text message from a local businessperson yesterday that solidified his belief that this is something that has been in the works for a while. That message claims there was a meeting in 2019 involving representatives of the City of Tuscaloosa in which Tuscaloosa was attempting to raise $3,000,000 for the Elevate Tuscaloosa project.
During that meeting the message claims "(Amy) Echols (Kentuck Executive Director) made the comment that Kentuck would be moving to Tuscaloosa as part of the Elevate Tuscaloosa Program." The businessman told Hogg that he wanted someone in Northport to know about that conversation after reading recently about all this Kentuck drama.
At the request of Townsquare Media Tuscaloosa's Steve Shannon, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox was asked for a response to the interview with Jeff Hogg. Maddox replied that, "Kentuck was never part of the original Elevate plans passed in 2019. The only discussion I've had with Kentuck was the future use of the Tuscaloosa Public Library Main Branch, if it were to become vacant." Maddox says at that time Tuscaloosa was hoping to include the library as part of the Saban Center.
Mayor Maddox went on to write, "As I recall, Kentuck's interest would have been to utilize the facility (old main library) for an arts center - It was not regarding the hosting of their festival."
The library eventually decided to remain in its current location and Maddox states, "There were never any further and/or serious discussions with any agency."
Hogg told Steve and DC that the (city) council had been threatened for years, by Kentuck, to either, "...give us more money or we are leaving."
Several other cities across the state have sought to host the Kentuck Arts Festival and Mayor Maddox added, "In the last several days, we have worked to explore with Kentuck on how to retain the festival in our region for 2024."
All the back-and-forth and finger pointing on social media and in the media has exasperated Hogg. "At the end of the day, be adults. Meet about it, have the media present, be open, transparent and honest, have open dialogue and let's come to a resolution," he urged.
The first term council president went on to say that Kentuck's unwillingness to do those things makes it obvious they already have other plans and don't care about a longstanding partnership.
The Northport Council, last Monday, approved all the requests made in a meeting between Northport and Kentuck attorneys. But Hogg believes those requests are not the issue. He believes Kentuck wanted the council to say no and give them an excuse to look for "greener pastures."
Northport City Attorney Ron Davis sent a message to Kentuck at last week's council meeting saying, "If you really want to work with these people (Northport Council) instead of throwing them under the bus then why did you need to pay a media consultant, write a press release, develop talking points and have a media strategy?" Hoggs said those Kentuck actions were stated in an email from Amy Echols. He says that makes it obvious Kentuck was trying to set the narrative against Northport.
Hogg points out that the Kentuck Board is now mostly City of Tuscaloosa residents with only two Northport members. He wants to know how that could happen when the festival's home has been in Northport for 52 years.
"I'm not mad at Kentuck, I don't have any issues at all with Kentuck." Hogg added, "I just want them to come sit down and meet with us."
Kentuck rejected Hogg's request for a meeting today before the Tuscaloosa City Council meets tonight.
Hogg does not hold hard feelings toward Tuscaloosa. "I don't blame Tuscaloosa one bit...the City of Tuscaloosa is just doing what anybody else would do.' His issue is with the Kentuck leadership and what they are trying to accomplish.
For his part, the Tuscaloosa Mayor voiced tremendous respect for Northport and the Kentuck Arts Festival, "They are both making significant accomplishments that benefits the entire county."
Asked if he has totally written off Kentuck, Hogg said he believes Kentuck will be in Northport in 2024 once the theatrics are behind. He pointed out the aesthetics of Kentuck Park will be hard for Tuscaloosa to match.
Townsquare Media Tuscaloosa requested comments from Kentuck Executive Director Amy Echols concerning the issue. She declined but promised to appear on the Steve and DC Morning Show after the first of the year to talk about it.
Stay tuned, the next episode of "As Kentuck Turns", takes place tonight at the Tuscaloosa City Council.