Northport Responds To Spat Over Kentuck With Timeline Of Negotiations

NORTHPORT, AL — The City of Northport Wednesday night issued a lengthy statement in response to news that the Kentuck Festival of the Arts is looking for a new location after negotiations reportedly fell through with the city.

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To address the accusations, Northport city officials provided its timeline of the discussions with Kentuck Art Center, which comes a day after Kentuck Art Center went public with its intentions to find a new location for its annual festival if the two could not agree on the future of the site.

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It’s worth noting that the festival is the biggest individual economic driver for the City of Northport, with the annual event in Kentuck Park reportedly drawing up to 20,000 visitors to the city each year, along with an estimated $5 million economic impact. This could mean negative economic impacts for business owners who depend on the festival for their busiest time of the year.

As Patch reported on Wednesday, Kentuck officials said the city wanted a five-year agreement but was unwilling to guarantee that Kentuck could continue to hold the festival at Kentuck Park for the duration of the agreement. Kentuck also said city officials were uncommunicative on how the construction of the nearby River Run Park would impact the festival during that time

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ALSO READ: Architects Present Final Designs For Northport’s River Run Park

“The city wanted us to sign a contract with less funding and no certainty on where future festivals were to be held,” Kentuck Board of Directors Chair Bobby Bragg said as part of an announcement that revealed Kentuck had identified at least half a dozen potential alternative sites for the festival.

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Still, the City of Northport flatly denied the accusations made by Kentuck and provided its timeline as a way to show the city’s good-faith efforts to work with the nonprofit.

Here’s a look at the timeline, with other dates added to provide additional context:

Dec. 12, 2022: The master plan for River Run Park is announced, but does not include Kentuck Park festival grounds. What’s more Kentuck Arts Center says there was no prior discussion with festival organizers about the future of the festival or the impact of River Run Park on the future of the festival

July 2023: Dirt begins moving on the site for what will become River Run Park in Northport, directly adjacent to Kentuck Park. The large mound of dirt catches many by surprise when it suddenly appears, but also signals the first physical indication that work is moving forward on the highly anticipated project.

Aug. 4. — an initial meeting was held at Kentuck Park with multiple agencies to prepare for the 2023 festival, which was held in October.

Aug. 29 — A letter is sent to the Kentuck Board and Executive Director Amy Echols saying that the City of Northport was committed to continuing to work with Kentuck and holding the festival within the City of Northport and outlined several items that had been a matter of discussion.

Aug. 31 — An email in response to a letter was received by the city from Kentuck thanking the city for its efforts.

Sept. 5 — An email from Kentuck to the City of Northport is followed by a letter expressing Kentuck’s excitement to move forward on the continued partnership.

Sept. 6 — Northport City Administrator Glenda Webb reportedly sent a proposed contract, based upon a previous funding contract between the entities, to Kentuck in an attempt to formalize an agreement.

Sept. 14 — A follow-up email request is sent to Kentuck for comments on the proposed contract. On the same date, the attorney for Kentuck responded that there would be comments to the proposed contract language.

Sept. 18 — The Northport City Council approved agency funding amounts as part of 2024 budget, but removed Kentuck due to the lack of a funding agreement being signed. Funding agreements are a fairly new concept for Northport after being introduced last year by City Administrator Glenda Webb. Despite Kentuck Art Center initially being told it would receive $68,000 for the current fiscal year, Council President Jeff Hogg forced an amendment to the budget that removed Kentuck before the budget was voted on. This is due to the aforementioned change in approach by the city, which has started to demand that outside agencies like Kentuck Arts Center sign funding agreements that lay out what they plan to do with the funding provided.

Sept. 21 — An email was sent to Kentuck regarding the cost of in-kind services provided by the City of Northport, estimated at $77,126.43. This game as Kentuck’s Board of Directors was to meet later that day and potentially consider the proposed contract language. The city says this email was acknowledged by Echols, as well as some of the board.

Oct. 14-15 — The Kentuck Festival of the Arts is held, with the City of Northport pointing out that new services were provided by the city, including a temporary WI-FI network for the festival, in addition to cleaning up dirt for the nearby River Run Park project. What’s more, the city says it provided numerous support staff and services to assist the festival.

Oct. 24 — The City of Northport says it received numerous comments and markups to the proposed funding agreement with Kentuck and attorneys for the city began reviewing the proposed markups.

Nov. 16 — A follow-up meeting was held with Kentuck’s attorney and a board representative to provide clarification on issues presented by Kentuck. During this meeting, city attorneys attempted to get additional information for Kentuck and continued to engage with Council members about the concerns of Kentuck up to, and including, Nov. 28, with a pledge to get all issues resolved no later than Dec. 11.

“The City of Northport has been the proud host of the Kentuck Festival for the last 52
years and the City Council has worked diligently in its commitment to coming to a
resolution with Kentuck to retain the festival,” the city said in a statement released late Wednesday night. “It remains the hope of the City of Northport that Kentuck will continue to hold its festival at the traditional home of Kentuck Park within the City of Northport as we have never wavered from providing that space.”

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