Loan forgiven for festival organizers

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 13, 2006

Allison T. Williams

Suffolk Festivals Inc. got a fiscal shot in the arm Wednesday, courtesy of the Industrial Development Authority.

The IDA voted unanimously to forgive $23,000 remaining on a $50,000 loan it had extended to organizers of Peanut Fest, the city’s annual four-day fall festival that has attracted upward of 100,000 people in years past. Suffolk Festivals has already repaid more than half the loan.

IDA member Tim Copeland, who serves on the Peanut Fest board, made the proposal last month, saying the nonprofit organization’s coffers have taken a financial beating due to bad weather in recent years.

In exchange, Copeland recommended the IDA partner with Suffolk Festivals to become a corporate sponsor for the next four years.

“I see Peanut Fest as a small economic development engine that puts Suffolk before 140,000 people for four days,” said Copeland. “I would like to see the commercial tent revitalized and space offered to some of Suffolk’s new high-tech businesses, particularly in the modeling and simulation industries.”

Lynette White, the city’s tourism director and coordinator of Peanut Fest 2006, praised the move, saying it will allow planners to invest that money in other areas of the event.

Billy Wyatt, president of Suffolk Festivals, added that the IDA’s loan has been invaluable to festival planners.

“Weather has been an issue for three of the last four years,” he said. “We possibly would not have survived without the IDA’s loan.

“When we bring in national entertainment acts, we are responsible for paying them even if it rains too much for them to perform.”

The city needs to look at relocating the festival, which has been held at Suffolk Executive Airport for decades, to a site more conducive to such events, said White.

“We want Peanut Fest to be a showcase,” White said. “We are a growing city and we want to look like a growing city. We have to be able to play with the big dogs.”

In other business, the IDA:

*Approved giving Main Street Jazz Restaurant $64,500 from the authority’s Economic Development Investment Program. The owners completed more than $2 million in renovations and improvements to meet disbursement criteria from the IDA’s incentive fund, said Tom O’Grady, the city’s economic development director.

*Approved the sale of an additional seven acres in Northgate Industrial Park to Ferguson Enterprises, which already owns a 10-acre parcel. The company, which will use to property for eventual expansion, will pay $55,000 per acre for the site, O’Grady said.

allison.williams@suffolknewsherald.com