Leflore County supervisors are asking economic development authorities to spend more than $13,000 in county-contributed funds to rent a stage, lighting and a sound system for a private promoter putting on a blues festival at Florewood Park.

The idea of underwriting some of the cost of staging the event for a private business drew heated discussion from supervisors and was narrowly approved.

Promoter John Ray is offering the Down Home Blues Festival on Saturday, May 11, an all-day event that will feature Bobby Rush and other singers and musicians. Tickets are on sale for $22 and will be $35 the day of the event.

Ray told supervisors in a previous meeting that he planned for another event in September.

District 3 Supervisor Anjuan Brown said he went to Angela Curry, executive director of the Greenwood- Leflore-Carroll Economic Development Foundation, to see if economic development funds could be available to build a permanent stage at Florewood.

He said Curry agreed that the May 11 festival could be considered economic development if it attracted a large number of people to the area. Because of that, according to Brown, Curry agreed to spend $13,200 on the event from the money the county provides to the Greenwood-Leflore Industrial Board, the foundation’s publicly funded sister organization.

“If the amount of people come that’s expected, then it’s going to be economic development,” Brown said. “That’s why I went to them with this, and they agreed.”

Ray told supervisors the music festival could attract 4,000 to 5,000 people.

Brown also said Curry told him if the festival works, she would seek funds from the Mississippi Development Authority to build a permanent stage at Florewood.

District 5 Supervisor Robert Collins told Brown he thought the county gave money to the Industrial Board to help attract new businesses to come to the county. He noted that many  other concert and festival promoters had come to the area but didn’t expect the county to pay their stage, lighting and sound system costs.

Brown defended use of economic development funds and said supervisors have talked in the past about attracting more events to Florewood and building a stage there.

“If this guy is putting the show on, he should be the one to build the stage,” Collins said. “... We’re going to put out quite a bit on something that we’re not going to get a return on. I don’t see a return here.”

“You don’t think we’re going to get any return off the people coming into town and spending?” Brown replied.

“We started off with him doing two shows out there in one year,” Collins said. “That’s what we started off with, with him taking Florewood for that show. What else are we planning on giving him?”

He said Ray should have visited Florewood and surveyed what was there before he signed a contract to use it.

Collins also disagreed with using economic development funds for this purpose. “We gave this money for special reasons,” he said. “We didn’t give it to them to turn around and give it to who they want to give it to either. ... That’s still our money.”

“Well, they felt the need,” Brown said. “They felt it would be part of economic development.”

District 1 Supervisor Sam Abraham said, “Right now in Greenwood, Mississippi, we need to take some chances. We gotta get out there and offer the people something to do. Our citizens out here do not have a lot to do. This is an event that I don’t know that I’d go to or not, but there’s a lot of people in this community will go to it.”

“I think this an opportunity to take a chance and see what we can do,” Brown said. “If it doesn’t work, so be it.”

“When we get through, I think we’re going to have an idea of whether this is something we can promote out there,” Abraham said.

Supervisors voted 3-2 to allow the Industrial Board to spend the $13,200 on renting a stage, with Collins and Board President Wayne Self voting against.

In other business:

nSupervisors approved a request by Greenwood Mayor Carolyn McAdams to allow the city to use county telecommunications towers as part of the city’s surveillance camera system. She said the county towers wouldn’t have cameras on them but would be used to receive and retransmit signals from the cameras to another antenna on Howard Street.

The board approved the measure as long as the receiver/transmitter didn’t interfere with any county antennas. Collins also suggested county employees meet with their city counterparts to determine if the county could benefit from piggybacking on the city cameras.

nSupervisors voted to spend $1,500 to help sponsor the inaugural Greenwood Gravel Grind, an essentially off-road bicycle tour coming up on April 27. The course for the 31-mile and 62-mile rides will start in downtown Greenwood but span an area that would include both Leflore and Carroll counties, mostly along gravel roads.

The tour is organized by the Greenwood-Leflore County Chamber of Commerce under their bike ride consultant, Richard Beattie, who told the board he was looking to start small with 150 riders but with the potential of attracting as many riders as the Bikes, Blues & Bayous event in August, which has nearly 1,000 participants. Beattie said gravel riding is the latest attraction in cycling and draws a younger crowd bringing “new tourism dollars into town.”

Contact Gavin Maliska at 581-7235 or gmaliska

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