Ichthus puts site up for sale; festival in jeopardy
WILMORE – The 2011 Ichthus Festival ended on a sobering note: Ichthus Ministries chief executive officer Mark Vermilion told the crowd that the festival site was going up for sale and that financial issues had put the 42-year-old event in jeopardy.
What festival organizers hoped, he said, was that a benevolent buyer would come forward and purchase the 111-acre site, relieving Ichthus of the mortgage and overhead costs of owning the property, and lease it back to Ichthus each year for the festival.
Today, the large yellow “for sale” signs he displayed onstage are nailed to the fence at the entrances to the festival site off U.S. 68 in Wilmore. Vermilion said there have been three or four discussions with potential buyers but no offers yet for the property, which has an asking price of $900,000.
“In the next six weeks, we’re going to get into significant layoffs and consider not doing a 2012 festival if things don’t change – if we don’t have donors that step up and help us through this season of need, or if we don’t sell the land,” Vermilion said while sitting in the gazebo at the Wilmore city park that was built after Ichthus gave the city a portion of its festival property. “Our board of directors will meet on Sept. 12 and make some hard decisions. In the meantime, we have the opportunity to see who’s really serious about helping us out.”
The festival’s financial situation is a result of a variety of factors, including a downturn in the economy and changes in the Christian concert and festival market. Since the festival moved from being held in late April to mid-June in 2006, each edition has lost money. That has made what once seemed like a great investment – a permanent site for the festival – into a crippling financial burden.
“There was a time when we purchased this land that the festival was making enough money to keep this overhead,” Vermilion said. “Now it doesn’t.
“We look at the land, and we have a mortgage payment and interest expense. We have maintenance, and we have insurance. If we didn’t have that to pay each year, I can’t see us losing money anymore.”
Vermilion said he feels as if he’s living between a world of how things are and how they could be. Unloading the property expenses could free the organization to develop programs including satellite festivals around the region comprising Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky. Vermilion said there has even been interest from Asbury University and Asbury Theological Seminary alumni in the Houston and Austin areas of Texas, where there is potential to launch another multiday Ichthus Festival.
But Ichthus has to survive this financial crisis, which has included slashing wages for its full-time employees, Vermilion and operations director Doug Baker, and part-time office staff, and asking many people who had previously been paid for their work during the festival to volunteer this year.
The land does not necessarily have to go, Vermilion said. A low six-figure contribution from one or multiple sources could get Ichthus through its current financial issues, he said. But the financial demands of owning the land would present an ongoing problem, which is why the organization is putting an emphasis on selling the property.
“We really do hope we can find a buyer who will lease the land back to us or let us use it for the festival,” Vermilion said. “That’s the first choice we’re going after.”
He said he could see the property being developed as a retreat and conference center with facilities that could also be used during the Ichthus Festival. At one time, Ichthus had talked about having other festivals and events at the amphitheater during the year, but that has not worked out except for a few attractions such as the J.D. Crowe Bluegrass Festival.
“An event really has to be a destination unto itself to work out here,” Vermilion said.
If that benevolent buyer does not come forward, Vermilion said, the property could be sold to developers, with Ichthus relocating to another site, such as the Kentucky Horse Park. Ichthus was approached about a sale five years ago, in a much better real estate market, with a $2 million offer, Vermilion said.
For now, the organization is hoping people will respond to Ichthus’ needs so it can go with Plan A, keeping the the longest-running Christian music festival in the country alive and in Wilmore.
11 Responses to “Ichthus puts site up for sale; festival in jeopardy”
lexington fun dir August 5th, 2011 at 12:24 pm
It would serve this town right for Icthus to sell this tract to commercial interests. Ichtus would get their money — it would then be possible for other businesses to locate here
GEORGE ALEXANDER August 5th, 2011 at 3:36 pm
It would be great to see this “Christian” festival leave town. I can’t tell you how many drug-addicted hippies I see coming and going from that hogwash! Christians today have LOST THEIR WAY if they think partying and rock and roll are the way to get into Heaven? READ THE OLD TESTAMENT TOO!
hailiebug August 5th, 2011 at 3:49 pm
God works in mysterious ways and apparently this festival did not meet with his approval. Perhaps all those preachers in the 1950′s and 60′s who said rock n roll was the devils music were right. Beware all you rock n rollers for you are doomed to an eternity of perdition. Now pass that collection plate around.
Lucky Jim August 5th, 2011 at 6:07 pm
Why don’t they just pray for a big bag of money to drop from the sky?
Jack Brooks August 5th, 2011 at 6:17 pm
Maybe they need to move it back to April.
fourscoreand7 August 5th, 2011 at 6:26 pm
lowest August 5th, 2011 at 7:06 pm
If ICHTHUS had not been run so poorly and mismanaged the festival would still be going strong. It should have stayed at the Wilmore Campgrounds, been run by mostly volunteers and not had a prerequisite that board members come from wealth. How unbiblical and sad.
I have wanted to go to Icthus for years. Finally went this year. the music was great but some things bothered me.
I got a small sandwich and a drink and it cost me 10.00. I felt like the merchants were just jacking up their prices to take advantage of the people. Everything there was about money. Many of the singers were hawking their wares. I felt the whole atmosphere was about greed.
How can God bless a group like that. I thought the people were just there to genuinely worship God. Another thing was odd. I was happy to be there and smiled at several people. Nobody smiled back. Just kinda weird. I thought I was surrounded by christians. Wondered if I was in the wrong place. Whole thing just kinda had me scratching my head. Did not make me want to come back again.
"been there, done that" August 6th, 2011 at 12:10 am
Surely you know that the demographics of the area will not support commercial development there. Further more housing would not be a good investment. The best use would be a regional outdoor performing arts facility.
wow i am ashamed of all these comments I for one have been going to Ichthus for years now I love Ichthus I love God and I Love my Lord Jesus Christ. Ichthus is open to everybody Christian or not. All the bands there at Ichthus are Christian even if they dont sound like it look up the lyrics to the songs. Ichthus is a multi diverse, multi genere place. yes the place has prices but the bands and merch people have to make money to pay for thier gas and over head. stop being naysayers and doom sayers Ichthus has Christian speakers and teaching seminars there for everyone there. just go there and look around go to the speakers and just listen to God that is what Ichthus is for if it goes away Christians will lose a very vital thing that has thousands of non Christans comeing to Christ ive been there and see it it is amazing and very moving
Michael Swigert August 12th, 2011 at 7:51 am
It would be sad to see the festival go. Some of my best H.S. memories are of the trips to Ichthus with my youth group. Ichthus always brought us closer to each other and to God. I also think it is great that the festival draws kids that are struggling (drug addicts etc.). God meets everyone right where they are. I have seen some of them turn their lives around because of this experience. Ichthus is a wonderful ministry, and I pray that it continues for years to come!
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich