Ichthus Festival organizers prepare to sell equipment, other assets to pay debt

rcopley@herald-leader.comDecember 15, 2012 

Fans braved the heat to see DecemberRadio's mid-afternoon set in June at the Ichthus Festival at Ichthus Farm off U.S. 68 in Wilmore. Ichthus Ministries, which runs the Christian-music festival, announced Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012, that in the face of mounting debt, the board was shutting down and would sell its assets.

RICH COPLEY — Lexington Herald-Leader

The Ichthus Festival is for sale.

Less than a week after the Wilmore-based event announced it was closing after 42 years, leaders of Ichthus Ministries gathered to take an account of the organization's assets, including its name and website, that will be sold in an effort to pay its creditors. The moves come amid pleas from fans and supporters of the festival to find a way to save the event, which was the original Christian pop music festival.

"My objective is to dissolve Ichthus because that's what I've been directed to do by the board," says Mark E. Nichols, attorney for Ichthus Ministries. "Does that mean if someone came in who could save the day we wouldn't consider it? Of course we would. Nobody desires to dissolve. But we have determined that we have to move forward, and that is what we are doing.

"We would love nothing more than to have someone come in and buy all the intellectual property and start the new Ichthus fresh and knock the lights out. We hope something will come of this. It's just that this entity has run its course and cannot survive due to our financial situation."

A number of people who have contacted Nichols have been surprised to hear the actual numbers that are in play when it comes to reviving Ichthus, he said. At the level it has been presented the last several years, the festival itself has a budget of more than $1 million. What has really been weighing the organization down, and Nichols says finally became a barrier Ichthus could not overcome, is an accumulated debt well into six figures, though he declined to name an exact amount.

On Nov. 29, Commercial Loan Solutions II, LLC filed suit against Ichthus Ministries over non-payment of the mortgage at its festival site. The suit seeks the sale of the property and a judgment against Ichthus for $721,113.70 plus other interest and expenses.

For more than a year, Ichthus had sought to sell the property, saying its mortgage and the expenses of maintaining it were a major impediment to the organization achieving financial stability. In its original announcement at the 2011 festival, Ichthus leaders said sale of the property was a key to moving forward with the event.

Later that fall, Ichthus announced that despite not selling the property, the festival had secured enough financial support to move forward with the 2012 edition and announced dates for 2013, June 12-15.

But last week the board determined it could not continue accumulating debt with little hope of paying it off.

Now, the focus is accumulating as much money as possible from the sale of assets to reimburse creditors.

"We probably will not be able to make anyone whole, but we want to try to do our best," Nichols says.

He divides the assets up into three categories:

■ Tangible items such as farm equipment and office furniture that will likely be sold at a live auction. A listing of the property will be posted late this week at Ichthusfestival.org, Nichols said.

■ Ichthus memorabilia such as T-shirts and signed guitars that will likely be sold in an online auction.

■ Intellectual property, including the Ichthus festival name, website and Facebook page, which has more than 26,000 followers, which will be sold in a method yet to be determined.

The intellectual property is the most sensitive issue, as people close to the festival are concerned about how it will be used.

"You hear sometimes about companies or baseball teams being sold, and the person that's buying them having no real connection to what they're buying, and it's just a business decision," says Paul Lyon, son of late Ichthus founder Bob Lyon.

"I don't want it to be a business decision. I want it to be a God decision."

Nichols says concerns over how the name and associated items are sold is why the method of their sale is still up in the air.

"Obviously we would like it to go to someone who has an appreciation for our values and the legacy of Ichthus," he says. "But our No. 1 responsibility is to our creditors and getting maximum value for them."

Mark Vermilion, the festival's last director, says that he has heard interest from some credible parties with experience in the festival business, though he declined to name any.

"There is an understanding in these people that the Ichthus tradition is a strong one," Vermilion says. "But it remains to be seen whether any of them will come through and what form it may take."

Rich Copley: (859) 231-3217. Twitter: @copiousnotes. Blog: copiousnotes.bloginky.com.

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