New rules for approval of large events in Chicago parks

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The amendment to the Park District’s code was announced Wednesday at a meeting of its Board of Commissioners. It will be posted for review for 45 days and then voted on later this fall. The text of the amendment was not immediately available.

The proposed changes come as the Park District faces scrutiny this summer for its opaque approvals process for large events. Many complaints have come from residents of Little Village and Lawndale, where Douglass Park hosts major music festivals, including Summer Smash, Heatwave Festival and, most notably, Riot Fest, which kicks off this weekend. The festival sparked protests this week as teams prepared for its opening, according to the Sun Times.

Elected officials and members of community groups representing the area spoke at the meeting, pressuring the Park District to stop handing Douglass Park over to private music festivals for much of the summer .

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A letter signed by 33 community groups and officialsincluding Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, Friends of the Parks, Light Up Lawndale and the Pilsen Alliance, was read at the meeting, outlining the detrimental impact of Riot Fest and other music festivals on Douglass Park and demanding their deletion.

“This does not mean that for-profit festivals should be placed in other BIPOC communities with limited recreational spaces,” the group noted. “The City of Chicago has designated music venues, and we encourage these businesses to go there. No privatization of public lands.”

Chicago Park District Superintendent and CEO Rosa Escareño and Myetie Hamilton, the new confirmed chairman of its board of commissioners, both acknowledged the need for a change in the approvals process at Wednesday’s meeting, even as district staffers championed the need for large events.

“While I think overall the public enjoys these events very much, through public feedback we have also learned and been very aware of the challenges and impact of these events on day-to-day operations and in the parks in our communities,” Hamilton said.

“We are not happy with the way things have gone this year,” Escareño said. “We believe that the voice of the community at Town Halls will not only help us better inform our process, but also think about what kind of events and engagements they would like to see.”

Escareño welcomed the new layer of approvals, but asked the Board of Commissioners to keep in mind that there is a “timing between the initial request and the approval, because there are several partners that we have to work with. “.

Even though the changes have been made, Park District staff have defended the use of city parks for large events, arguing that they bring in “nearly $20 million” in revenue that allows the Park District to subsidize programs like summer camps, making them affordable for residents, and avoiding property taxes.

“Over the years, we have been able to hold the line on property tax increases and program fee increases by maximizing non-tax revenue streams such as permits to maintain and even expand our offerings of services,” said a Park District official who could not be identified.

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The Park District previously released few details about the deals with Lollapalooza and NASCARarguing that they did not need board approval and forcing journalists to file Freedom of Information Act requests for copies of the allowed for each event.

“We see it as progress,” said Juanita Irizarry, executive director of the Friends of the Parks advocacy group.

“This administration is working with agreements that were made before they were on board, in many cases,” she said. “We see there is a new desire to hear a bit more from the community and understand the impact of big gigs and big events.”

While the amendment won’t retroactively cover new permits for Lollapalooza and NASCAR, it will begin to provide more community impact for one-year contracts for major music festivals at other parks.

“The mayor has made recent commitments for major events that would impact Grant Park, and I don’t know if those can be undone,” Irizarry said.

But for future new permits, Irizarry said she was “hopeful” that the skeptical and probing questions from the current Board of Park District Commissioners at recent meetings will result in “further consideration” before the decision. permit approval.

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