Rules for hosting parties in Chicago parks could change amid flak

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As criticism mounts over the use of public parks for large-scale events hosted by private companies, Chicago Park District leaders set to change their code to mandate a board vote to approve events with more than 10,000 daily participants.

Park board chairman Myetie Hamilton announced the proposal at Wednesday’s board meeting. Under current district practice, agreements that generate revenue are approved directly by the superintendent, skipping board approval and reducing the ability of the public to comment on those permits.

The announcement comes days before the start of Riot Fest in Douglass Park, and weeks after festival management let go of an event organizer and apologized to the community for the “tone” of a neighborhood meeting to address neighbours’ concerns.

This August 2 meeting was the first of its kind hosted by Riot Fest in the seven years since the festival landed in Douglass Park and was mandated by the district. But locals said it was poorly advertised, held in the middle of a weekday and did not include chairs for the elderly or an interpreter for Spanish speakers.

The meeting – along with complaints that the city recently agreed, with virtually no input from the public, to host Lollapalooza in Grant Park for another 10 years – has fueled opposition to the presence of for-profit festivals in the parks. public, which sometimes close public access for weeks at a time.

A group of opponents today submitted a letter to the board of directors, demanding that the city and district “stop allowing the use of Douglass Park to host large, for-profit festivals.”

Their letter claims that events such as Riot Fest, Summer Smash, and Heatwave limit programming because the park is closed for “a minimum of 46 days.” Such events also harm local vendors, who typically sell out during football games, and restaurants, whose regulars are driven out by noise and traffic, the letter says. Other concerns are that the festivals are prolonging response times for ambulances serving Mount Sinai and St. Anthony’s hospitals and that “repairs being made in the park do not fully address the damage caused by the festivals, and they certainly don’t respond.” to the major infrastructure needs that Douglass Park has had for many years.

Documents provided to the Chicago Park District and obtained by the Tribune through an open records request indicate that repairs to the park – sod and turf work – after last year’s Summer Smash festival cost $47,600. $. The cost this year was approximately $130,000.

Riot Fest’s repair estimate for last year was $44,600. Turf repairs for this year’s Heatwave Festival would cost just $4,800, though work won’t take place until after Riot Fest, a Park District representative said.

Signatories to the letter of opposition include Únete La Villita, Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, Pilsen Alliance, United Working Families, Enlace Chicago, Friends of the Parks, Chicago Sierra Club, State Representatives Lakesia Collins and Edgar Gonzalez and the State Senator Celina Villanueva.

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Local officials and neighbors near Grant Park have also expressed frustration that the city’s “front yard” park is off limits for several weeks each year before and after events such as Lollapalooza, and will be further restricted during of next year’s inaugural NASCAR street race.

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At Wednesday’s meeting, Hamilton acknowledged the frustration, saying that in her first year leading the board, she had become “very aware of the challenges and the impact of these events on the day-to-day operations of the parks. within our communities.”

She later said, “Our goal here is to ensure that there is an increased level of coordination around these events, in addition to keeping the voice of the community at the forefront of the process.”

But district officials also pointed out that these permits generated nearly $20 million in revenue, allowing the district to delay raising property taxes to pay for operations.

Because the proposed change would alter the council’s code, the district opens the amendment for public comment for 45 days and must be approved by the council.

Among the events with an authorized attendance of more than 10,000 people in 2022 (not including those held at Soldier Field) are popular grassroots sporting events including the Chicago Marathon, Shamrock Shuffle and Bike the Drive, as well as the Taste of Chicago, the Hyde Park Summer Festival and The Picnic Chosen Few, as well as festivals such as Pitchfork, Riot Fest, Suenos and Lollapalooza.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced at this year’s Lollapalooza — which draws hundreds of thousands of visitors to Grant Park each year — that the music festival will remain in Chicago for another 10 years. Park District officials later said the 10-year contract does not need park board approval and has so far only released a three-page summary. of the agreement.

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