The muddy post-Lollapalooza cleanup begins

Written By Stefano Esposito Posted: 08/05/2014, 09:13am

With only hungry seagulls for spectators, crews slopped through the mud Monday morning at Grant Park during one of the nastiest post-Lollapalooza clean-ups in memory.

“Really, the biggest issue is trying to get the labor to work through mud, pick up through mud — because we detail every last bit of the park before we leave,” said David  C. Mayer, director of business development and sustainability for VenueSmart, the cleanup company in charge at Grant Park. “We’re not paying huge dollars for labor to come in and clean up the park.”

But exactly how much it will cost to put things back the way they were is unclear. What is clear is that festival organizers bear those costs.

Jessica Maxey-Faulkner, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Park District, said she won’t be able to put a dollar figure on the damage done to Grant Park and the bill that must be paid by festival organizers until later this week. 

“We don’t assess damage until equipment and staging is moved out,” Maxey-Faulkner said. 

“After the load-out [of equipment], there’s a walk-through with both parties. That’s when we assess the damage. We won’t know that until the park is clear.”

Under the contract between the Chicago Park District and the Lollapalooza organizers, an “independent third party” will be called in to assess the condition of the festival area and determine the cost of repairing and restoring that area to its “pre-Festival condition.” The contract states that the organizers are responsible for “all reasonable costs” in that regard.

The organizers then pay the Park District that amount, and the Park District arranges for the work to be done. If the Park District has to delay the restoration work, such as to accommodate other events, and that delay increases the cost of the work, that extra cost falls on taxpayers.

Arrests this year were down from 2013, according to the city. In all, there were 34, of which 21 were felonies, and most of those were drug-related. Last year, according to city figures, there were 46 arrests, of which 30 were drug-related.

Attendance both years was estimated at 300,000. 

Hours after Sunday’s deluge, caramel-colored mud lakes dotted the park. Discarded water bottles, flattened beer cans and even the occasional beach ball could be found in the slop. A pair of flip-flops — each sandal some 20 feet apart — were left for the trash haulers near the main stage.

By the end of the week, crews will likely have carted off 250 or so tons of trash — about 60 percent of it destined to be recycled or composted, Mayer said.

Along with bottles and cans, comes “drugs, tampons, vomit — you name it,” said Mayer, who was 25 hours into his current shift.

Crew member Robert Lambert, still fresh after his third 14-hour shift, said he hadn’t quite hit his “wall” by mid-morning Monday.

“I love the energy that Lollapalooza brings,” he said. “And when the crowd gets jazzed up, it’s a wonderful thing to see.”

It also was a wonderful sight for Bob O’Neill, president of the Grant Park Conservancy, who said the tenth anniversary of Lollapalooza was the “best yet” when it comes to minimizing damage to Grant Park.

“All the gardens and bushes were fenced off and secure, so people couldn’t run through those. You get good at knowing areas people cut through and trample and you better secure those areas,” O’Neill said Monday after riding his bike through Grant Park.

“The only damage that was done was to turf, which is the easiest to correct. It’ll take time for the turf to come back with re-sodding, aerating and seeding. But, those areas will be roped off so they can come back.”

O’Neill said it helped that Chicago has had a “really wet spring and summer,” which left the landscaping in far “better and more durable shape” than if there had been a drought.

And O’Neill said every year, music fans appear to get “more respectful” of Grant Park and “behaving in a much better” manner.

“The park looks better every year and people respect it more because it’s in better shape,” he said.

“It’s a luxury to have that festival in a downtown site. Nowhere in the world do they get that beautiful and prominent a space along the waterfront with the skyline and beautiful landscaping. It works both ways. If the park looks good, Lollapalooza looks good and vice-versa. There’s a symbiotic relationship that’s working.”

Crews removing storage lockers from Grant park on Monday morning.  |  Stefano Esposito/Sun-Times

About 60 percent of the waste collected will be recycled or composted, said David C. Mayer, director of business development and sustainability for VenueSmart, the cleanup company in charge at Grant Park.  |  Stefano Esposito/Sun-Times

About 250 tons of trash left behind by the Lollapalooza crowd will be collected by the end of the week, said David C. Mayer, director of business development and sustainability for VenueSmart, the cleanup company in charge at Grant Park.  |  Stefano Esposito/Sun-Times

The aftermath of Lollapolaza — and the damage done by both rain and people. | Brian Jackson/Sun-Times  

Grass has been reduced to mud.  | Brian Jackson/Sun-Times  

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