Several aldermen are urging the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events to even the playing field between neighborhood festivals and privately operated street festivals.
More than 400 neighborhood festivals take place every year, according to the department.
Neighborhood festivals are the “backbone of the neighborhoods,” said Ald. Michele Smith (43rd). They help raise “vital” money for school, parks, social programs and non-profits, she said Monday at a City Council budget hearing.
However, Smith cited instances of “perceived unfairness” when those festivals are up against larger events. “For-profit” festivals — like Old St. Pat’s World’s Largest Block Party — have been allowed to charge for street access, she said, while neighborhood festivals can ask for donations only.
Department deputy commissioner David McDermott said that Illinois Supreme Court law forbids street festivals from charging patrons for admission because the festivals are on the “public way.”
Smith proposed mandating an admission charge for neighborhood festivals as opposed to donation. She also proposed collecting an amusement tax from the privately operated festivals.
Alds. Brendan Reilly (42nd) and Harry Osterman (48th) shared Smith’s concerns.
Both Reilly and Osterman asked for stricter oversight of special events companies who associate with local charity organizations. These companies, Reilly said, are “using the charity as a cloak” to hold the event in the neighborhood, with little money actually going towards the charity.
“A lot of folks feel like they’ve been baited and switched on by these event companies when a small amount of money actually goes to support the charity,” Reilly said.
McDermott responded that the department would have to check for what they can legally ask for.
During the same session, department commissioner Michelle T. Boone mentioned that the city’s budget would not support the Great Chicago Fire Festival, organized by Redmoon, in 2016.