Residents want large festivals out of Douglass Park, say they pose a danger to patients at nearby hospitals

Riot Fest, a showcase of alternative music, draws tens of thousands of fans. But community activists and health workers say concerts at the park disturb patients at nearby hospitals and tie up a vital community resource for days.

SHARE Residents want large festivals out of Douglass Park, say they pose a danger to patients at nearby hospitals
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Princess Shaw lives in Lawndale and is a member of the Westside Executive Park Advisory Council. She accuses Riot Fest organizers of acting above the law by violating city regulations without consequence. She and others met the media on Monday to demand that concerts be moved from Douglass Park to other sites.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Community activists, residents and business leaders on Monday demanded the city stop allowing “mega” music festivals like Riot Fest to take over Douglass Park, saying the events don’t benefit the community and pose a danger to patients at nearby hospitals.

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They held a news conference in the park, at the corner of Ogden and California avenues and across the street from Mount Sinai Hospital, calling attention to the potential disruption that large music festivals can have on people seeking medical care there and at St. Anthony’s Hospital, which is just down the road.

“Mount Sinai is a level-one trauma center, meaning that patients who have experienced acute trauma and may require timely surgical intervention are often brought by EMS crews to this hospital,” said Marcus Paulson, an emergency medical technician. “For these patients, mere minutes can determine their outcome. The obstruction of traffic around the park and stream of low-acuity patients from large festivals has and will clearly affect the capacity of surrounding hospitals.”

Douglas Park megafest protest news conference

Nearly two dozen community members, activists, and health care professionals demand that mega-festivals like Riot Fest, held at Douglass Park since 2015, be moved to other venues.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Paulson said the two hospitals see fewer patients and fewer walk-ins during large festivals in the park, which means lower revenue.

“With that in mind, I have to ask the city officials who approve these festivals, what are these patients to do when their access to health care is limited by mega festivals? Why is the city continuously signing off on these mega festivals knowing that it negatively impacts the health care of community members?” Paulson said.

Community activists and residents have for years fought against large ticketed gatherings like Riot Fest, which has been held at Douglass since 2015, from using the park.

This year’s Riot Fest runs Sept. 15-17. Festival organizers have said they are working closely with the community and city agencies to address issues such as traffic and logistics. The alt-rock music event attracts about 40,000 people per day.

Two other music festivals that were held at Douglass in recent years have left for other locations amid protests. Summer Smash, taking place June 23-25, moved to suburban Bridgeview. The Heatwave Music Festival was held in Northerly Island this weekend.

Activists want the city to invest more in health care, infrastructure and access, and for Douglass Park and all city parks to become community controlled spaces.

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Joanna Tess, of Collaborative for Health and Equity Cook County, says the city is prioritizing profits over people by allowing Riot Fest to take over Douglass Park, limiting access to the community.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Joanna Tess, of Collaborative for Health and Equity Cook County, said the city is prioritizing profits over people by allowing Riot Fest to take over the park and limiting access to residents.

“Parks offer important spaces for residents to recover from the physical and psychological stresses of city life,” Tess said. “They allow kids to play and grow and for the community to be in community with one another. Douglass Park should not be abused simply to allow a small number of people to financially benefit from its commercial use.”

Organizers said there were no more youth soccer leagues in the park, and that schedules of adult soccer leagues are disrupted when the fields are closed for the festival. They said hours are added to commute times because of the festival, and the noise levels are “extreme.”

Princess Shaw, a lifelong resident of Lawndale and representative of the West Side Executive Park Advisory Council, accused festival organizers of acting above the law by breaking regulations without facing consequences.

“These festivals continue to leave our community unhealthy and unsafe by exceeding their allowed permitted participant capacity level without penalty,” Shaw said. “This puts our community at risk due to having an inaccurate count of the number of partygoers in our community.”

Douglass Park Riot Fest

Festival attendees walk past graffiti reading “NO RIOT FEST IN OUR PARK” along a fence circling Douglass Park during last year’s Riot Fest. The three-day festival attracts about 40,000 people per day.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

Shaw said these “strangers” that attend the festivals flood Lawndale and Little Village and overwhelm police.

“Once they come back into our community, then what ends up happening is that they do whatever and say whatever they wanna say,” Shaw said. “That hurts our community through not being able to have adequate resources.”

Shaw said the area has not benefited from the millions in revenue that the festivals have take in over the years. She thinks Lawndale and Little Village are owed “reparations.”

The festival says on its website that its community involvement efforts have led to hundreds of thousands of dollars of economic impact for the area around the park.

Denis Ferguson, another longtime resident of Lawndale, said no other neighborhood has had to deal with these kinds of issues. She added that the only way to solve them would be for the festival to be held elsewhere.

“There is nothing Riot Fest can do except leave,” Ferguson said. “This is predatory, discriminatory and downright racist. No one should be asked to set aside their sick child or their parent needing some kind of dialysis because some company wants to have a party in the park.”

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