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Aldermen set rules for private events in manufacturing districts

Weddings, parties, fundraisers and corporate events have been popping up all over in Chicago’s under-used manufacturing districts and industrial corridors.

But, City Hall didn’t have a handle on the trend because there was no ordinance regulating those events — until Tuesday.

At the behest of its chairman, Ald. Danny Solis (25th), the City Council’s Zoning Committee agreed to create a new city license for “indoor private events” and establish rigid operating standards that would govern where and how those events would be conducted.

The license would be available only to private events such as weddings, fundraisers and corporate parties. That means invitation-only — not open to the public. Tickets could not be sold at the door.

Alcohol could be sold only to those attending the invitation-only event and only during the hours the party was in progress.

The license-holder would be required to implement an exterior safety plan to mitigate the impact on the surrounding area. And the event organizer would have to provide enough parking spaces to accommodate 10 percent of those in attendance.

To qualify to host a private event, the license holder would need at least 15,000 sq. ft. of space in a building at least 50 years old. Those events could be held in only four of the city’s planned manufacturing districts and in districts zoned for business and commercial uses.

Ald. Danny Solis said it was important to catch up to the trend of holding private events in light-industrial settings. “This makes it legal and also allows us to regulate it,” he said. | File photo

“The idea behind that is, we don’t want to have little pop-ups all over like storefront pop-ups in private event spaces. The idea is to have them in large manufacturing areas. That’s the cool factor. That’s why you have to have a minimum of 15,000 square feet,” Buildings Commissioner Judy Frydland told the Zoning Committee.

“But then, you’re going to have to meet all of the building code requirements that you do for a large assembly. You have to have sprinklers. You have to have alarms. You have to have exiting. You have to get your occupancy cards and get all of that.”

Solis noted that the Pilsen industrial corridor in his ward “used to have heavy industry” that has since been replaced with light industry.

“We now have some sign companies that want to show off their wares to their clients. They’d like to use their existing facility … to have events and serve hors d’oeuvres and wine to showcase their art. This makes it legal and also allows us to regulate it. That can help the city right now at a time of need [for] revenue and jobs. But it also imposes some regulations in these districts and allows these services to be provided in a way that the city can keep track of it,” the chairman said.

Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) noted that there are 21 establishments in just one industrial area of his ward. Some of them have been operating without any city regulation for more than 20 years, the alderman said.

“One place popped up and had an event with Mercedes-Benz. They had a big event. They had their cars outside. It flooded the community. All of the businesses in the neighborhood couldn’t park their cars. That kind of started some of this stuff because the venue was open and people couldn’t park. It had an adverse effect on other businesses in the area. And we found out we didn’t have a law to make them do anything,” Burnett said.

“This law would allow for some of them to be legitimate, but at the same time raise the bar for other ones if they try to come to the table. And it would put things in place so they have to have some respect for everybody else in the neighborhood. Because of this law, we can raise the bar. We have some rules in place. And if we find places operating illegally, we can deal with them and force them to either comply or move.”

Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said he’s “all about policies that promote adaptive re-use” of older buildings.

But, he said, “I always look at these things as, how can someone exploit it? … My concern was these parties that pop up and, suddenly, you’ve got a rave and 3,000 kids in a warehouse and this becomes a new business model.”

Solis replied: “That’s the concern that I have. Right now, they’re under the radar. We know that they’re happening. Now, we [will be] able to regulate them and provide some specifics of what they can and cannot do.”