Lollapalooza rains cause $266,000 in turf damage to Grant Park

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Sections of Grant Park turned into a muddy mess because of heavy rains during Lollapalooza will be cordoned off well into September, thanks to $266,000 in landscape repairs that began Wednesday at the promoter’s expense.

The damage is roughly $50,000 more than last year but pales in comparison to the $800,000 in damage that followed the “monsoon”-like rains that marred the three-day music festival in 2011.

Turf targeted for replacement by Christy Webber Landscapes is concentrated at Lower Hutchinson Field on the southeast corner of Balbo and Columbus. That’s where then-President-elect Barack Obama delivered his historic 2008 victory speech.

There’s a smaller area of damaged turf at Upper Hutchinson Field on the southwest corner of Balbo and Columbus. Sod or seed also will need to be planted at Butler Field east of Columbus Drive between Monroe and Jackson.

Under the contract between the Chicago Park District and Lollapalooza, an “independent third party” determines the cost of repairing and restoring the area to its “pre-festival condition,” and the Park District arranges for the work to be done.

A news release distributed by Lollapalooza promoter C3 Presents offered no specific timeline for the repairs.

It simply stated that “each area of the park in need of repair” would be in line for a “combination of soiling, sodding, seeding and aeration” and that Upper Hutchinson would be the “first priority” to get it ready for “upcoming events,” including the Chicago Marathon in October.

“Visitors to Grant Park can expect to see select areas cordoned off during the repair,” the promoter’s news release stated.

“While we expect the repairs to happen quickly, it takes time for sod/seed to take root, ensuring the lifespan of good grass. We respectfully ask for patience to ensure that Grant Park is restored to or improved from its pre-festival condition.”

Bob O’Neill, president of the Grant Park Conservancy, said damaged sections of the park are likely to remain cordoned off “well into September.”

“It’ll look good in a few weeks. The turf will take. The seed will start coming up. But areas still have to be roped off so it’s physically able to support people walking on it,” he said.

O’Neill said this year’s damage underscores the need for a new-and-improved drainage system on Lower Hutchinson Field, which is “sunken below grade, so it holds more” water.

“In 2011, they contoured the soil so it would drain better toward the sewers. But ideally, it needs a more extensive drainage system because that area is so heavily used by festivals, the Chicago Marathon, Lollapalooza and softball. There has to be an analysis that says, with a new drainage system, we wouldn’t have as much turf damage,” he said.

But O’Neill said there are other priorities for Lollapalooza’s largesse, which includes a minimum annual payment of $1.5 million along with a percentage of ticket sales.

“We had such a harsh winter, almost all of the trees died and were removed on the parkway along Lake Shore Drive from Monroe to Roosevelt. We need tree and soil replacement. That’s a big project. We need to fund it,” O’Neill said.

“We also need design finishes and skateable sculpture for the skate park under construction at Roosevelt Road and the railroad tracks. That’s going to be one of the most amazing skate parks in the country. I look at Lollapalooza as a way to fund a lot of improvements to Grant Park. The damage this year is a little bit worse than average. But we’re going to get other improvements. I want the public to see that.”

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