Lightfoot defends terms of NASCAR deal

The terms are not as generous as in a new 10-year extension with Lollapalooza, but the mayor said it “doesn’t make sense” to compare the events, calling the music festival a “phenomenon unto itself.”

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NASCAR CEO Jim France with Mayor Lori Lightfoot at the announcement in July of a three-year deal, starting next year, to hold a stock car race on the lakefront.

NASCAR CEO Jim France with Mayor Lori Lightfoot at the announcement last month of a three-year deal, starting in 2023, to hold a stock car race on the lakefront.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday defended her plan to turn Chicago’s most iconic roadways into a 2.2-mile showcase for NASCAR’s first-ever street course race, even though it will tie up DuSable Lake Shore Drive temporarily and a portion of Grant Park for two weeks.

The Chicago Park District has acknowledged the permit agreement for “non-race event activities” associated with the NASCAR Cup Series allows the organizer to occupy part of Grant Park for 14 days next year — from June 22 to July 5.

The “event footprint” is from Roosevelt Road to Randolph Street and Michigan Avenue to DuSable Lake Shore Drive.

But Lightfoot insisted it won’t be a total shutdown. She noted the city recently wrapped up a “phenomenally successful” but truncated Taste of Chicago that “shut down a part of the footprint but left the vast majority of Grant Park open.”

“Obviously, there’s a buildup or takedown period for things like Lolla, for things like what will happen with NASCAR,” the mayor said, referring the annual Lollapalooza music festival. “But during those times, the footprint is open to visitors and people that want to enjoy the lakefront and Grant Park.”

“I’ve seen [claims] that, for a month or longer, Grant Park will be completely shut down. I don’t think that’s accurate based upon the planning I’ve seen. Certainly, in the days leading up to and the days immediately after, there’s a period of time where the construction’s happening, and then the deconstruction happens. But … we’ll work with NASCAR to make sure that we minimize the inconvenience to any resident and maximize the opportunity for them to continue to enjoy Grant Park.”

The mayor acknowledged DuSable Lake Shore Drive would be “shut down for a certain period of time,” but she argued it would be worth it to showcase Chicago to the world for a nationally televised, first-of-its-kind race.

A map of the proposed route for the NASCAR race planned for July 2023.

A map of the proposed route for the NASCAR race planned for July 2023.

City of Chicago

She once again pointed to what she claimed will be a $300 million impact to the local economy from Lollapalooza.

Lightfoot also noted restaurant owners and hotel operators reported “better numbers” over this year’s Lollapalooza weekend than they did pre-pandemic.

“You’ve always got to play chess, not checkers. You’ve got to look at the bigger picture. Yes, there is inconvenience. But in all of these [events], we’ve got to think about, ‘What are the investments we’re making? What is the return on the investment to the local economy to our residents?’ ” the mayor said.

“I think showcasing Chicago on a global stage — as both of these events do — and really showing our city in [the] possible best light [is well worth it]. I can’t tell you the number of total strangers that came up to me over the course of this weekend and the day since [who] said, ‘My goodness, your city is phenomenal.’ I said, ‘Thank you. I agree. And spend lots of money.’ ”

Alds. Pat Dowell (3rd), Sophia King (4th) and Brendan Reilly (42nd) hardened their opposition to the race after the park district acknowledged the duration and financial terms.

Reilly has noted Lollapalooza “pays $7.8 million every year to rent Grant Park from the taxpayers,” saying NASCAR’s terms — including a $500,000 permit fee, 15% of net commissions on concessions and merchandise, and $2 per admission ticket sold — look paltry by comparison.

Green Day performs Sunday night on the last day of Lollapalooza.

The crowd for Green Day, which performed Sunday night on the last day of Lollapalooza.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Lightfoot said it “doesn’t make sense” to compare the events, calling Lollapalooza a “phenomenon unto itself.”

“This is the first venture that NASCAR has done in an urban environment. So the scale is obviously gonna be more modest than what Lolla is 20 years on,” she said.

“There’s a base that NASCAR is gonna be giving us. And similarly with Lolla, as the ticket sales improve and meet certain thresholds, then we benefit more.”

The mayor again offered to meet with Dowell, King and Reilly to discuss their concerns.

“All of them were briefed ahead of time. Happy to sit down with them at any point. I’ve made that offer. I’m waiting for them to take me up on it,” she said.

Lightfoot has argued her three-year agreement with NASCAR does not require City Council approval. But Reilly, Dowell and King are drafting legislation to “re-insert aldermen into the special event approval process in their respective wards.”

“When this privilege was granted to the executive branch by the City Council, nobody envisioned the mayor would use those powers to skirt transparency and exclude local aldermen and their constituents in key decision-making processes,” Reilly wrote in an email to the Chicago Sun-Times last week.

“This mayor has abused that privilege.”

After Tuesday’s announcement of a stock-car race coming to Chicago in July 2023, NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace stopped at Buckingham Fountain and Navy Pier.

NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace stopped at Buckingham Fountain and Navy Pier after last month’s news conference announcing a NASCAR race would be held in Chicago next July.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times (file)

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