Too late to hit brakes on NASCAR, but Reilly moves to curb future special events

Among other things, the ordinance would require a City Council order for any athletic event or special event that allows the closure of a state route, an arterial street or more than four blocks of any other public way.

SHARE Too late to hit brakes on NASCAR, but Reilly moves to curb future special events
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.

In July, after helping to announce that a stock-car race will be coming to Chicago next year, NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace stopped at Buckingham Fountain and Navy Pier.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

It’s too late to put the brakes on Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan to turn Chicago’s most iconic roadways into a 12-turn, 2.2-mile showcase next July for the first street course race in NASCAR’s 75-year history — an event that will tie up part of Grant Park for two weeks.

But downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) wants to make certain it never happens again — at least not without local alderpersons being notified, and the City Council approving it.

At Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Reilly made good on his promise to try to rein in the virtually unbridled power the mayor now has to sign off on large special events that take over parks for days or weeks at a time, block Chicago roadways and generally inconvenience local residents.

The ordinance he introduced would require a City Council order for any athletic event or special event that:

• Allows the closure of a state route, an arterial street or more than four blocks of any other public way.

• Requires closing any portion of the public way for more than 24 consecutive hours.

• Or, is reasonably anticipated to have more than 10,000 attendees.

Events with more than 10,000 spectators would be further required to have a council-approved permit agreement that spells out the obligations of the permit holder or sponsor to restore public property, reimburse city costs and indemnify the city.

Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) speaks during a Chicago City Council meeting on July 20, 2022.

Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) speaks during a Chicago City Council meeting.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The ordinance would “strengthen and standardize” aldermanic review for all types of athletic and special events, even those that would not trigger a council order.

In an email to the Sun-Times, Reilly said the ordinance would “restore the balance of power” between the executive and legislative branch and ensure “high attendance special events like NASCAR, the NFL Draft, Lollapalooza and others are reviewed and approved by City Council.”

Recently, “we’ve seen the Executive Branch choose to unilaterally approve major special events that impact hundreds of thousands of city residents — without any feedback or buy-in from the local aldermen,” Reilly wrote.

“This ordinance will end the Executive Branch’s unilateral control over these events and bring far more transparency and debate over these major events that impact our neighborhoods, our public safety and our city budget.”

The announcement of a NASCAR race coming to Chicago drew a crowd for a panel discussion on the popularity of the sport.

The July announcement of a NASCAR race coming to Chicago drew a crowd for a panel discussion on the popularity of the sport.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Reilly and at least three colleagues — Brian Hopkins (2nd), Pat Dowell (3rd) and Sophia King (4th) — have complained they were kept in the dark before the mayor announced the NASCAR race — something Lightfoot has denied.

They hardened their opposition after the Chicago Park District 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 — from June 22 to July 5, 2023.

The Chicago Park District defined the “event footprint” as Roosevelt Road north to Randolph Street, and Michigan Avenue east to DuSable Lake Shore Drive. Park District officials vowed to work with the organizers to ensure public access during the event is “minimally impacted.”

The mayor has insisted it won’t be a total shutdown.

“Obviously, there’s a buildup or takedown period for things like Lolla, for things like what will happen with NASCAR,” the mayor has said, referring to the annual Lollapalooza music festival.

But it is not accurate, she added, to claim “Grant Park will be completely shut down.”

She noted “in the days leading up to and the days immediately after” the race, there will be “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.”

Lightfoot acknowledged the “inconvenience” associated with Lollapalooza, as well as with NASCAR, but argued that “showcasing Chicago on a global stage during a nationally televised, first-of-its-kind race” is worth it.

In July, just days after unilaterally extending Lolla’s run in Grant Park for at least 10 more years, the mayor said: “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.’”

More tools sought to crack down on street racing

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, Reilly moved to impose stiff fines against spectators who gather at Chicago intersections to watch daredevil drag-racers and drifters do their dangerous stunts.

The fines for organizing a “reckless driving event” would range from $1,000 to $2,000. Participants would face fines of $500 to $2,000. Spectators would pay anywhere from $100 to $250 in fines.

The ordinance would also prohibit drag racing, drifting and stunt driving on city-owned and private property — in addition to the public way — and expand to those “reckless drivers” the dreaded penalty of impoundment.

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