Did NASCAR pay enough to use Grant Park, downtown streets? Chicago Park District boss defends agreement

The three-year agreement, with a two-year renewal option, calls for the Park District to receive a $500,000 permit fee. That pales by comparison to the $8 million to $9 million Lollapalooza pays every year to rent Grant Park.

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NASCAR race cars climb up Columbus Plaza during the Grant Park 220 NASCAR Chicago Street Race on Sunday, July 2, 2023 in Chicago.

NASCAR race cars climb up Columbus Plaza during the Grant Park 220 NASCAR Chicago Street Race on Sunday, July 2, 2023 in Chicago.

Owen Ziliak/Sun-Times

Under fire for giving away the store, Chicago Park District Supt. Rosa Escareño is defending the terms of NASCAR’s agreement to rent Grant Park as “consistent with how Lollapalooza was treated when it started.”

The three-year agreement, with a two-year renewal option, for the NASCAR Chicago Street Race calls for the Park District to receive a $500,000 permit fee, 15% of net commissions on the sale of concessions and merchandise, and $2 for every admission ticket sold.

That pales by comparison to the $8 million to $9 million that Lollapalooza pays every year to rent Grant Park.

Lollapalooza’s 10-year extension calls for a guaranteed minimum $2 million fee for a four-day festival along with a sliding scale of festival revenue that starts at 5% for the first $30 million, rising to 10% between $30 million and $50 million, and then 20% of all revenue between $50 million and $70 million.

Rosa Escareño, CEO of the Chicago Park District

Rosa Escareño, CEO of the Chicago Park District

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

Lake Forest College economics professor Robert Baade told WBEZ-FM Radio this week that NASCAR’s $500,000 fee is “truly light, embarrassingly so.”

Escareño begs to differ. She called the agreement “consistent with how we’ve treated others like Lolla when it first started.”

“The approach was the same. A base fee for the use of the park with a commission and a per-ticket fee,” she said. “As these events grow, the idea is that, as they do better, we do better. ... The agreement is intended to grow as the event grows.”

Riot Fest pays a $750,000 fee to rent Douglass Park, but that’s an unfair comparison, Escareño said.

“When you talk about Riot Fest, that is only a permit fee. We don’t have the additional commission on concessions and merchandise,” she said.

The torrential rains forced NASCAR to cut both weekend races short and cancel all but one of the concerts, minimizing damage to Grant Park, according to Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd).

NASCAR has already paid a $50,000 security deposit toward potential damages, pending a walk through of Grant Park to assess specific damage.

“People who work with Lollapalooza and the Park District told me that we really dodged a bullet with the concerts. Had the concerts gone forward with the rain, it would have destroyed the field,” Hopkins said.

“But they used Lollapalooza’s stage, which was set up for them. And that was done prior to all the rain.”

Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), chairwoman of the City Council’s Finance Committee, wants a “complete, deep-dive analysis” of the costs and benefits before deciding whether to invite NASCAR back for the remaining two years.

“I don’t have any information as to what the costs were for the city. What the spinoff benefits are ... in tax revenues. The hotel tax, the sales tax. ... We don’t have any information as aldermen, and I think we’re due that information,” Dowell said.

Black Caucus demands to know why swimming pools closed

Earlier this week, Park District brass met with members of the Black Caucus demanding to know why five pools on the South and West sides have been closed: Altgeld, Clark, Franklin, Grand Crossing and Wentworth Gardens.

Escareño was out of town and did not attend the meeting. She blamed the sporadic pool closings on “young people not showing up for work” at the five pools but said the temporary shortage has been resolved.

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) said he understands the Park District is having “personnel issues” after “some of the lifeguards had been assaulted.” But he called the selective closings unacceptable.

“If any pools are open, then all pools should be open. And if you’ve gotta reduce the schedule across the board to give everyone service, then that’s what needs to be done. Especially in communities such as Austin and Garfield Park, where you’ve got lots of issues going on, and a pool is a form of recreation,” Ervin said.

“We want to encourage the kids to have something positive to do. And when the pool isn’t open, it doesn’t give them the positive option that they need.”

The meeting culminated in a promise to add security and “move staff around” to get the pools open and keep them open through the summer.

Still, Ervin questioned why Escareño sent underlings to meet with the Black Caucus.

“I was a little disappointed that the superintendent was out at the beginning of the day camp season, the beginning of the pool season. What commitment she had, I don’t know. I just think that, at the beginning of one of the busiest times of the year in recreation, that the person leading that effort should be there,” he said.


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