Ald. Michael Scott Jr.’s vision of an outdoor “Ravinia-style” concert venue in Douglas Park got a skeptical reception Wednesday from West Side residents.
Only about two dozen people showed at a town hall meeting with the 24th Ward alderman and Chicago Park District staffers, and few seemed enthusiastic about Scott’s plan to turn a corner of the park into the site of a summer-long concert and event series. A few shouted over the rookie alderman.
After the meeting, Scott brushed off the at-times raucous tenor of the 90-minute session in the historic Douglas Park field house, and promised to win ward residents over to the plan with a series of working group meetings. Scott wants to see a concrete stage with lawn seating for 4,000 to 5,000, a vision he said he’s had since he was working as a Park District manager.
“It’s all just a concept,” Scott said after the meeting. “This is the first step along the way, not the last.”
But residents were concerned that the project is further along than that.
Cathy Haibach, who lives a few hundred yards from Douglas Park, said she first heard Scott talk about a permanent venue space after the park hosted Riot Fest last fall — with a total crowd of more than 100,000 people over three days. With Riot Fest returning next week — Haibach has tickets — she felt residents have had little chance to weigh in during the past year.
“I think we all would like to see something done at the park, but he has made promises about community engagement,” Haibach said. “My concern is that is our [only] option, and he’s going to come back and say the community is supporting it.”
Scott said he is working to get a donor to foot the bill for roughly half the $2 million-plus price tag for rough plans developed for the southwest corner of the park, along Ogden Avenue. He declined to name potential donors, but said they were not Ravinia Festival, nor Riot Fest organizers.
Ravinia partners with the Park District to hold a summer concert series and a children’s music program at Douglas Park, and Scott met last month with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Ravinia Festival CEO Welz Kauffman.
The mayor’s office has not committed to specifics, with a spokesman telling the Chicago Sun-Times last month only that both Emanuel and Scott “strongly believe that Douglas Park has the potential to be a major cultural anchor for the West Side of Chicago.”
Scott also produces the free West Side Music Festival, and said his ideal scenario would be for the new event space to host concerts and other performances — for free — throughout the warm-weather months. Residents voiced concerns about where people would park, who would book the acts, and where any revenues generated by shows would end up. Scott touted the benefits of visitors to the neighborhood and improvements to the park related to the renovations.
After the meeting, resident Eric Lindsay, 58, said if he had a few million to spend, he’d invest in ball fields or staffing the park. Pointing to the crumbling steps leading up to the field house, and noted there are ample places to spend money on Douglas Park.
“I would like to see some investment, and maybe this is a good idea,” Lindsay said. “I don’t have a problem with the prospects, I have a problem with the process.”