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Major Cuts To Taste, Other Fests A Possibility, City Says

Taste Of Chicago

(credit: CBS)

Nancy Harty Nancy Harty
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CHICAGO (STMW) – Big-time cuts could be coming to Taste of Chicago and six other lakefront music festivals.

Mayor Richard M. Daley is forging ahead with his plan to privatize the Taste, along with Viva Chicago and Blues, Jazz, Celtic, Country and Gospel Fests.

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But if the selection process drags on too long or if the city isn’t satisfied with proposals from private companies — possibly because they propose a Taste admission fee that Daley won’t support — then major cuts will be the only alternative.

“We can only do what we have the funding to do and what we’re able to raise money to accomplish,” Special Events Director Megan McDonald told aldermen Wednesday at City Council budget hearings.

“That might mean moving Country Music Fest back into Taste. It might mean we merge some of our smaller music festivals and do more of a celebratory single festival that addresses all those different genres of music.”

If the city decides to keep the events “in-house,” McDonald said she would “figure out where they are in the calendar” and what the city can afford to do.

“In a perfect world, people will still see all the same events next year, regardless of who produces them. But [the city] is prepared to do what we can to salvage as many events as we can in the event the RFP doesn’t come back in the city’s favor,” she said.

Although nearly three months have passed since Daley dropped his latest privatization bombshell, his lame-duck administration has yet to issue a request for proposals.

The longer the city waits, the bigger the city’s bind will be when it comes to attracting sponsors and top talent.

“To really solidify talent and get them to commit, you need to give them a security deposit that is not refundable. Going out and booking talent without knowing whether we’re gonna be producing the festival or not would be too risky financially,” said McDonald.

“The same could be said of vendors. And some sponsors are saying to us, ‘Call me back when you know what’s going on.’ It’s difficult for them to commit their money to something that is kind of an unknown.”

The Chicago Sun-Times reported last month that Chicago taxpayers spent more than $2 million policing lakefront festivals last year — $1.5 million of it for the Taste alone — underscoring Daley’s desire to privatize the events and the difficulty he might have in doing so.

On Wednesday, McDonald piled on another mitigating factor: Tight-fisted attendees.

“People are still coming down to our music festivals in droves. The fact that they’re free . . . has been instrumental in that. What’s changed in the last three years is that people are not spending money,” McDonald said.

“They’re taking advantage of the free concerts, but they’re not buying beer. They’re not buying beverages. They’re not buying pizza. They’re not spending money. But our costs keep going [up]. City service costs keep going up. Labor costs keep going up. Costs of goods and services go up. That’s a really difficult thing to manage.”

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2010. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)