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$20 Admission Coming For Taste Of Chicago?

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Taste Of Chicago

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UPDATED 01/04/10 10:26 a.m.

CHICAGO (WBBM) – If there is a Taste of Chicago next summer, it may leave some people with a sour taste when they find out how much it’ll cost to attend.

As WBBM Newsradio 780’s Bernie Tafoya reports, the one private company that has submitted a bid to take over the Taste of Chicago and the city’s other festivals in Grant Park wants to charge admission.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780′s Bernie Tafoya Reports


The Chicago Sun-Times reports the firm Celebrate Chicago LLC would charge Taste customers $20 for admission, but give them $10 in food and drink tickets. The other $10 would help pay for bigger-name entertainment, but there would be a second price to see that entertainment.

The admission fee would apply during weekends, holidays and after 4 p.m. on weekdays.

The concert tickets would cost $25 to $65, but the $20 Taste admission fee would be waived for those who bought concert tickets, the Sun-Times reported.

Children under 10 would still get into the Taste free, the newspaper reported.

The currently free Jazz and Blues festivals would also have admission prices. Free admission would continue for Viva Chicago and the Celtic, Gospel and Country Music festivals, the Sun-Times reported.

The city has been losing millions of dollars in the last few years to put on the annual festivals.

Celebrate Chicago is co-owned by the Illinois Restaurant Association, and concert promotion agencies JAM Productions and AEG Live.

AEG is one of the world’s leading concert promoters and touring companies. It produces the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, a two-week celebration that’s a huge tourist attraction in the Big Easy.

JAM Productions bills itself as the nation’s “largest independent producer of live entertainment.”

The Illinois Restaurant Association is run by Sheila O’Grady, Mayor Daley’s longest-serving chief-of-staff. The association has managed the event’s food and beverage operations for the last 27 years.

Together, joint-venture partners propose to expand family programming and have restaurants “grouped by neighborhoods” so people have a “real sense of Chicago.”

With Taste of Chicago “hemorrhaging money,” the team quickly concluded that it was “kind of impossible” to avoid an admission fee and still draw bigger-name talent.

Last year, Taste had only two “recognizable names” performing on its stages and several stages were frequently “dark.” Summerfest had more than a dozen “huge names.”

“For a city like Chicago to get beat by Milwaukee is unacceptable. The level of talent we have playing the Taste needs to be elevated,” said a source familiar with the bid.

“The idea is to change it a lot over the years…We don’t see that happening in the first year, given the time [crunch]. But there isn’t any reason why this food and music event shouldn’t be bringing in tens of thousands of tourists. Chicago should have one of the premier events in the country.”

Last fall, Special Events Director Megan McDonald warned that big-time cuts could be coming to the lakefront festivals if the selection process drags on too long or if the city isn’t satisfied with the bids.

Now the only team vying to take over the event is warning that time’s a wasting.

“The city can’t do this. They haven’t booked a single act and some of the talent is already booked [to other venues]. Only a private company can do this. In fact, we should have been working on this months ago,” said a source familiar with the bid.

McDonald could not be reached for comment. Procurement Services spokesperson Shannon Andrews did not return calls.

The Chicago Sun-Times contributed to this report, via the Sun-Times Media Wire

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