Updated 06/19/12 – 6:11 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — Officials say this year’s Gay Pride Parade will be more controlled—and manageable—than last year’s parade, which drew nearly 800,000 people.
As WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports, Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) says the parade in recent years has grown in popularity and attendance, to the point where last year’s crowd just overloaded the East Lakeview community where the parade is held.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports
Thus, Tunney, who is openly gay, says some changes are being announced.
“We figured that we needed to lengthen the route a little bit; move in a more linear direction, ironically; and to spread it out and to make it a direct route; and to bring it back to the community – the streets back to the community – as soon as possible,” Tunney said Monday.
Parade organizers announced the new route back in October.
The new route starts at the intersection of Broadway and Montrose Avenue in Uptown, 0.75 miles from the north end of the Halsted Street Boystown strip. The parade will continue southeast on Broadway to Halsted Street, and head south down the Boystown strip to Belmont Avenue.
Then the parade will head east for two blocks on Belmont and return to Broadway, where it will resume its traditional route and head south on Broadway and east on Diversey Parkway.
The old route sent the parade north on Halsted from Belmont to the street’s terminus at Broadway and Grace Street. The parade then made a turn of more than 135 degrees to head southeast on Broadway to Diversey Parkway, and finally east on Diversey to Cannon Drive.
The change means an increase of five blocks in the total length of the route. That will give spectators a bit more room to spread out.
In addition to adding two blocks of Belmont Avenue and the more than half a mile through Uptown, the new route also eliminates one section – Broadway between Grace Street and Belmont Avenue. On that stretch, huge crowds have traditionally gathered in the parking lot of the Treasure Island grocery store at 3460 N. Broadway, at the mouth of several east-west cross streets, and on rooftops, to watch the parade.
In addition, the number of entries will be cut from 250 to 200, which will shorten the time of the parade and allow the streets to reopen sooner, organizers said last fall.
Originally, plans had also called for the parade to start at 10 a.m. rather than noon, in what was billed as an effort to curb public drinking. But that decision was reversed amid concerns that the parade would disrupt people coming to mass at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church, 708 W. Belmont Ave.
Even so, organizers plan to crack down on public drinking.
But CBS 2’s Roseanne Tellez reports some of the businesses along the old route aren’t very happy with the change. The owner of Pie Hole Pizza said he opened at 3477 N Broadway just to be on the Pride Parade route.
“We made a lot of money. It was always our number one day. For most businesses up and down Broadway, it was the number one sales day that we looked forward to,” Doug Brandt said. He said he’s “terrified” about what impact the change might have on business.
Employees at Rocks at 3463 N. Broadway said they will miss the crowds, and the parade itself.
“The vibe’s always been really nice. Everybody’s always gotten along,” general manager Kristan Raymond said. “Nobody’s ever had fights, or things like that. It’s always a really happy crowd. … We’ll definitely miss them.”
Last year, several floats were vandalized before the parade, adding delays to the other problems along the parade route. But this year, the company moved to a secret location, where the floats are coming together just in time for the big event this weekend.
Francis Cardinal George controversially remarked in a Fox Chicago News interview back in December that he disapproved of the new route because the “gay liberation movement” should not “morph into something like the Ku Klux Klan, demonstrating in the streets against Catholicism.” He later apologized for the remark.
At last year’s parade, the crowd swelled to the point that police had to stop the parade briefly so that a swarm of people could cross Halsted Street at Belmont Avenue and reduce congestion, and some of the floats ended up being unable to participate.
Farther north, the crowds reportedly swelled to the point of danger.
Immediately after the parade, organizer Rich Pfeiffer told the Windy City Times that alternate routes might have to be discussed.
The grand marshal for the parade this year is Evan Wolfson, president of the nationwide Freedom to Marry campaign and the former marriage project director for the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.
Other entries include Chicago Public Schools students, and Great Lakes sailors representing their new on-base group, organizers said.