Local

Emanuel Aide Defends Cost Of New Great Chicago Fire Festival

Artist's rendering of the Great Chicago Fire Festival, planned for October 2014 along the Chicago River.

Artist’s rendering of the Great Chicago Fire Festival, planned for October 2014 along the Chicago River.

dellimore250 Craig Dellimore
Craig Dellimore, political editor for WBBM, joined the station in 1983...
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CHICAGO (CBS) – At City Council budget hearings on Wednesday, a top city official defended the price tag for a highly-touted new city festival next year, four years after the city ended the popular, and much cheaper, Venetian Night festival.

WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports cost-cutting efforts might have killed the Venetian Night festival along the lakefront at the end of 2009, but the city is adding a new festival a year from now.

Michelle Boone, commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, said the “Great Chicago Fire Festival” will feature a procession and fire spectacle along the Chicago River, along with a host of neighborhood activities, commemorating the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

“We’re partnering with Redmoon Theater next year to do a celebration of this historic moment in Chicago history,” she told aldermen at City Hall.

She said communities would be invited to submit applications to nominate artists to create artwork that would be featured in the river procession, which will conclude with floats being set ablaze on the river.

The free festival is expected to cost $1 million with the city paying some of it and Redmoon raising additional funds. Given the Venetian Night festival had a budget of about $300,000, but was cancelled for cost reasons, planning a new festival costing more than that amount raised some eyebrows on the City Council.

Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th Ward) seemed concerned there would be no income for the city from the festival, after Boone revealed the city expects no revenue, since it will be free.

“For us to put out money to have an event, and then don’t have anything coming back, then we’re just putting money out,” Austin said.

Boone said the city hopes there will be other benefits from hosting the festival.

She noted, after years of losing money, the Taste of Chicago turned a profit of $272,000 this year – the first profit for the festival since 2007. Boone also said the Taste generated another $106 million in economic activity for local businesses, such as hotels, restaurants, and shopping.

The city also will work with the Chicago Public Schools to develop education programs tied into the festival, to teach students about the Great Chicago Fire, and the rebuilding of the city after that disaster.