Chicago's lakefront festivals are some of the city's defining summer events, and among its biggest attractions is the Taste of Chicago, the massive food festival that dominates Grant Park for ten days every summer.
But arguably the best part of the festival -- that it's free -- could be changed under a privatization proposal before the city.
The Taste, and six other festivals, have been struggling to turn a profit for the city in recent years. Taste was able to make $170,749 this year, but only as a result of the July 3 fireworks being scaled down dramatically; the other festivals, including the Blues, Jazz, and Gospel fests, all lost money this year.
As a result, the city opened the door to bids from private operators to take over the festivals. Companies had until the last week of 2010 to submit their bids.
Only one did.
Celebrate Chicago LLC, a group comprised of the Illinois Restaurant Association and two live entertainment production companies, submitted the only proposal for a private takeover of Taste and the six other festivals. And according to the Chicago Sun-Times, Celebrate Chicago's plan would come at a steep cost for festival-goers.
Celebrate Chicago wants to boost sagging attendance and upgrade talent by charging the $20 admission fee, with $10 of that money rebated to patrons in the form of food and beverage tickets.
The admission fee would apply during weekends, holidays and after 4 p.m. on weekdays. Children under 10 would continue to get in free.
Celebrate Chicago also proposes to follow the lead of Milwaukee's popular Summerfest by selling concert tickets for its biggest-name entertainment stage.
Concert tickets would range from $25 to $65, but the $20 Taste admission fee would be waived for concert goers.
The paper reports that the fees are an attempt to recruit bigger names to the concert's festival stage. Last year's festival was headlined by Passion Pit, with other performances by the likes of the Steve Miller Band and Rob Thomas. Milwaukee's Summerfest, to which Taste was compared in the story, featured Eric Clapton, Justin Bieber, Usher, Carrie Underwood and others.
"For a city like Chicago to get beat by Milwaukee is unacceptable," a source told the paper. "The level of talent we have playing the Taste needs to be elevated."
So, apparently, does the profit margin.