Mayor Daley stayed true to his word yesterday, rejecting a proposal to privatize the Taste of Chicago festival that would have charged a $20 admission fee.
Last August, the Mayor suggested that he'd be open to allowing private companies to manage a number of the city's summer festivals, including the Taste. The city asked for bids for several months, but ultimately only received one: a plan by a conglomerate called Celebrate Chicago, LLC, a group that includes the Illinois Restaurant Association and live-entertainment moguls JAM Productions and AEG Live.
But after reviewing the proposal in early January, Daley had some big problems with it. Chief among them: the proposed admission fee, which would have bought visitors $10 worth of tickets. The Taste "will always be free," he said.
Celebrate Chicago proposed the fee as a way to return the Taste to profitability, as well as to provide money for recruiting bigger-name entertainers. Daley described its turn to focus on live music as a "tangent," saying that visitors "go down there for 12 days for food and beverages. That's what it was for. It's not a music festival."
The group tried to appease the mayor by cutting ticket prices to $10 from $20, but Daley would have none of it. On Tuesday, he announced that the city would reject Celebrate Chicago's bid, instead keeping the festival in-house.
Megan McDonald, the director of the Mayor's Office of Special Events, described some of the changes that might take place without privatization. From the Sun-Times:
"We can only do what we have the funding to do and what we're able to raise money to accomplish," she said then.
"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. 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."
The Chicago Tribune, meanwhile, ends its story on the rejected plan by writing, "The Daley administration chose to release the news late on the day of a major snowstorm" -- the implication being that it hoped to bury the news under the two feet of snow.
Now, it's on the city to dig the lakefront festivals out of the red.