After putting one of its biggest summertime festivals up for bid to private companies, the city of Chicago has decided to keep the extravaganza in house, for now.
According to an announcement Thursday afternoon, the Taste of Chicago festival is being handed over to the city's Park District, which will scale back some of the more ambitious plans for the festival while combining it with other summer programming.
Rather than allowing the gospel, Celtic, Latin and country music festivals to continue to exist on their own, the Park District will fold them into the Taste, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Those festivals had been consistently losing money for the city; now, they'll each have their own night as part of the Taste.
The blues and jazz festivals will continue to be run by the city, on their own weekends.
With the summer festivals awash in a sea of red ink, and the city likewise facing serious budget shortfalls, Mayor Daley began to explore ways of turning them to profit last year. He went to an old favorite strategy of his: privatization, soliciting proposals from businesses to buy their way into producing the Taste.
But the one perennial problem with privatization, as anyone who's parked downtown or taken the Skyway recently knows, is that corporations have little incentive to keep prices down. This time, though, Daley wouldn't have it: when only one corporate bid came in for the Taste, seeking to charge guests a $20 admission fee, he put his foot down.
"That's unacceptable," he said at the time, insisting that the Taste "will always be free."
True to his word, he rejected that private plan. The Park District will follow through, keeping admission to the event free.
To do so, it will have to trim away some of the more ambitious plans the private conglomerate had for the festival. Specifically, musical performances will be by smaller local acts from the four genres that once had their own festivals, rather than big-name headliners. Other entertainment will include movie screenings and theater performances, the Chicago Tribune reports.
Park District Superintendent Timothy Mitchell told the Tribune that "it's Taste of Chicago, it's not a music fest," arguing that the more local focus would make it family-friendly and help the festival return to profitability.