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Taste Of Chicago 2012: Tickets For Concert Seating, Celebrity Chef Sit-Down Dining Proposed

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday unveiled two new proposals aimed at helping pull the struggling Taste of Chicago festival into the black after years of losses and shrinking crowds.

The mayor would like to see a $25 admission charged to anyone who wants to be seated while watching a concert at Grant Park's Petrillo Music Shell, while lawn seating further from the stage and admission to both other entertainment stages as well as the festival itself would remain free, the Chicago Tribune reports.

The increased price for premier concert seating is expected to come with higher-level musical talent, the Chicago Sun-Times reports, though no headliners have yet been named. Musicians playing the festival in the past have included Stevie Wonder, Loretta Lynn, Sheryl Crow, Elvis Costello, Carlos Santana, Moby and others.

Additionally, the mayor has floated the idea of offering $40 tickets for festivalgoers to enjoy a three-course, sit-down luncheon meal prepared by a "Celebrity Chef du Jour." Emanuel mentioned Stephanie Izard (Girl and The Goat), Tony Mantuano (Spiaggia) and Graham Elliot (Graham Elliot and Grahamwich) among the well-known chefs who are already interested in participating.

Ticket sales derived from the two proposals, Emanuel estimates, would raise $375,000. While this is only a small dent in the $2.7 million operating deficit the festival has faced over the last three years, it is still a significant one, the mayor said in a statement [PDF].

"This is another opportunity for diners to taste the culinary creations from these talented chefs in a festival setting," the mayor explained. "Music fans will have the opportunity to secure seats to headlining musical acts for a nominal cost, and the revenues will help financially support this event without placing a burden on taxpayers."

As WBEZ reports, the proposed changes now await City Council approval.

The mayor has already made sweeping changes in preparation for the festival's 2012 edition, including cutting its duration in half -- to five days -- and moving it to mid-July, July 11-15. The festival will also feature just one-third of the food vendors it did the previous year, although several "pop up" restaurants will be new additions to the lineup.

Crowds at the 2011 festival were down 11 percent compared to the previous year and were a quarter less than in 2006 and 2007. Participating restaurants saw their profits reduce 20 percent between 2010 and 2011, which some vendors blamed on the lack of high-profile entertainment.

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