NORTH LAWNDALE — Nearly 1,000 people have signed onto a petition calling for city leaders to boot three large music festivals out of Douglass Park — including the Heatwave electronic music fest, which debuted last weekend.
At least 953 residents have signed an online petition calling on Alds. Monique Scott (24th) and George Cardenas (12th) to stop allowing private companies to fence residents out of the park for massive festivals without a community input process that would allow neighbors to say no to events. The petition also calls on Park District CEO Rosa Escareño and Mayor Lori Lightfoot step in to stop the festivals.
Organizers collected an additional 750 signatures on an in-person petition from parkgoers and neighbors who live in the area, organizer Sara Heymann said.
“The fact that the people are constantly being overlooked due to the private, for-profit events is very telling as to who elected officials and the city are here to serve,” resident Anton Adkins said.
The festivals have been a growing issue among residents of North Lawndale and Little Village since Riot Fest relocated to Douglass Park in 2015.
Riot Fest was based at Humboldt Park until it was kicked out by residents with the support of Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th).
With the addition of the Lyrical Lemonade Summer Smash hip-hop festival in 2019 and the newcomer Heatwave Festival in 2022, many residents are fed up with having Douglass Park closed off for weeks as each event sets up and tears down infrastructure.
The festivals take a heavy toll on Douglass Park, especially when the events coincide with rainy weather that muddies the fields, neighbors said. Vehicles used by festival organizers tear up the grass and leave muddy tire tracks, and many residents have said festivalgoers illegally park on the grass, further damaging the area.
The park’s fencing and street signs were also damaged by concertgoers, residents said.
Repairs to Douglass Park following Riot Fest in 2015 exceeded $100,000, which was paid by concert organizers. Last year’s Lyrical Lemonade Summer Smash festival incurred $85,000 in damage to the turf, soil compaction and landscaping, invoice records show.
In addition to residents’ frustrations over the noise, damage to the park, crowds and parking issues, they said it is unfair their youth programs and sports leagues are displaced from Douglass Park so private companies can profit.
The mayor’s office, the park district and Ald. Monique Scott’s (24th) office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Though Ald. George Cardenas (12th) wrote a letter of support calling for the festival permits for Heatwave and other large summer events to be approved by the city, he said it is ultimately up to the Park District to decide which events will happen in neighborhood parks.
“The Park District runs point on those festivals. I have not met recently on that. At this point, I have no further comment,” Cardenas said.
While elected officials and festival organizers have previously touted the economic benefits of bringing tens of thousands of tourists to the neighborhood for the weekend, many residents doubt whether concertgoers actually give local businesses any meaningful boost.
“Concertgoers don’t live in the neighborhood. Concertgoers don’t spend money in the neighborhood,” Adkins said.
The festivals typically occupy the southern half of Douglass Park, which encompasses several playgrounds, a running track and a soccer field previously used by adult leagues and youth programs. But since the large festivals have become more frequent, several soccer leagues have had to relocate to other parks across town, residents said.
“I am against closing the park for music fests because it interferes with the community of soccer. Soccer keeps people united and safe,” said neighbor Arleth Gonzalez.
Organizers for some festivals offer perks to residents living nearby. Each year, Riot Fest gives away as many as 750 free tickets to residents living within a few blocks of Douglass Park. Riot Fest also organizes several beautification initiatives throughout the year that bring in volunteers to clean up the park. The fest also recruits locally for temporary jobs doing security, setting up and breaking down stages and equipment.
Lyrical Lemonade Summer Smash organizers likewise donated at least 350 tickets to Chicago students and local residents for last year’s festival, said Festival Director Berto Solorio.
The ticket donations are “in addition to other ongoing efforts like donations to youth sports teams for equipment and apparel, internship programs for local students, and booking dozens of local music artists to perform each year both at the fest and other community concerts throughout the year,” Solario said.
Organizers for Heatwave did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
In response to the petition, Park District spokesperson Michele Lemons said the district is “continuously evaluating permitted events of all sizes and exploring ways to improve community engagement, including welcoming input from neighboring residents and other community stakeholders.”
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