BELMONT CRAGIN — Northwest Siders clashed with promoters of a controversial music festival at a tense meeting Thursday, blasting concert organizers for meeting with the public only after neighbors mobilized to shut it down.
Promoters have been selling tickets since at least February, but Thursday’s meeting was the first time AEG met with the public to discuss the logistics of the concert and community concerns. Park District officials and Alderwoman-elect Ruth Cruz (30th) also attended.
The Northwest Side Community Development Corporation hosted the meeting.
After promoters finished their presentation, the 36 neighbors who attended voted on whether they still wanted the festival to move forward, prompting an angry reaction from AEG representatives.
“It’s not a fair process. This is this is not how you do; you don’t just vote and decide because you just want to do it. You have to inform the public. There’s a process to this,” said George Herrera, a community relations contractor for Re:SET.
“Guys I’m sorry, I’m happy to set something up later if you guys want to go through a democratic process,” Herrera said.
Jose Quiles, president of the Riis Park advisory council, shot back that there’s already a petition with 750 signatures from neighbors who have opposed the festival.
After a heated exchange, 28 audience members voted against the festival.
The future of the festival is still unclear. The park district is still reviewing AEG’s permit as of Friday morning, spokeswoman Michele Lemons said.
Juliet Azimi, the park district’s chief administrative officer, said AEG’s permit was “conditionally approved,” but the promoter still needs final signoff from a variety of city officials and agencies.
Neighbors have organized for months against Re:Set, saying promoters have shared no information about it outside of ads.
Don Sullivan, an AEG executive, said they moved forward after getting outgoing Ald. Ariel Reboyras’ backing in January, according to Crain’s.
Reboyras, who ignored previous requests for comment about the festival, confirmed Thursday he gave promoters a letter of support provided that the city’s department of cultural affairs and special events, the park district and police have vetted the event.
He also mentioned the success of Cuban Fest, which Herrera organizes.
“And let’s not forget, AEG has partnered with The Cuban Fest, a 9 or 10 year successful and zero incidents show,” Reboyras said in a text message. “… And let’s not forget for the 20 years as Alderman of the 30th Ward there were no issues and events ran in a professional manner. AEG is going above and beyond by offering jobs to the community, and free tickets.”
Sullivan said he does not know what public outreach Reboyras did before endorsing the event.
Sullivan also said the 30th Ward election partially delayed the community meeting. After Cruz won the runoff, Sullivan met with her and other elected officials about the event, he said.
“I think with the election, had there been no situation with the alderman changing, the community meeting would have been much sooner,” Sullivan said. “Because I didn’t think it would be right for us to have a community meeting without the new alderman first.”
Cruz said AEG should have sought more community engagement before accepting Reboyras’ letter of support, but did not say whether or not she wants the festival to move forward. She wants to speak to more neighbors near the park before deciding, she said.
“So right now, I’m leaning towards no. … But I have to door knock to the other residents,” Cruz said.
If it goes forward, Re:Set will take up the park’s hilltop area and have a similar footprint to Festival Cubano events, Herrera said.
With setup and teardown, festival organizers would be in the park June 19-29, according to a permit application. The rest of the park’s space and amenities would be free for people to use during the festival, and the hilltop would remain accessible up until 10 a.m. June 22, Sullivan said.
Promoters have sold 20,766 tickets over the three days, Sullivan said.
There could be up to 9,500 attendees per day if the festival sells out, Herrera said. Festival Cubano had about 15,000 fans daily, Azimi said.
AEG’s representatives promised to host movies in the park, holiday giveaways and back to school events in addition to allowing free space for street vendors, hiring more than 100 neighbors for the event and distributing 500 tickets to local organizations.
Neighbors will also be able to download AEG’s presentation that includes information about traffic, vendor and security plans via Re:Set’s website, Herrera said.
“I think you can see there’s a lot of work that’s been put into this. I just want to say that this was always the plan from day one. And I apologize that it took so long to get this to you,” Herrera said.
Neighbors like Zulma Santiago were skeptical of AEG’s promises and reasoning for delaying a community meeting.
“Give us some verifiable information. Quite frankly, I think you’re trying to pull the wool over our eyes,” Santiago said. “It’s a little bit insulting.”
The controversy in Riis Park comes after the Park District pledged to overhaul how it approves private events following backlash from West Siders about three festivals last summer in Douglass Park.
Permits for festivals were previously granted via an opaque internal process with no requirement of community support nor any organized process for collecting feedback from the residents affected by the large events.
The new approval process requires festival operators to get Park District board approval for special events hosting 10,000 people or more a day in any of Chicago’s public parks.
Due to the controversy around Re:Set, Cruz said the attendance requirements to trigger board approval should probably be lower.
“Because this is not the first time this has happened, where there is community opposition. Other communities are experiencing the same thing,” Cruz said.
Quiles later said he was taken aback that promoters felt the neighbors’ vote was unfair when neighbors have long complained the promoter didn’t inform them about their plans.
Quiles only learned about the festival when he was contacted by a reporter, he said. If AEG was serious about neighbor feedback, they would have met with local leaders before they started selling tickets, Quiles said.
“Maybe that would have eased everything, with us knowing more earlier and we could have spoken to the community about it. But that’s only if they really had a plan at the beginning for community engagement,” Quiles said.
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