PILSEN — Despite complaints about traffic and rowdiness, Pilsen’s Mole de Mayo fest is unlikely to move off of 18th Street, organizers said at a heated meeting Monday night.
Residents, business owners and Ald. Byron Sigcho Lopez (25th) have said they’re fed up with the street closures, parking headaches, rowdiness and noise the fest brings. This year’s fest is slated to take over a stretch of 18th Street from Blue Island to Ashland on Memorial Day weekend.
At the meeting, residents clashed with organizers over the festival’s logistics.
Sigcho-Lopez previously called for the festival could be moved to 16th Street, where there are fewer homes and small businesses that could be impacted.
But the local chamber that organizes the festival, the Economic Strategies Development Corporation, has said there are no plans to move it. Executive Director Alex Esparza said he’s willing to compromise with residents to make the experience better for everyone, but he’s not going to move the fest to a side street.
Fest Italiana is staged on Taylor Street in the heart of Little Italy, and Taste of Greektown happens on Halsted in the heart of Greektown. Pilsen’s Mexican festival should be no different, Esparza said.
Esparza said 16th Street, where the fest was staged in early years, is like “an alley.”
“It needs to be in the heart of the community,” he said.
City officials from the Department of Streets and Sanitation, the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events and the Department of Transportation attended Monday’s meeting to field suggestions from residents on how the festival could be improved.
A CDOT representative said the department would review the fest’s traffic plans to address neighbors’ concerns.
A Streets and Sanitation leader suggested closed trash containers to ensure trash wouldn’t blow around the area and better placement of portable toilets to ensure they aren’t located directly in front of people’s homes.
Fest organizers have applied for a permit, which city officials are reviewing, said Jennifer Johnson Washington, first deputy commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. It has cleared “major hurdles” and 12th District (Near West) Police Cmdr. Beth Giltmier has signed off on it, she said.
Neighbors have worried how the fest might impact small businesses on 18th Street by blocking store entrances or taking up parking from customers.
Rigoberto Gonzales, who owns Mr. G’s Sewing Machine Shop, said closing 18th Street and reducing parking made it nearly impossible for him to keep his store open during the festival weekend. The shop was located on 18th Street along the stretch where the fest is held but has since moved to 1810 S. Allport St.
But the owner of La Esperanza restaurant on Blue Island said the fest is a boon for her business because it brings lots of folks to the neighborhood.
Esparza said small businesses on the street are given priority to stage booths at the festival, but it does cost money.
To alleviate concerns about businesses being blocked by tents, this year’s festival will have tents in the middle of the street instead of on the sidewalks.
Some neighbors suggested businesses should be able to participate for free or should be compensated for any financial losses during the weekend as a compromise.
Festival organizers and city officials said they would take resident suggestions into consideration, but no final decisions have been made.
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