SOUTH LOOP — Candidates vying to represent the 4th Ward in City Council proposed limiting noise from Grant Park concerts and events or moving the events altogether as they made their pitch to voters Thursday.
Candidates Tracey Bey, Prentice Butler, Matthew Khari Humphries, Helen West, Ebony Lucas and Rep. Lamont Robinson appeared before a packed room of neighbors Thursday night at Grace Place, 637 S. Dearborn St. The event was moderated by the League of Women Voters.
The six candidates hoping to succeed Ald. Sophia King (4th) answered preselected questions from South Loop residents, including about Grant Park concerts and the massive ONE Central megadevelopment planned for near Soldier Field.
South Loop and Downtown residents have long complained of noise, traffic and filth from outdoor events like Lollapalooza, which draws hundreds of thousands of attendees each year.
With a NASCAR race also slated to take over Grant Park for two weeks this summer, some think city rules — which requires concerts to end at 10 p.m. — aren’t effective enough and want the city to implement an ordinance to restrict noise by decibel level, the moderator said, citing questions from neighbors.
Butler told attendees the 4th Ward office has asked the city to do a study on decibel levels from local concerts in an effort to limit the sound. King told Downtown residents last year she would work with festival organizers on reasonable sound restrictions and explore capping the number of special events at Grant Park.
“There’s no reason you should be exposed to the loudness almost all summer,” Butler said. “If I’m fortunate enough to be your alderman, I’ll be dedicated to making sure your voice is heard in every decision regarding Grant Park.”
Lucas, Bey and West told residents they support exploring other locations for events in the city, freeing up the park schedule so neighbors can enjoy it more often.
Bey said she sympathizes with residents, as she understands how it feels to be shut out of decisions that can impact the quality of life, referring to noise and loitering issues near the 41st Street Bridge.
West told the crowd there’s “no reason Lollapalooza couldn’t be in Washington Park or the Taste of Chicago in Franklin Park” on the West Side.
“There are numerous parks throughout the city that can accommodate as much space as Grant Park,” West said.
Moving Lollapallooza is unlikely. The city signed a deal with organizer C3 Presents to keep the mega festival in Grant Park at least through 2032 with a possible five-year extension.
Lucas pointed to the construction of the Obama Presidential Library in Jackson Park as an example of park “overuse.’
“They’re cutting down trees. We’re doing that throughout the entire city, using and abusing our parks and then under-using parks in neighborhoods and communities that could use the economic drive,” Lucas said.
Humphries and Robinson said they’d prioritize community voices, ensuring residents would be brought to the table ahead of any decisions the city made regarding park events.
In November, the Park District approved rules so permits for large events in parks incorporate community input and require a board vote. The move came after West Siders protested the district organizing multiple festivals in Douglass Park, blocking neighbors from swathes of the park for weeks during the summer.
The Park District did not say at the time whether contractual events like Lolla and the NASCAR race also will require board approval.
Aldermanic candidates were also asked to weigh in on the $20 billion ONE Central project, a 35-acre retail, dining and residential area to be built near Soldier Field with 22.3 million square feet of buildings.
The project could bring 167,000 jobs to the city, 78,000 of them to South Siders, according to ONE Central’s website.
While it will be in the neighboring 3rd Ward, some South Loop residents said they want more community input and transparency from city officials since the construction and development will impact 4th Ward residents.
All of the candidates said they support pushing for more neighborhood involvement in the development plans, saying they’d work with community groups to address their concerns, though most did not offer specifics on how they would handle problems regarding the megadevelopment.
Butler said he’d want to ensure issues like transportation and traffic congestion near 18th Street were addressed.
West told the audience projects like One Central are “great” and she’d push for it to be expanded, but didn’t expound on how.
“It is critical that we develop throughout our city. I drove through Englewood — which is not in the 3rd or 4th ward — and saw the Englewood STEM High School, which I thought was phenomenal. The type of business development going on in the Bronzeville community, the Bronzeville Lakefront project … but we have to make sure we’re continuing to develop the city as a whole,” West said.
Robinson touted his record of community engagement, telling the audience they could expect the same level of commitment given when he worked with organizations to fight the closure of Mercy Hospital.
Robinson and mayoral candidate Rep. Kam Buckner were among the state lawmakers who pushed to block up to $5.1 billion in state funding for the project. Robinson said they intervened upon learning that one of the developers was trying to “circumvent the elected officials representing the area.”
That eventually led a tense back-and-forth between Robinson and audience members who said the lawmaker was exaggerating his involvement in keeping Mercy Hospital — now Insight Chicago — open.
“I was the first elected to be in front of the closing of Mercy, protesting outside City Hall, the mayor’s office and the governor’s office. None of the candidates here today were standing alongside me to save Mercy. They’re talking about what they would do, but when a fight happened to save our hospital, none of them were there,” Robinson said as some audience members jeered.
Minutes later, during Humphries’ closing remarks, a woman in the audience identifying herself as a Kenwood Oakland Community Organization board member shouted that some candidates on the stage were lying about being at the protests “every day,” but she didn’t mention them by name.
“I was there every day and we successfully kept Mercy open. I didn’t see any of these people who claimed they were there,” the woman said.
Humphries applauded the woman, saying she was an example of community making change.
“I was taught to respect my elders,” Humphries said.
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