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Who Wanted To Move Taste Of Chicago From Grant Park? Park District Hides Details In Public Records

Block Club sought to find out who made key decisions about Taste, but nearly all of the 121 pages of emails were fully redacted.

Taste of Chicago is a three-day fest bringing the city's diverse cuisine and more to Grant Park.
Taste of Chicago/Facebook
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DOWNTOWN — The Park District refuses to disclose records showing who was involved in the closed-door planning to move the Taste of Chicago and accommodate the upcoming NASCAR race.

Block Club submitted a public records request March 7 to the Park District asking for officials’ emails containing key words such as “Taste of Chicago” and “Grant Park.” Two weeks later, the agency released 121 pages of emails. Almost all of them were redacted, making it impossible to see the contents.

The Park District even hid the contents of a message discussing how to respond to Block Club’s records request — though it didn’t redact the subject line, which said, “Importance: High.”

Credit: Melody Mercado/ Block Club Chicago
A screenshot of a redacted email from the Park District obtained through a FOIA request.

Other emails were widely circulated among city workers, with dozens of recipients spanning multiple city departments, yet the Park District redacted the body and even the subject line of the messages before releasing the censored versions to Block Club through the Freedom of Information Act.

The redactions come as alderpeople, park advocates and neighbors have demanded to know how the city’s deal to host NASCAR came about and who was aware it could force the relocation of the Taste of Chicago, disrupt annual softball leagues and potentially cause the Shedd Aquarium to lose millions of dollars in revenue.

Earlier this month, Block Club revealed the Taste of Chicago was missing from Grant Park’s list of special events.

Records showed the park would be booked 84 days between May 18 and Aug. 13 for setting up, hosting and teardown for Sueños Music Festival, NASCAR and Lollapalooza.

With the staging for the three events taking place back to back, Grant Park simply had no room to host the Taste of Chicago during its typical July weekend, records showed.

Credit: Brittany Sowacke/Block Club Chicago
Taste of Chicago in 2019.

Shortly after the news broke, Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) told reporters at City Hall the city planned to hold Taste on the same weekend as NASCAR, but not in Grant Park. Instead, the Taste would have to set up at Polk Bros Park near Navy Pier.

Reilly then blocked the “scheduling disaster” from being OK’d by getting the plan tabled at a City Council Committee on Special Events, Cultural Affairs & Recreation hearing.

Reilly said city officials had not consulted him about relocating Taste of Chicago. He had already blasted the city for failing to notify him in advance of the deal secured last year to host NASCAR Downtown.

The Mayor’s Office did not respond to a request for comment about Reilly blocking the Navy Pier plan. Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events officials only said there would indeed be a Taste of Chicago this year — but they didn’t specify when or where.

Almost a week later, the department announced the Taste of Chicago would remain in Grant Park, but it will not be held until September.

Credit: Melody Mercado/ Block Club Chicago
A fully redacted email released by the Chicago Park District to Block Club Chicago.

To find out how the Taste of Chicago saga began and who made suggestions and key decisions about its operation, Block Club filed a public records request for emails to and from specific Park District and city officials.

To justify blacking out so much of the records, the Park District cited a section of the law that allows governments not to disclose draft documents and deliberations.

But the Park District used that exemption so aggressively that very little of the documents released to Block Club were not redacted.

Block Club has filed a request for review with the Illinois Attorney General Office’s public access counselor to determine if the redactions were applied too broadly.

The Freedom of Information Act is a tool used by members of the public, including journalists, to access records from public bodies and government agencies.

Those who receive a denial or redacted documents can appeal to the public access counselor, which can review whether the response complied with the law.

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