BELMONT CRAGIN — Northwest Side neighbors are ramping up efforts to stop a summer music festival from taking over a popular park for at least 10 days in June.
Neighbors have launched a petition asking Park District officials to deny AEG’s permits for the event, said Fabian Cisneros, the community engagement and economic development manager for the Northwest Side Community Development Corporation.
The petition also criticizes AEG, saying its leaders have planned the event for more than year without reaching out to Belmont Cragin neighbors and business owners who would be impacted by it.
Besides the advertisements, there is little public information about the festival or its logistics, forcing local leaders to contact the Park District and promoters for more insight, Cisneros said.
The three-day festival could close off public access to Riis Park for about 10 days, Cisneros said, citing conversations he’s had with the promoters and Park District officials.
“Our ask is to deny Re:SET’s permit and to work with us in the future so that we can create a community benefits agreement, so that when future events do happen, we know that there’s going to be at least two community meetings about it,” Cisneros said.
Neighbors behind the petition will canvas the area noon-2 p.m. Saturday and 5-7 p.m. Tuesday to collect more signatures. They also plan to attend Wednesday’s Park District board meeting to voice their opposition to AEG’s event, organizers said.
Riis Park is a roughy 57-acre space on the west edge of the neighborhood, complete with a lagoon, fishing pier, tennis courts, playground with a pool and ice rink, baseball diamonds and a football and soccer field.
In a statement after this article was published, Park District spokeswoman Michele Lemons said Re:SET organizers have applied for a permit, but it has not yet been approved.
Applications must go through the permit process before getting Park District approval, Lemons said. Depending on the features offered during the event, organizers may be required to obtain additional approvals from other agencies before the Park District can issue a permit, she said.
“In addition, the Park District encourages organizers to perform outreach to engage community stakeholders. Any ticket sales made prior to the Park District approving a permit, are done at the organizer’s risk,” Lemons said.
Events of 50 people or more people on park property must have a permit. Chicago Police would be notified of unsanctioned events, officials said.
AEG did not return a request for comment.
This is not the first time neighbors have pushed back against the possibility of the festival at Riis Park.
Several neighbors, alarmed about the advertisements for the festival, confronted Park District officials during the board’s February meeting and demanded to know why the event was being promoted without neighbors’ input or knowledge.
Officials said the Park District had not granted any permits for the event.
“If they’re out there promoting this, they’re doing this at their own peril [and] their own risk, because nothing has indicated that they have fully executed the process,” parks Supt. Rosa Escareño said in February. “If any of these are denied for whatever reason — I’m not saying they will be — but if they are denied, then they’ve put themselves out there at their own risk.”
AEG’s Re:SET concert series would not be the first festival at Riis Park. Festival Cubano and Colombian Fest have been hosted there previously. But organizers for those festivals were more transparent about their plans, Cisneros said.
“The difference is that again [AEG] hasn’t come to us and asked if we want this event, right? They haven’t asked how to minimize disruption to the neighborhood, what a potential parking plan could be or what local business should they reach out to,” Cisneros said. “The difference is that they haven’t asked residents if they want this or not. And that really is the most important question, right?”
The Park District has faced repeated criticism for how it approves private events. It changed that process to include more community input after West Siders protested and criticized the agency for allowing three festivals to take over large swaths of Douglass Park for weeks at a time last summer.
The festivals — Riot Fest, Lyrical Lemonade Summer Smash and Heatwave — displaced local programs and created public safety concerns, neighbors said.
Lyrical Lemonade and Heatwave have moved their events to other venues amid the criticism. Riot Fest organizers met with West Side neighbors at a Thursday night community meeting as they move forward with plans to host that event in September.
Festival permits were previously granted through 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.
After the Douglass Park backlash, Park District leaders established new rules they say will strengthen the community’s voice in deciding what happens in parks — but some festivals are still expected to be OK’d.
The Re:SET concert series is billed as a single-stage, “artist- and fan-friendly alternative” to major music festivals and includes headliners Steve Lacy, Boygenius and LCD Soundsystem. Other artists slated to perform include Jamie xx, Big Freedia, Clairo and James Blake, according to the promoter.
Single day general admission tickets for the festival start at $129.50, while three-day VIP tickets cost $650, according to AEG’s website.
Neighbors enjoying the park Thursday afternoon told Block Club they consider it Belmont Cragin’s front yard because of its size and amenities.
Maria Ortiz, a student at Steinmetz College Prep, said she prefers hanging out with friends at a public park like Riis because they don’t have a lot of disposable cash.
“This is a cool park to hang around,” Ortiz said. “I don’t agree with this festival because summer is coming around and kids like me want to be out. They want to come to this park. Where are we going to hang out if this park is basically closed up?”
Monica Perez visits Riis Park with her two children and dog three to four times a week during the spring and summer, she said.
Perez lives closer to Haas Park, 2402 N. Washtenaw Ave., but prefers Riis because her children and dog have much more room to run around and play, she said.
“For this park to be completely closed for that long? No, I don’t support that,” Perez said in Spanish. “If park officials do want to have this festival, I don’t understand why they’d need to take over the whole park. Leave areas of it open for people to enjoy. I just don’t like that it could be closed like that.”
Deysi Malagón also regularly visits Riis’ playground with her kids and would be frustrated if she must drive further if the festival closes Riis to the public for part of June, she said.
“I have work and don’t have a lot of free time. Gas is expensive. Riis Park is close to my house, and it’s a resource my family and I can easily take advantage of. I want the Park District to listen to our concerns,” Malagón said in Spanish. “We need this park, and families like mine don’t have the resources to just pick up and go to another park when this festival is here. Listen to our voices.”
Listen to the Block Club Chicago podcast: