A person walks a dog near Riis Park in Belmont Cragin on Dec. 2, 2021. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

BELMONT CRAGIN — Northwest Side neighbors presented a petition with more than 500 signatures to Park District officials Wednesday, demanding the agency reject a concert promoter’s plan to take over a popular Northwest Side park in June for at least 10 days.  

AEG Presents plans to host the Chicago leg of The Re:SET concert series June 23-25 at Riis Park, 6100 W. Fullerton Ave. Steve Lacy, Boygenius and LCD Soundsystem are slated to headline what promoters have billed as a single-stage, “artist- and fan-friendly alternative” to major music festivals.

Promoters are selling tickets for $129.50 and $650 despite parks officials telling Block Club they haven’t approved any permits for the event. 

Besides advertisements for the festival, there is little public information about the event or its logistics, forcing local leaders to contact the Park District and promoters for more insight, said Fabian Cisneros, the community engagement and economic development manager for the Northwest Side Community Development Corporation

Neighbors launched their petition last week, collecting signatures from Riis Park visitors over the weekend.

The petition 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. 

“Re:SET is two months away. It’s coming, and the Park District hasn’t even had a public meeting about it. We just don’t feel heard,” Cisneros said.

Parents and children at Riis Park buy paletas from a street vendor the afternoon of April 6, 2023. Credit: Alex V. Hernandez/Block Club Chicago

Cisneros submitted the petition during Wednesday’s Park District board meeting alongside public statements from himself and two other neighbors asking officials to reject AEG’s bid for an event permit. 

“Belmont Cragin is an underserved community home to predominantly Latino, working-class families. Riis Park is Belmont Cragin’s only ample green space, making it a popular and inexpensive way for children, families and friends to gather,” Minerva Garcia, 18, wrote in her statement.

“Over a third of the community’s population is younger than 18, so Riis Park must be protected so that our youth have a place to gather. Approving this permit will close off access to the park and do more harm than good to the community.” 

Park District board members and officials did not directly respond to the Belmont Cragin neighbors’ comments Wednesday.

Officials previously said the agency encourages organizers to perform outreach to neighbors, and any ticket sales made prior to the Park District approving a permit are done at the organizer’s risk.

AEG has not returned multiple requests for comment.

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.

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.

The sun sets over Riis Park in Belmont Cragin on Dec. 2, 2021. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

The Park District has faced 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.

Festival permits were previously granted through an opaque internal process with no requirement of community support nor any organized process for collecting feedback from affected residents.

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 approved.

West Siders who have protested Riot Fest at Douglass Park also spoke out during Wednesday’s meeting.

They criticized the Park District’s new process after a community meeting last week with Riot Fest organizers devolved into chaos. They asked the Park District to reject permits for that event, scheduled for September. 

Two other festivals previously staged at Douglass Park, Lyrical Lemonade Summer Smash and Heatwave, both relocated to other sites this year.

“Our goal is to ensure that event organizers that are looking to have events with the parks are engaging community, are listening to community, are addressing the needs of the community, and they’re hearing you,” Park District CEO Rosa Escareño said in response to complaints about Riot Fest.

Park officials and AEG have yet to organize a community meeting like the one for Riot Fest where Belmont Cragin neighbors could learn more about how the festival could impact Riis Park users and the neighborhood, Cisneros said. 

And despite Escareño saying she’s “actively listening,” she did not respond to Belmont Cragin neighbors’ concerns directly during Wednesday’s meeting, Cisneros said. 

“Rosa just kind of looked at me and she gave me a small nod to move me along after I spoke. But we want to have these conversations,” Cisneros said. “All the Park District says is, ‘We’ll reach out to Re:Set and make sure that they know that they should reach out to you.’ That’s happened three times, most recently two weeks ago, and we still haven’t had public meetings with AEG at all.” 

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