NORTH LAWNDALE — A group of West Siders protested in Douglass Park on Monday in a last-ditch effort to persuade the Chicago Park District not to allow the controversial festival ahead of a potential vote this week.
Neighbors gathered at the park, 1850 S. Albany Ave., sharing frustrations about Riot Fest and other public events taking up public park land.
Riot Fest, scheduled for Sept. 15-17, is expected to bring roughly 50,000 people to the park daily, with this year’s headliners including The Cure, the Foo Fighters and Queens of the Stone Age.
The park district board is considering “provisional approval” of the festival’s permits at its regular meeting 11 a.m. Wednesday at Brighton Park Community Campus, 4830 S. Western Ave.
While many West Siders have organized to block Riot Fest — two other music festivals in Douglass Park have relocated in the past year — the issue has become more contentious and has divided residents.
Neighbors who want the festival moved reiterated complaints Monday about noise, disruption to surrounding businesses, damage to park grounds, displacement of youth sports teams, people urinating and trashing the streets nearby, safety risks from large crowds and how increased traffic affects access to nearby hospitals.
“They are pushing profits over people, profits over health care and safety over access to a safe, thriving community park that is for the people,” Joanna Tess said. “Riot Fest is a health risk to this community and it does not belong in Douglass Park.”
Resident Florina Flores said complaints haven’t been taken seriously, and the community has been exploited by Riot Fest and other big festivals for years.
“It’s just obnoxious and disruptive to daily life. There’s so many people who need to get to the hospital with serious emergencies,” Flores said. “I don’t think anything like this would happen in a mainly white neighborhood.”
At a virtual meeting last week, Riot Fest’s community engagement director George Herrera and other organizers laid out a slew of improvements to the festival’s operations and plans for investment in Douglass Park.
These changes include placing speakers away from the hospitals and houses, leaving some park features open to the community during the event, hiring three North Lawndale artists to perform at the event and using a parking lot further away from the park to prevent traffic congestion for the hospitals.
Riot Fest promoters said they have generated $14 million in revenue since 2015, which includes city taxes, park district rental fees and local jobs.
Some in the community have lent their support.
Ald. Monique Scott (24th) said last month she backed the event, citing the economic benefit. Local groups like including the Douglass Park Advisory Council, the North Lawndale Eagles football team, Little Village Foundation, the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Chicago West Community Music Center also support the festival.
Activists like Hector Escobar, who once opposed the festival, said he is now in favor of it after speaking with Herrera and other organizations in North Lawndale and Little Village community.
“This is the first time they’ve been making an attempt to really engage with the community,” Escobar said of the Riot Fest promoters.
But protesters said they weren’t convinced, saying last week’s meeting was condescending and presented a tightly controlled message with little opportunity for neighbors to comment.
“They have had years to justify their presence, and they had nothing to substantiate why they should be in this park,” resident Denise Ferguson said. “The meeting had nothing to do with health and safety and more about the promises they made to people.”
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