PALMER SQUARE — A plan to throw a two-day multicultural festival in Palmer Square Park is drawing pushback from some neighbors who don’t think the fest is a good fit for the small, family-oriented park.
Neighbors are frustrated with the Chicago Park District for not allowing impacted community groups to properly weigh in on the plans, and they’re appealing to local officials to call off the fest.
But event organizer Wendy Callupe isn’t backing down. Callupe said neighbors’ concerns are unsubstantiated and she is moving forward with plans to put on the fest in September.
“A lot of thought and planning has gone into this, and we won’t be bullied out of a public space,” Callupe said in a written statement.
Neighbors Say They’re Protecting The Park, But The Organizer Feels Singled Out
Callupe is the founder of Minted Media Productions, a local production company focused on “all aspects of event, fashion, art and film production,” according to its website.
The company’s previous events include Chicago Fashion Showcase, a runway show and market that coincides with Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and Women Inspiring Women, a panel discussion featuring women entrepreneurs.
Callupe submitted a proposal earlier this year for a two-day, multicultural festival in Logan Square, a first for Minted Media.
Initially, she was looking to take over a portion of Milwaukee Avenue, where her friends own small businesses. She wanted to give mom-and-pop shops a boost during the day, when there’s less foot traffic, she said.
That plan was nixed by the Shakespeare (14th) Police District officials who felt the fest would clash with nightlife spots on the stretch, sources confirmed to Block Club.
Callupe said local police then recommended Palmer Square Park as a venue, which is when she approached the Park District about getting a permit.
The Logan Square Festival will bring roughly 35 small business vendors selling art, clothing and other wares, plus a series of dance performances, live tarot readings and a live art show to Palmer Square Park. Donations collected at the door will benefit Chase Elementary School.
Callupe said the event is meant to be family-friendly, will end early no later than 8 p.m. and there won’t be any alcohol served.
But members of the Homeowners Association of Palmer Square (HAPS) and the Palmer Square Park Advisory Council said the festival doesn’t meet the groups’ guidelines for park events.
Based on preliminary plans, Callupe’s event would impede the jogging path and tot lot, and could destroy the grass and create a mud pit if it rains, advisory council members said in a statement.
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The festival also conflicts with the weekly jazz show in the park, called Live on Logan, neighbors said.
“These events would take [up] the entire park and preclude the community at large from using the park recreationally,” the group’s statement reads.
More broadly, the two groups oppose commercial events where selling goods is a main focus. Park events should be “small-scale, non-recurring, and optimally represent local merchants/talent/artists/etc.,” the council said.
Though the event is only featuring local retailers and artists, group members are still opposed.
“I get that it’s a frustrating thing, but nevertheless, we’re looking out for the park,” council president Jeffery Goeters said. “We’re looking out for the grass that’s there so it doesn’t turn into a mud pit, [and for] the people who jog there and want their kids to burn off some energy there, that it’s available to them.”
Neighbors also take issue with the Park District’s handling of the permitting process.
Officials sprung the festival proposal on neighbors while it was already in motion and failed to communicate all of the details, which led to a game of broken telephone, they said.
“We used to get notified about a pending permit request, and we’d have a week or so to talk about it,” Goeters said. “That did not happen. We were not given that opportunity.”
Park District spokesperson Michele Lemons said the festival attendance — 500 people per day — falls far below the 10,000 mark that triggers community engagement and approval from Park District Board. Lemons said Callupe is still going through the permitting process and the permit hasn’t been approved yet.
Callupe said officials have been helpful and supportive, and the neighbors’ concerns are baseless. The festival will only take up half the park and won’t impede on the jazz concert or ruin the grass or the trees, she said.
Other events like Live on Logan have received approval, Callupe noted, and she questions why Logan Square Festival is being singled out.
Tour de Fat, a bike and music festival, was held in Palmer Square Park for years but moved Downtown in 2017 after council members started to rein in large-scale events.
“It’s OK for the jazz event to happen, but because we want to do a multicultural fest it’s not allowed,” Callupe said. “I’m not McDonald’s, a corporation that’s taking and taking. It’s very ridiculous to me. It comes from a place of utter privilege where they won’t bother to have a conversation with me, or find out more about me or my company.”
Goeters said his group is open to supporting the festival if Callupe agrees to certain guidelines. The Park District initially said the event would take up the entire park, but if the fest is limited to one area and doesn’t interfere with everyday use of the park, group members could get on board, he said.
“We certainly are not against it just because there are people in our park. We just want the community to be involved, we want it to be used in a way that’s appropriate for the area,” Goeters said.
The festival was initially scheduled for the last weekend of August, but Callupe has since pushed it back to September.
Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st), whose ward includes the park, said he supports the festival, but they’re going to be keeping a “very close eye on this situation” to make sure the park is protected.
The back-and-forth comes as officials and residents across the city continue to grapple with private events taking up public park land.
Park District officials approved Re:SET festival in Riis Park less than two weeks in advance, confusing ticket holders and frustrating Belmont Cragin neighbors who organized for months to stop the major event from setting up in the public park.
Riot Fest in Douglass Park also won city approval despite opposition from West Siders.
“I believe park stakeholders deserve more power in the decision-making process over what kinds of private events happen in their parks,” La Spata said. “I would really hope to see the Park District figure out a stronger process that really brings the community into that decision-making.”
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