BMX event pushed out of South Loop

By Patrick Smith

A planned BMX competition in the South Loop was successfully driven out of the neighborhood by neighbors concerned about noise, crowds and pollution.

The Red Bull Stomping Ground competition was planned for May 14 and 15 at an empty lot at the corner of Wells and Harrison streets. The competition is looking for a new location after Alderman Bob Fioretti (2nd Ward) shut down the proposed event. Fioretti opposed the event and went so far as to send a letter concerning the competition to Alderman Walter Burnett (27th Ward), the head of the city’s special events committee, calling the proposal cavalier.

“As interesting and intriguing as it may sound to create an interesting event there … it was just was too much in too short of time,” said Fioretti’s chief of staff, Andy Pierce. “With this event coming to us with such short notice, I don’t think anyone in a leadership position was satisfied with their safety and traffic plans.”

According to Pierce, the Chicago Police Department was not confident it could manage the additional traffic and keep pedestrians safe. Transportation was also a concern, with Red Bull planning for up to 10,000 people, many of them suburban youths, Metra and the Chicago Transit Authority made it clear they did not have resources to increase train service on the days of the competition.

The May 15 event was slated to run from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. with a concert following the BMX event The competition has been publicized in an extensive series of ads and through a partnership with NBC Chicago. The lot where it was scheduled to occur is a privately owned, grassy yard where residents walk their dogs. It is the site of a demolished train station.

Community activist Enrique Perez said digging up a former train yard was his greatest concern.

“My No. 1 concern was the environmental concern of the land,” Perez said. “Railroad yards generally have dangerous substances under them.”According to Perez, Red Bull representatives told him they did an environmental study of the area and it had been deemed safe, but they would not provide any copies of the study.

Red Bull spokeswoman Jennifer Belongia confirmed the event had been moved, but would not say why.  She did say Red Bull still planned to hold the event in Chicago.

“Red Bull Stomping Ground is still planning to take place on May 14 and 15 and all details of the competition remain the same,” Belongia said in an e-mail response to a phone call from The Chronicle.

Red Bull held a community meeting on the evening of April 23 to present residents with the plan for the competition.

“They wanted to go through with the event,” Perez said of the Red Bull representatives. “A few people there were very much in support of it, but most of the people were against it, local residents especially.”

The opposition of residents swayed Fioretti against Red Bull Stomping Ground. In his letter to Burnett, he wrote Red Bull had not considered the wishes of South Loop residents.

“Maybe Red Bull should stop and think that not everyone wants a made-for-TV, extreme BMX, rock ’n’ roll and beer expo in their neighborhood,” Fioretti said in his letter to Burnett.

Pierce said it was clear the community was not behind the event, and suggested Red Bull had not gone far enough to find a proper venue.

“The other details that were in the letter had to do with community notification,” Pierce said. “Essentially, neighbors weren’t in support of it, and we have so many other locations in Chicago, whether it be in the park district or universities or empty land the city owns—you know, everything we counted for the Olympics—those are all good locations to have this event.”

Belongia said people interested in updates on the status of the event should check the Web site, but as of April 29, the site was still advertising the event as being held at Wells and Harrison streets and selling $10 tickets for that location, complete with directions to the South Loop spot.

According to Red Bull promotional material, the competition will feature top BMX competitors, including Denis Enarson, Cory Nastazio and Rob Darden.

Along with the environmental concerns, both Perez and Pierce expressed dismay at Red Bull rushing into advertising and planning for the event before they had consulted with the community or received approval from the proper people.

“Don’t you guys have to go through a certain process?” Perez asked rhetorically. He said the first he heard of the event was through the advertising campaign. “Shouldn’t the [community] meeting have occurred before you are advertising for the event?”

Pierce echoed that sentiment.

“If you and I were to do an event of any scale, we would seek and receive the permission before we started advertising and selling tickets, that just makes sense,” Pierce said. “In this case, they just waited too late to go through the city’s formal process.”