Lolla to stay a while

By Kelly Rix

All eyes were on Grant Park on Nov. 4 as President-elect Barack Obama delivered his acceptance speech from Hutchinson Field. Now, Chicago’s front yard will continue to draw hundreds of thousands of visitors each summer thanks to a 10-year contract extension with the Lollapalooza music festival.

The Chicago Park District Board voted in favor of the contract on Nov. 12, which means Grant Park will host the three-day music extravaganza, which has been staged in Grant Park every summer since 2005, through 2018. If Chicago wins its Olympic bid to host the 2016 games, it could interfere with the festival for a year, and then the contract would extend to 2019.

The deal is a three-way partnership between the Chicago Park District, the Parkways Foundation and C3 Presents, the company that produces Lollapalooza and that also staged Obama’s election night event in Grant Park.

Bob O’Neill, president of the Grant Park Conservancy and the Grant Park Advisory Council, testified in favor of the proposal at the board meeting before the vote took place. He said he explained to the board how the partnership would bring improvements to Grant Park, in addition to other parks throughout the city.

“I don’t think anyone [on the board] was against it,” he said.

About 25 area residents attended the Grant Park Advisory Council meeting held at the Daley Field House, 337 E. Randolph St., on Nov. 10, which gave residents a chance to voice concerns about the proposal and talk about ideas for how the money coming from Lollapalooza could be spent.

The new contract is similar to the previous five-year contract, but will give the Parkways Foundation, a nonprofit that raises private funds for projects within the Chicago Park District, a slightly bigger profit from the annual outdoor concert that brought a sell-out crowd of 225,000 people to the South Loop this past summer.

“Really, it’s an extension of the contract,” said Brenda Palm, the executive director of he Parkways Foundation. “It’s very similar to the five-year contract that was in place; it just extends it now for 10 years.”

Starting with the next Lollapalooza, scheduled for Aug. 7-9, 2009, at least 10.25 percent of Lollapalooza’s gross revenue will go to the Parkways Foundation to be invested in Chicago’s 552 parks, as opposed to 8.5 percent under the previous contract.

The plan guarantees at least $1 million to the Parkways Foundation each year, whether Lollapalooza makes a profit or not, Palm said.

The Parkways Foundation received $1.6 million from the previous Lollapalooza festival, and 10 percent of those funds went back to Grant Park. The rest of the money was invested in parks throughout the city.

Last year, more than $130,000 from the Lollapalooza partnership went toward making improvements to Grant Park, such as the planting of more than 1,000 trees, the renovation of Hutchinson Field and the current restoration of Buckingham Fountain.

“We are fighting for improvements to Grant Park with this money,” O’Neill said. “It’s important to realize that in a really tough economy, the [money coming in] because of Lollapalooza is really improving the park. We want to make sure Grant Park gets its fair share.”

Palm said the percentage of funds going directly into Grant Park is not part of the contract, but rather a commitment of the Parkways Foundation Board.

Palm and O’Neill tried to reassure residents at the meeting who were concerned that it could change since it is not part of the contract. Palm said she would ask her board of directors for a more formal agreement, like a letter, which would stipulate that Grant Park continues to get at least 10 percent of the funds raised by the Lollapalooza deal.

“I assure you that as long as I’m around, we will continue to get [10 percent of the profits for Grant Park]-that’s my commitment,” O’Neill said.

Residents who attended the meeting had many ideas on how to spend the funds generated from the festival, ranging from creating a plaza-style skateboarding park to buying the Chicago Athletic Association building, 12 S. Michigan Ave.

Some at the meeting were concerned about the way the Chicago Park District conducts business and now deals are made.

Alison Dallmer, a Loop-area resident who attended the meeting, said she wants more clarity in how the decisions are made and where the money goes.

“There is no doubt in my mind that there’s good work being done,” Dallmer said. “If [there is] any negative energy here, it’s the lack of transparency and the lack of credibility.”

During the meeting, Dallmer, as well as other attendees, asked if the proposed contract could be shared with residents before it was voted on-a request which was not granted.

O’Neill said he took exception with the claim that his agency, the Grant Park Conservancy-as well as the Parkways Foundation-lacked credibility.

“The credibility is out there in that park,” O’Neill said. “We have been on top of an amazing amount of improvements in Grant Park. They are obvious, they are evident and we have proof of those.”

After the meeting, Dallmer said that some of the skepticism and anger among residents at the meeting was related to their feelings about the way the Children’s Musuem deal was handled.

“We essentially took one of the most amazing spaces and gave it to a private organization,” Dallmer said. “And if we are going to do that we should have at least offered it to the highest bidder and gotten the most money for it.”

While Dallmer said she supports the partnership with the Lollapalooza festival, she wants to see the process become more open to the public.