Focus back on food at Taste of Chicago

February 11, 2011 4:30:06 AM PST
The Chicago Park District will now run the city's biggest summer festival, and some of the other music festivals will now be part of it.

Thursday's announcement follows talk of privatizing Taste of Chicago, and even charging an entrance fee for visitors.

Chicago Park District President Tim Mitchell remains committed to keeping the Taste a free event but that will mean a different strategy than recent years.

The city has budgeted $2 million less for this year's Taste, and Mitchell says he can make that work by returning the focus to food.

From it's humble origins as a one-day event with a $150,000 dollar budget that drew a quarter of a million visitors, the Taste of Chicago has grown into a giant 10-day festival that takes over Grant Park every year in early July.

Now, the Taste annually draws about 6 million visitors and features big name musicians, like Rob Thomas as headliners. But if you're looking for that this year, you're out of luck.

Gone this summer are the big names, which come with big price tags. Instead, look for smaller, local acts.

"We will be scaling back the emphasis on big musical acts, which were extremely expensive, to focus on bringing the Taste back to its roots," Mitchell said.

Park District officials say they are confident people will come for the food and won't miss the big name music. Not everyone agrees.

"That's what I go to the Taste for, so I'm a little disappointed. I won't go because that's what I go for," said Mimi Ramos.

"The loss of music is not a huge deal for me. If I was gonna go, I'd go anyway," said Mary Massey.

Chicago Park District President Tim Mitchell says it's time to step back to what the original Taste was all about.

"I think that it's important to re-tool it, to get back to that, because the restaurant industry is a marvelous attribute," Mitchell said.

Mitchell says it makes sense for the Park District to run the Taste since it's held on Park District property.

The Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events will continue to run the Blues Festival in June and the Jazz Festival in September, but four other music events will now be incorporated into one day of the Taste.

City officials say the four music events -- the Country Music Festival, Viva Chicago, Celtic Fest and the Gospel Music Festival -- suffered from declining attendance and were losing money.

"It has a different type of strategy that will allow us to make the best use of the resources that we have available to us," said Dorothy Coyle with the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.

Mitchell says he also hopes to increase corporate sponsorships to raise funds.

This year's Taste will also be under the guidance of a new mayor, and Mitchell says he expects to meet with the new mayor shortly after he or she is elected.

Mayor Richard Daley was not at Thursday's news conference.