Riot Fest meets with community as some North Lawndale activists demand it leave Douglass Park

Mark Rivera Image
Friday, April 7, 2023
Riot Fest meets with community as some activists demand it leave Douglass Park
Chicago's Riot Fest is facing pushback from some in North Lawndale, who want to see it leave Douglass Park.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago's Riot Fest is facing pushback from some in North Lawndale, who want to see it leave Douglass Park.

Passions were high on both sides during a community meeting Thursday night. It was the first meeting that kicks off the music festival's permit approval process.

Riot Fest Director of Economic Development Neli Rowland said while it was a passionate room, she is grateful for the feedback.

"We have been working feverishly since we left the event last night, putting a list of all the questions, all the concerns, and coming up with ways to solve them," she said.

Rowland said Riot Fest is listening to community input regarding traffic issues with two hospitals nearby, noise control, and investment in North Lawndale and Douglass Park, and is committed to a true partnership with the community.

"There were some valid complaints in that room," she said. "We are going we are going to be doing everything we can, meet with the right people to make sure that we can dedicate lanes, emergency lanes, get validated parking for the people that live there to be able to come in and come out of their own neighborhoods."

But North Lawndale community organizer Anton Atkins said if Riot Fest can't give more specifics about community partnership and investment, it should leave Douglass Park like two other festivals have already.

"Riot Fest just comes, they make their money and they leave. We don't see them again until it's time for Riot Fest to come out," Atkins said. "We put this pressure on the Chicago Park District for them to even have these meetings. They didn't give us these meetings before. They never had to deal with the community before."

For its part, Riot Fest said it hires locally, brings millions of dollars to the local economy, and has a year-round commitment to Douglass Park and the community. But Clay and Bethany Kamaleson, who live nearby, say access to the park is their top priority.

"To be taking away green space from the kids when that's like safe space that they should be able to have access to, really sucks," Bethany said.

This was the first of three newly required meetings after a park district rules change for festival approval. Riot Fest said they hope to have more questions answered and specifics on local vendor partnership and long-term park beautification as the approval process continues. A date for the next meeting has not been set.

Chicago Park District statement

"The organizers of Riot Fest have submitted a permit application for the use of Douglass Park however the Park District has not issued a permit for the event.

All applications must go through the permit process before getting Park District approval. Depending on the features offered during the event, organizers may be required to obtain additional approvals from other agencies before the Park District can issue a permit. In addition, all permitted events with an expected attendance of 10,000 or more are required obtain provisional approval from the Chicago Park District Board and complete an engagement plan that addresses the concerns of community stakeholders."