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Cook County sees unexpected $160k from Lollapalooza sales

Updated: July 7, 2012 8:49AM

Cook County leaders are singing rock ‘n’ roll over an unexpected $160,000 that’s landed in government coffers.

That’s because organizers of the lucrative Lollapalooza music festival — under increased pressure over a series of city, county and state tax breaks — and the city reached a deal this spring that ended the free ride. Even before the deal, Lollapalooza was at risk of losing the county exemption because of a new, stricter policy in place.

With ticket sales well underway for the three-day music festival in Grant Park this August, the county has collected $160,000 in amusement tax receipts so far, according to Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer.

She’s got an idea for the money: Put it into a summer jobs program and put teens to work.

“The thing is there will be 75 young people who will work this summer who otherwise would not have had a summer job,” Gainer told the Sun-Times Tuesday, after introducing her proposal at a county board meeting. “We’re in a depressed economy,” she said, and that can be even worse in poor, violence-plagued neighborhoods.

So she’s proposing to put the money in a new city-county jobs program aimed at at-risk teens, ages 14 to 18.

“We know that if young people have places to go and positive things to do, they’re less likely to be in a situation where things could go wrong,” Gainer said. “For a lot of people a summer job is a turning point for them. It’s a great opportunity.”

Gainer’s proposal was referred to the county’s Finance Committee and could come up for a vote as soon as the end of the month. Co-sponsors include fellow Democratic commissioners Earlean Collins, Joan Murphy, Deborah Sims and Edwin Reyes. Republican Commissioner Liz Doody Gorman has also signed on.

Board President Toni Preckwinkle didn’t throw her weight behind the proposal, and when asked Tuesday about it she said she hadn’t decided whether to support it.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported last year that, for the seventh straight year, the city and county exempted Lollapalooza from paying Chicago’s five percent amusement tax.

Under the old deal, Lollapalooza was exempted from the taxes, officials say, because, although C3 Presents puts on the festival, booking the acts, hiring the vendors and overseeing the entire operation, the Chicago Park District, which owns Grant Park, didn’t contract directly with C3. Nor did C3 obtain the liquor licenses for the festival.

That was all done through the Parkways Foundation, the park district’s not-for-profit fund-raising arm, which served as a conduit between the promoters and the district.

For that, Parkways was getting a cut — millions that went toward various park projects.

Promoters say that the deal was conceived in the early days of the musical festival, when it was unclear whether it would draw the thousands in fans and millions in revenues seen today.

But cash-strapped governments raised questions after a Sun-Times story about the exemption, and promoters feeling the heat agreed it was time to change course.

A spokesman for Lollapalooza, Steve Patterson, said “C3 is proud of the difference we’ve made by giving more than $11 million to improving neighborhood parks and we’re pleased we can continue to support other city and county programs in new ways.”

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