Mayor still hopes to privatize Taste of Chicago
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter
Mayor Daley chows down on a Chicago style hot dog as he samples food at the 2007 Taste of Chicago press preview.
Mayor Daley said Wednesday he plans to forge ahead with his plan to privatize Taste of Chicago - even if a private operator imposes an admission fee.
"You have to. The cost factor was enormous for Taste of Chicago. No one made any money," the mayor told reporters after a City Council meeting.
Daley said he has "no idea" how high the entrance fee would be or whether a private operator would impose one at all on Taste patrons.
But, he said, "If it costs you more and more money every year for city services, how are you affording this- We're laying people off. People don't have jobs. To spend that amount of money is enormous. That's truly unfair."
The Chicago Sun-Times reported last month that Chicago taxpayers spent more than $2 million policing lakefront festivals last year - $1.5 million of it for Taste of Chicago alone - underscoring Daley's desire to privatize the events and the difficulty he may have in doing so.
The staggering tab for police services does not include a private security contractor hired by the city to assist with crowd control and work the gates. That contract is held by a clout-heavy company owned by three of Daley's former bodyguards.
Despite those costs, Cultural Affairs Commissioner Lois Weisberg has argued that it would be a mistake to privatize the Taste because a private operator would impose an admission fee that would drive down attendance.
"There is no private company that could afford to come in and not charge admission. I know what the costs are. There's nowhere to get the revenue from. Even if they have sponsors, they'll still have an admission fee," Weisberg, Chicago's 85-year-old maven of the arts, told the Sun-Times last month.
"The private company has to make money. That's what they're in business for. They also have to give the city money. That's where it becomes impossible."
Weisberg noted that Taste patrons already pay an "amenities charge" of $2 for every strip of a dozen food tickets sold for $8.
If you add an admission fee on top of that, Weisberg said, "Fewer people will go because they won't be able to afford it."
She added, "Chicagofest was a private festival run by a Milwaukee company that got into serious trouble. There was a secret fund that didn't make the city look good. The city has done a good job with these festivals with a staff that's been trained for years to handle it. Not everything should be privatized."
Weisberg is a former Special Events director who advised former Mayor Harold Washington to move the Taste from Michigan Avenue to Grant Park.
She's also a close friend of the mayor's wife, Maggie, and one of the longest-serving members of Daley's cabinet.