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McCarthy outlines police security plans for Taste of Chicago

Superintendent Garry F. McCarthy discussed The Taste Chicago security for it Chicago..   |   Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

Superintendent Garry F. McCarthy discussed the The Taste of Chicago and security for it in Chicago.. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

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♦ July 11-15

♦ Grant Park

♦ Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m.

♦ Free admission; food and beverages require ticket purchase: strip of 12 is $8

♦ Visit

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Updated: August 10, 2012 6:25AM

The formula for this year’s Taste of Chicago — food, live music and free admission — is pretty much the same as in the past, and yet this year’s festival in Grant Park will be markedly different.

The Taste has been downsized, its aspirations brought down to earth. It will last for five days starting Wednesday, half the run of a year ago.

The change was made to cut the chance of a drain on the city treasury. But participating restaurants, which have seen the event become less lucrative in recent years, now are unsure what to expect.

Officials, meanwhile, hope Taste will mimic last year’s record in security. The 2011 run had no serious crimes, although some wonder if fears of city violence have kept people away.

Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said Sunday that officers will be highly visible at the Taste and that undercover personnel will monitor crowds.

He said the department will use a variety of tools, including remote cameras. Uniformed officers and private security will closely monitor entrances for the Grant Park event and alcohol ordinances will be “strictly” enforced, McCarthy said.

“We expect a fun and family event as we had last year,” McCarthy said. “We’re going to devote appropriate manpower and resources to ensure that that in fact happens.”

At the same time, attendance could be a dud, as the event has been moved from the Independence Day holiday. While the forecast is positive, restaurateurs worry that for a five-day run, one bad weather day could be a disaster.

“We’re acting like it’s our first year at the Taste, even though we’ve been doing it for 20 years,” said Chrystal Robinson, whose family owns Robinson’s No. 1 Ribs in Oak Park. It has been one of the top performers at the Taste, earning more than $200,000 during last year’s event, down about a third from 2010.

She said her family has been conservative with its plans, ordering much less food and adding fewer short-term employees. “We’re hopeful people will still come out,” Robinson said.

“Some of the other restaurant owners are saying they’ll see how it goes this year” before deciding if they’ll come back, she said.

Marc Schulman, owner of Eli’s Cheesecake Co., another Taste perennial, said this year’s event still could be a big draw. Taste has gone through several formats in its more than 30-year history and restaurants’ results have varied, he said.

“The motivation for being there can’t be just making a profit,” Schulman said. “It has to be to further your brand and help your restaurant.”

The festival’s daily hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. About 40 restaurants are participating, compared with 59 last year.

Taste attendance in 2011 was 2.35 million for the 10 days, down 10 percent from 2010 and down more than a third from the record 3.6 million in 2006 and 2007.

Alcohol, barbecue grills and pets that aren’t service animals are among the items that can’t be brought onto the festival’s grounds. Beer and wine are sold at the Taste.

McCarthy said officers won’t arbitrarily inspect people’s coolers, but will take action if they see alcohol being consumed outside the festival on park district property or on the public way.

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