Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
The lone bidder to take over Taste of Chicago has cut its proposed admission fee in half — to $10 — hoping to appease Mayor Daley, who has declared that Chicago’s premier lakefront festival will “always be free.”
“The city can keep doing what they’re doing without an admission fee. But, no private company is gonna do it for free. It’s impossible,” said a source close to the negotiations.
“There’s a reason why only one company bid” in response to Daley’s request to privatize Taste and six other lakefront festivals.
Celebrate Chicago LLC has been pressuring the city to move quickly to accept its lone bid because time has long since past to book top talent. The problem is, getting a lame duck administration to focus.
“There’s a weird dynamic in that building,” the source said, referring to a City Hall in transition for the first time in 22 years.
“The people who are doing this are not even gonna be there [once a new mayor is sworn in]. They’re not interested in making decisions — and certainly not decisions they’re going to have to defend.”
First Deputy Special Events Director David Kennedy refused to say whether the revised bid would be acceptable to City Hall.
Nor would he say when a final decision would be made on whether to privatize the festivals or keep them in-house, despite $7 million worth of losses over the last three years.
Procurement Services spokesperson Shannon Andrews could not be reached for comment.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported earlier this month that the city received only one bid for Taste and six other festivals: Viva Chicago and Blues, Jazz, Celtic, Country and Gospel Fests.
It came from a joint-venture between the Il. Restaurant Association and two of the biggest names in the production of live entertainment: Chicago-based JAM Productions and AEG Live. To stop the events from hemorrhaging money, the team initially proposed a $20 admission fee to the Taste, with $10 of that money rebated to patrons in the form of food and beverage tickets.
Celebrate Chicago also proposed selling concert tickets for up to $65 for admission to the Taste’s biggest-name entertainment stage.
The revised bid would reduce the admission fee to $10. No other changes were proposed.
The question now is how far Daley is willing to bend.
In declaring the $20 admission fee “unacceptable” the mayor flatly declared that the Taste of Chicago would “always be free.”
He talked about stopping the bleeding by returning the Taste to its food roots.
“This is called a taste of food...We’re not into music. We got into tangents and the cost kept going up. We’re gonna get it back down and do the Taste of Chicago for food and that’s all,” he said then.
Asked whether he planned to reject the only bid and swallow the losses, Daley said, “The [selection] committee will look at it and revise it. But, we’re not Milwaukee. Milwaukee has a [permanent] venue that they charge people for festivals. The Taste of Chicago will always be free.”
Taste patrons already pay an “amenities charge” of $2 for every strip of a dozen food tickets sold for $8. Celebrate Chicago has proposed eliminating that “hidden fee.”