Taste of Chicago Privatized: The Beginning of the End for Free Chicago Festivals?

The Cost of Good Taste.
Chicago, January 4, 2011.  Amid concerns that Chicago is losing millions each year from the Taste of Chicago (although Taste did have a small profit in 2010) and six other free festivals, the city is looking to privatized the events–starting with Taste. Other possible candidates for privatization include Blues Fest, Jazz Fest, Viva Chicago, Celtic Fest, Gospel Fest and Country Fest.  We see how poorly the privatization of the the city’s parking meters has gone and we shutter.  The idea to privatize city festivals is not a popular one. However, maybe the timing is right and if it is handled correctly, it may just work.

The plan to privatize Taste has been under discussion since the summer of 2010.  It was finally put on the table for bids in December 2010.  The solitary bid came yesterday from Celebrate Chicago, LLC, a newly formed partnership between Chicago’s JAM Productions, the Illinois Restaurant Association and the heavy-hitting national concert promoters AEG Worldwide.  

The Plan.
Celebrate Chicago proposes a $20 admission charge, with a $10 rebate for food and beverage tickets.  The fee would be charged during weekends, holidays and after 4p.m. on weekdays.  Children under 10 would be free at all times along with free weekday admission until 4p.m.  In addition, there would be a fee ranging from $25 to $65 for concerts.  Advance general admission tickets would be sold in May and June for $8.  Also included in the Celebrate Chicago proposal is a $10 admission fee for Blues and Jazz Fest.

Let’s face it, The Taste of Chicago, is not what it once was.  The times are changing and the Taste remains the same.  The new decade may be just the time for some new blood and Celebrate Chicago may just be the transfusion that is needed.

A careful study of the plan with a short-term contract looks like the way to go.  The 75-year contract giving up total control, as in the parking meter fiasco, should be a lesson this time around–if and when contract negotiations get underway.

The Positives.
The three partner organizations under the umbrella of Celebrate Chicago, LLC have proven track records. If handled correctly, the Taste could be transformed into a World-Class Food and Entertainment Festival showcasing the entire city and all it has to offer.

With Los Angeles based AEG Worldwide and Chicago’s highly-respected JAM Productions putting their talents together–the sky is the limit for bringing top concert acts to Taste. AEG Worldwide has successfully run the highly popular New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in Big Easy and has worked with most of the top names in the entertainment industry. JAM has been around for almost 30 years booking top acts in top Chicago venues. The 27-year history of the Illinois Restaurant Association along with their highly successful staging of Chicago Gourmet gives them the necessary ingredients to showcase the food and beverage part of the Taste.

Maybe the time is now for the City of Chicago to step back from holding parties and start tackling the tough issues at hand.


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  • "We see how poorly the privatization of the the city's parking meters has gone and we ***shutter***."

    That's "shudder" not "shutter"! D'Oh!

  • In reply to nuyrbaby:

    Spell check fails again.

  • In reply to nuyrbaby:

    I stopped going after they failed to use metal detectors. Puh-leez

  • In reply to nuyrbaby:

    OMFG -- hire writers, you cheap s&^ts!

  • In reply to dbekken:

    Hire an editor. "The Taste of Chicago, is not what it once was. The times are changing and the Taste remains the same."?

  • In reply to nuyrbaby:

    I regret that someone who has spent so little time on local Chicago issues and had the blessing of Clinton may attract most of the white vote. I write in good conscience as a long time Jewish Chicagoan that I also feel that Mr. Emmanuel is a carpetbagger with little experience in local Chicago politics and questionable ethics. Davis should have stayed in the race. It's not always about money!

  • In reply to nuyrbaby:

    @lafew1: wait, a long-time Jew, or long-time Chicagoan? Or both. It's all very confusing.

    In any case, you may not like Rahm, but he represented IL5 and is a life-long Chicagoan. Carpetbaggers are people who are NOT from the area and move there for elective office. Rahm is absolutely not a carpetbagger. A Scaliwag? Maybe. I leave that to your judgment.

    The model for Taste ought to be the Fests up in Milwaukee. Safer, more pleasant, and apparently self-funding.

  • In reply to dforgue:

    I agree, Milwaukee has done a nice job. I think the Celebrate Chicago proposal gives us a shot at doing even better. Chicago is a World-class city and we need a World-class Taste. And as I said in my reply to William Silverio below, people can still go to Taste for free--just not all the time.

  • In reply to nuyrbaby:

    I have lived in Chicago all my life and there is no way I would pay for the taste I love it just to walk around and see everyone enjoying themselves but the fact is is that the food is already over priced as well as the drinks and the rides are as well so unless they make the prices reasonable for the food and sell wrist bands for the rides I think that 2010 will be my last year attending the taste because I am sorry to say this but with the prices that they have on the food and everything else there it is not worth 20 dollars

  • In reply to WilliamSilverio:

    The Celebrate Chicago proposal does leave a way for people to attend Taste for free. Anyone who goes to Taste before 4p.m. on a weekday enters for free and can stay as long as they like.

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