Privatizing Taste: What changed for Daley since November?

January 7, 2011

As reported yesterday, Mayor Richard M. Daley shot down the proposal by Celebrate Chicago to charge admission at Taste of Chicago, condemning the idea of an admission fee in no uncertain terms--"The Taste of Chicago will always be free”--and once again showing his complete and utter disdain for music in the process: "We’re not into music."

But I went back to comments he made in November in a Sun-Times piece I've linked to before, and he was singing a different song then:

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."

And Daley wasn't the only one in the fall granting that there would have to be a fee: Megan McDonald, then the head of the Mayor's Office of Special Events, said the same in a handful of interviews, including this one with Greg Jarrett of WGN radio on Oct. 28, and so did Cultural Affairs chief Lois Weisberg, in the same Sun-Times article quoted above, though she clearly was much less enthusiastic about the idea.

Then, too, the city's request for proposals specifically addresses the question, in language I've also quoted before: “Ideally, these festivals would remain free, but respondents should submit responses that include their recommendations on the economic model which can include an entrance fee.”

What changed between November and Dec. 27, when the city received only one bid to privatize the seven summer music festivals?

Could it be that Daley just doesn't like the one bidder that responded--a coalition of local concert promoters Jam Productions, national promoters AEG Worldwide, and the Illinois Restaurant Association? The administration has thwarted Jam at numerous turns in the last decade, preferring to do business with C3 and Live Nation. But the restaurant group is led by Daley's former chief of staff, Sheila O'Grady, and AEG is the sort of big, out-of-town business that the mayor usually is eager to bring into the fold.

Was the administration really only counting on its clear favorite concert promoters, Lollapalooza's C3 Presents, to bid on privatizing the festivals?

Is it reacting to objections by C3 to having another big festival run by two promoters with the ability to bring major national acts to Grant Park a month before Lollapalooza?

Or is the mayor just running off at the mouth and contradicting himself wildly about what is needed to save and improve the big summer music festivals?

Isn't it time for a press conference with the mayor and the relevant parties from the newly merged Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events to address all of these many questions and the changes in those departments?

And, for that matter, wouldn't it be a good idea for Celebrate Chicago to get in front of things with a press conference of its own, making public the specifics of its festivals salvation plan?

Am I really the only one with so many questons?

Earlier reports in this blog about privatizing the city festivals and the battle between the Mayor’s Office of Special Events and the Department of Cultural Affairs:

Jan. 6: "It's called Taste of Food. We're not in it for music."

Jan. 3: And the mystery bidder vying to privatize Chicago's music festivals is...

Dec. 27: Only one bidder wants to privatize Chicago’s music festivals… but who the heck is it?

Dec. 20: What's really going on at Cultural Affairs, and what happens to arts and music now?

Dec. 16: Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs is dismantled as 29 are laid off

Dec. 14: Nope, they won’t have to remain free… and answers to other questions about privatizing the city music festivals

Dec. 7: City festivals chief responds to this blog’s reporting on the push for privatization

Dec. 6: Are a political power struggle and a sweetheart deal fueling the city's push to privatize the summer music festivals?

Nov. 22: Psst! Hey, buddy: Wanna buy a city festival?