Reconfigured Taste of Chicago a financial flop

Commissioner admits it “didn’t come close to breaking even”

October 23, 2012

Fourteen weeks after it ended, city officials still can’t say exactly how much money the reconfigured Taste of Chicago lost in 2012. But Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events Commissioner Michele Boone finally admitted to aldermen yesterday that the new five-day event “didn’t come close to breaking even.”

Why is this important? For one thing, Mayor Rahm Emmanuel has declared that the new Taste must not cost the city money, though Boone yesterday downplayed that mandate.

For another—and more significantly—until the mid-2000s, Taste generated between $1 million and $2 million a year, helping to pay for all of the other smaller festivals which regularly lost money. (After several violent incidents at the festival, the 2011 soiree saw attendance drop; it lost $1 million and prompted Emannuel’s attempt to reinvent the fest.) If the new Taste is in the red, the combined bill from the other events, even though those were scaled down as well, will make the cost to taxpayers for the cultural and musical celebrations in Grant Park even steeper.

Here is the coverage of Boone’s statements in The Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times and Chicagoist.

In stark contrast to years past, when the success of festival was trumpeted within a few weeks of it coming to an end, DCASE has been dragging its feet for months in releasing the report on Taste 2012, which charged admission for pavilion seats at concerts for the first time, and which reportedly saw food vendors enjoying their highest profit margins in years.

“We are still awaiting a couple more items before we reconcile the books,” a DCASE spokeswoman told this reporter when he asked about the report in mid-September. “We are still awaiting invoices from companies with which we contract to produce the festival.”

That was a few weeks after Ann McNabb, Deputy Commissioner of DCASE, Finance Director of Taste of Chicago and niece of former Daley Budget Director Ed Bedore, quietly resigned—the second red flag that Taste 2012 had tanked, following the long wait for the numbers.

And we’re still waiting.

Noted the Sun-Times: “Boone said she’s ‘still reconciling’ the cost of city services before releasing a final financial report on the revamped 2012 Taste... ‘It’s very difficult to find a financial model that creates profitability for a free festival.’”