Plan to move Taste of Chicago near Navy Pier draws City Council backlash

Lame-duck Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan to hold Taste of Chicago on the same July 4 weekend as NASCAR’s first street-course race — but move Taste to a park near Navy Pier — hit a wall of opposition Tuesday.

Downtown Alderpersons Brendan Reilly (42nd) and Brian Hopkins (2nd) convinced Special Events and Cultural Affairs Committee Chair Nick Sposato (38th) to hold the annual special events ordinance in committee to avert what Reilly called a "planning disaster" decided last weekend.

"The mayor’s office realized that they approved the NASCAR event while we have Taste of Chicago occurring the very same weekend and obviously you can’t access Grant Park for the Taste surrounded by a racetrack. So, without any conversations with the impacted aldermen, it was unilaterally decided by the mayor’s office that Taste of Chicago would be moved to Polk Brothers Park, the front yard for Navy Pier with no advance notice. No stakeholder input. Nothing," Reilly told the Sun-Times.

Reilly called the decision "more of the same" from a mayor who ran roughshod over local alderpersons to cut a two-year deal with NASCAR, even though it will tie up DuSable Lake Shore Drive temporarily and a portion of Grant Park for two weeks.

"Total lack of transparency. No communication. No input. Unilateral decision-making. All the things, the key ingredients, that make a lame-duck mayor," Reilly said.

Reilly and Hopkins want the non-profit corporation that runs Navy Pier and controls Polk Bros. Park to "push back and refuse to host" the Taste on the same weekend as the NASCAR race.

"The more appropriate approach would be to keep it in Grant Park, but do it in the fall when we have more capacity and band-width for special events there," Reilly said.


"To, last minute, shift this to Navy Pier with the incredible traffic impacts that go with it during 4th of July weekend when we’re hosting a NASCAR even in Grant Park — I don’t think it’s do-able. Never mind the public safety implications. All of our overtime cops will be down there guarding Grant Park and NASCAR. Who’s gonna provide security for the Taste of Chicago on the lakefront during July 4th weekend? It’s insanity."

Reilly argued the decision should be made by the "next mayor," not by Lightfoot on her way out the door.

"This mayor should not be handcuffing the next administration with her poor decision-making," he said.

Hopkins could not be reached for comment.

Special Events and Cultural Affairs department spokesperson Madeline Long released a statement: "Taste of Chicago is a beloved summertime tradition that is indeed happening this year. We are finalizing details for 2023 and will be announcing dates and locations for DCASE’s signature summer events in the coming weeks."

Sposato agreed with Reilly.

"Holding the Taste at Polk Bros. Park over the same holiday weekend as the NASCAR race "could be a logistical nightmare with all that’s going on over the 4th of July weekend," Sposato said.

"We know our problems in the city on 4th of July weekend," he said, referring to how it is typically one of the most violent weekends of the year.

"We have the Taste. And then, you have NASCAR all in the same ward. Now, if that was in my ward, and I’m sure if it was in your ward, and you were the alderman, you wouldn’t like all of that s— going on in your ward. Especially without being able to say yea or nay," Sposato said.

"Ald. Reilly had a right to say, ‘Hey, let’s get this straight. This is in my ward.’ He asked me to hold it. So, I held it," Sposato said.

"I guess right now, unfortunately, it’s gonna be punted to the next mayor."

Sposato said he "100%" supports moving Taste to another weekend, but doesn’t know if that’s possible.

"There’s a lot to do logistically," he said.

Alderpersons Pat Dowell (3rd), Sophia King (4th) and Reilly all have complained of being kept in the dark before the mayor announced the NASCAR race.

All three hardened their opposition after the Chicago Park District acknowledged the permit agreement for "non-race event activities" associated with the NASCAR Cup Series allows the organizer to occupy part of Grant Park for 14 days — from June 22 to July 5.

The Park District defined the "event footprint" as Roosevelt Road to Randolph Street and Michigan Avenue to DuSable Lake Shore Drive. Park District officials vowed to "work with the organizers to ensure that public access during the event is minimally impacted."