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Wicker Park Advisory Council says "NO" to for-profit Green Music Fest
After two years of broken promises about the Green Music Fest (GMF) from Robert Gomez, owner of Subterranean and spokesperson for GMF, and 1st Ward Alderman Proco "Joe" Moreno, the Wicker Park Advisory Council (WPAC) has written a rejection letter in response to a proposal from Gomez dated May 15 regarding the 2014 event.
For the two-day GMF event, they offered, with contingencies, $1600 instead of paying $3,500 in expenses to protect the nearly $1 million in assets that the WPAC has brought into the Park since 2002.
WPAC is the all volunteer group who has brought in over $3.2 million in services and programming to the Park since 2002. They work in partnership with 80 plus organizations to bring a myriad of activities and events into the Park each year, as well as creating and maintaining the Park gardens 12 months a year. Activities and events include mulching trees, educational classes, Wicker Mic, movies, yoga, hula hooping, live music concerts and puppet shows, Boo-Palooza to name a few.
GMF Background In Wicker Park
GMF requested a move to Damen Avenue by Wicker Park in 2011 because, as they put it, it gave them a great "green backdrop" for their "green" fest. The request was granted by Alderman Moreno under protest from the WPAC and community members.
An aldermanic condition was put into place, however. The total expenses that GMF was to cover was $4,923 and they fulfilled on the conditions which covered:
- fencing (an extension of the Damen fence to 8 ft from Schiller to Wicker Park Avenue)
- security guards to patrol inside the park and uphold the Park District’s Code of Conduct (No Drinking, Drugs, Loose Dogs, etc) and to stop small incidences and report larger ones to city police
- waste management inside the park
- three portable toilets to be located in the park’s parking lot
- Chicago Park District agreed to put up 1,600 feet of fencing around the gardens and delicate trees inside Wicker Park at the cost of $5,000, since the GMF refused to obtain a Park District building permit and install fence around the gardens inside the park
"This security plan successfully curtailed illegal and damaging behavior to both park patrons and property and was considered a success," explained Doug Wood, WPAC Secretary and head of the Wicker Park Garden Club.
In 2011 the net profits of the event were to be distributed with 40% going to Big Creek Productions, 40% to Subterranean and 20% to the West Town Chamber of Commerce (WTCC), with a maximum of $10,000 going to WTCC. The maximum was not achieved in 2011 but WTCC did receive $8,296. (WTTC lost $10,000 in 2009, while the other two partners lost approximately $12,000 each.)
Despite the Alderman's original promise to have GMF moved to another location in 2012, it was back in the same location on Damen Ave.
That year, GMF did not fulfill their $1,500 obligation for waste management, but the Park District took care of it. On the other hand, the Chicago Park District stopped providing fencing in parks and the WPAC took on that $5,000 obligation with financial support from the WPB SSA #33 (funds to purchase fencing, rent posts, building supplies) and from 40 volunteers who took two days off work to construct then remove the fence after they obtained a community building permit from the Chicago Park District.
In 2013, GMF's waste management was handled by the Park District again. WPAC once again handled the $5,000 fencing obligation inside the Park and Christy Webber Landscapes donated the fence posts for the construction.
The night before the 2013 event, Gomez said that he would not put up the Damen Ave. fencing ($2,150). To compensate for the lack of that fence, the WPAC hired 2 extra security guards ($641.60) to attempt to patrol the Damen fence and to stop fest patrons from jumping into and destroying the gardens. While Moreno agreed that debt should be paid, neither he nor Gomez have settled the indebtedness.
For the upcoming 2014 event, there have been a series of meetings and emails that began in January 2014. Gomez, supported by Moreno, has determined that since there have been no security incidents*, security expenses previously required by the Alderman to be paid by GMF are not necessary. Some WPAC members have suggested that the U.S. Homeland Security budget should be cut in more than half, based on this type of logic.
In his May 15 proposal, Gomez offered to "give" the WPAC $1,600, instead of paying $3,5000 for guards and fencing. He suggested that WPAC volunteers could put on vests and be the security personnel. He recommended 7 to 10 on Saturday with only 5 to 7 needed on Sunday.
In fact, even if volunteers would be willing to provide this service free to his for-profit business, the Chicago Park District does not allow citizens to serve in this capacity.
The proposal also stated that he would handle waste management and install 3 portable rest rooms in the park’s parking lot.
But with that proposed "gift," Gomez includes contingencies. The WPAC would be required to send out an email blast regarding parking restrictions caused by the Fest that will adversely affect the community surrounding the Park and publicizing the Kids Activity Area at GMF which is to be run by and benefit the Wicker Park Parent's Association (WPPA).
Beneficiaries of the 2014 Festival
It has also been stated that the beneficiaries of GMF 2014 will be the WPPA, Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce (WPBCC) and West Town Bikes.
The WPPA has not been recognized by the state as a corporation since 2012. Sources report that the $2,000 received in 2012 and again in 2013 ($4,000 total) were never distributed for kid's education because "they couldn't identify kids in need." It has also been reported that the WPPA membership roster of three or four now numbers one. That person is Lisa Stauff who is the only contact for the group. She has been invited numerous times to attend WPAC meetings but has not attended.
In the response to the May 15 Gomez letter, WPAC makes it clear where the responsibility for the Green Music Fest lies:
- It is your responsibility to protect Wicker Park from GMF attendees
- You have the [Chicago] Park District (Head of Security, Bo Ramos) and S3 [a security business used at most local festivals and previously hired by the WPAC] on the record saying that security within the Park is unnecessary, despite our prior experience.
- You state that CPD 1424 [Chicago Police Department's 14th District] and Fest security can handle it.
At the end of the WPAC response letter, written after consultation with legal counsel, it reads:
"The WPAC, the Wicker Park Garden Club, the Wicker Park Committee and Wicker Park neighbors and friends will be holding you accountable for the safety of our Park, it's patrons and it's property. We as the experts of our Park, sat down and negotiated in 2011 the terms of your hosting the GMF on Damen next to the Park and Damen Gardens. You and the Alderman agreed to this security plan. We knew from previous Fest experiences what was needed to keep the Park 'safe, clean and green.' Here we are four years later totally renegotiating the terms of hosting GMF at this location, as well as dictating what WPAC will do on GMF's behalf.
We are entrusting the Park's cleaning, greening and safety of its constituents and property in your collective hands: GMF/Alderman/Park District/CPD 1424."
The WPAC volunteers have drawn the proverbial line in the sand. They will do nothing to protect the Park this year during the time of the June 21 and 22 event. They will not provide fencing inside the Park, hire security guards or provide any co-ordination efforts.
Green Music Fest History
The first Green Music Fest was held in 2009 in Eckhart Park. In 2010, it was held on Chicago Ave. The event was a joint venture between Big Creek Productions, West Town Chamber of Commerce and Subterranean, the music venue on North Ave. owned by Robert Gomez. The deal was a risk/reward of 1/3 each, with the Chamber's risk capping at $10,000.
According to Kara Salgado, West Town Chamber's Executive Director, in 2009 the Chamber lost $10,000 and the other two partners lost about $12,000 each. In 2010, they broke even.
In early 2011, Gomez and Salgado met with community members and members of the Wicker Park Advisory Council in Moreno's office. They proposed to move the unsuccessful two-year old fest to Damen Ave. in front of the green Wicker Park (between Schiller and Milwaukee Ave.) because the Park was green, a perfect backdrop for the Green Music Fest.
While Moreno was not at the meeting, Ronda Locke, who then worked for Moreno, was. Clearly the community representatives said, "No, it took us years to get the Wicker Park Fest moved to Milwaukee Ave. We do not want a fest bordering the Park, which is lined with residences and in front of a seniors' building." They also pointed out that Wicker Park, even then, was extremely busy and under-staffed with a Farmer's Market along the Damen Ave. fence on Sunday morning.
At that time, Gomez said that he would make the WPAC a recipient of a $2,000 donation. The WPAC indicated that GMF should expend that money on protecting the Park because the Park District did not have funds to do that.
A group of approximately four parents, with children at A.N. Pritzker School who had been part of Wicker Park's after school program, and who from time to time participated as WPAC members, decided to be the recipients of those funds. They formed the Wicker Park Parents Assn. For that donation, they ran a kids area at the event.
Moreno decided to permit the festival, promising at public meetings, at least twice, that it would not return the next year . At the time, he guaranteed that to have the festival, Gomez would have to provide for a series of Park protections (fencing, security guards, waste management and 3 portable toilets).
*incidents, as described by a security guard, is what is avoided by having guards. "Reminding someone that alcohol is not allowed in the park isn't an incident that would have required an incident report, but it prevents incidents. Reminding people to stay out of the garden or not to climb trees may not require writing up a report, but will prevent damage to the park.