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Beginning with the Custer Street Fair and ending with the Taste of Armenia on Clark Street, Evanston’s summer is packed with special events – art fairs, the Starlight Concerts, the Gospel Fest, the Fourth of July festivities, the Grand Prix of Cycling bicycle race and the CommUNITY picnic. Bike the Ridge in October and the holiday celebrations at Fountain Square nearly complete the list.

These celebrations, while popular, are not etched in stone, and at the special City Council meeting held on July 19, aldermen discussed accommodating even more events throughout the City.

Current policy limits the number of special events on the lakefront to 12 events or 21 days, said Doug Gaynor, director of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Service. Other limitations to expanding the number of events, he said, are the need to preserve the athletic fields, particularly at James Park, and the necessity to minimize the impact of the events on residents and businesses by closing the streets for activities only on Sundays.

Concert at James Park Not Likely

Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, asked about the possibilty of a large concert in James Park and questioned the need to preserve the athletic fields.

Mr. Gaynor said that more than 2,000 youth participate in Little League and soccer programs and that the heavy foot and vehicle traffic of a major concert there would likely damage the irrigation system for the athletic fields. “With a concert [at James Park] for 10,000-15,000 people, a lot of damage would be created,” said Mr. Gaynor. He acknowledged that a major event promoter would be able to post a bond for damage and temporarily fence in the area for a concert. “[B]ut what we could not afford is the time lost [for youth games] if the fields are damaged,” he said.

Entertainment Near Howard Street

Because she could not attend the meeting, Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, asked City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz raise the possibility of using Elks Park for a special event. Mr. Gaynor said that Ridgeville Park District, which owns and operates that park, “is very selective about programs there” and the park would likely not be available for a special event.

Mr. Bobkiewicz said Ald. Rainey told him she would support special events that could be held in South Evanston on or near Howard Street and showing free movies in the parks.

Mr. Gaynor said that in the past two years – but not this year – the last Starlight Concert was a movie and that the City might return to that idea.

Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, asked about the possibilities of corporate sponsorship for special events. Mr. Gaynor said the City had “hired a development person who spent a lot of time knocking on doors, and we were not successful.” The two main reasons, he said, were that many businesses felt they already paid enough taxes and that the crowd attracted by the special events was not sufficiently large for them. Mr. Bobkiewicz said the City plans to hire a development officer by September, whose job will be to seek funding for City programs.

Remarking on the success of the Ricky Byrdsong Race Against Hate and the City’s Women Out Walking program, Seventh Ward Alderman Jane Grover said she would like to see “some kind of moving event that binds the City together – perhaps a nine-ward walking tour.”

Ald. Tendam suggested “the world’s largest tug-of-war” and challenged the Ninth Ward to a contest with his Sixth Ward constituents.

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said, “There has been some interest in a cycle-cross race in James Park. This would definitely tear up the turf, but it would be at the base of Mt. Trashmore and around the perimeter of the park.”

Ald. Jean-Baptiste and Fifth Ward Alderman Delores Holmes said they would like to see the City purchase a portable stage for use at concerts, feeling that the cost would be recouped easily by saving the rental cost.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said she would like to see whether Northwestern University would be amenable to allowing special events on campus in the summer, when there are fewer students. She also said she and Ald. Grover had spoken with University officials about moving the homecoming parade to downtown Evanston.

“I’d like to hear from Lehman [Walker, director of Community and Economic Development] and Carolyn [Dellutri, executive director of Downtown Evanston, formerly known as Evmark] about more special events in downtown Evanston,” said Ald. Fiske.

Mr. Walker said, “I strongly support there being more downtown events – they promote businesses and promote their services.” Ms. Dellutri said special events either promote retail or help build up the image of a place or a business.

Mr. Bobkiewicz added that a pep rally is planned for the night before Evanston Day at Ryan Field, when all Evanstonians are encouraged to attend the Northwestern football game.

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said she would like to be assured that there is an equitable geographic distribution of special events, suggesting that Lovelace Park in northwest Evanston would be a good venue.

Ald. Jean-Baptiste said he would also like to see City staff consider extending the hours for rental of City facilities such as the Levy Center and the Ecology Center. At present, parties and events there must end at 11 p.m.