All but one event on the City’s proposed events calendar sailed through without discussion at the March 18 City Council meeting. The one exclusion, a proposed Halloween Hustle 6K foot race on the lakefront, prompted outrage from one alderman and was held by Council pending further discussion.
The offending event, promoted by JET Event Productions, LLC, would be similar to the Flying Turkey, a 5K foot race promoted by the same company and held on Thanksgiving day the previous two years. The 2013 version of the Flying Turkey race was approved without controversy.
“I need more information about this company [JET],” said Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward. She expressed two concerns – the commercialization of the lakefront evidenced by a for-profit entity’s producing a second run on Halloween, and the number of events on the lakefront, which, under City policy, must be limited to 12 per year. “Fundamentally, this is a 13th event,” she said.
Ald. Wynne asked that Council hold the Halloween event until she could gather more information.
Representatives of JET attended the meeting and stood up to answer any questions. Ald. Wynne resisted their offer and asked that Council simply hold the item to give her a chance to meet JET personnel and study the matter further. “My concern is a for-profit group’s putting on an event on the lakefront,” she said.
Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, suggested asking JET questions while they were in chambers. “I don’t want to do this piecemeal,” he said. “They’ve taken the trouble to be here.” Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, and Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, agreed.
“I believe that while they’re here, let’s hear from them,” said Ald. Tendam.
Eliot Wineberg and Jeremy Solomon of JET explained that while they were not officially a not-for-profit enterprise, the Flying Turkey race, for example, did not make JET a profit.
“We had a $60,000 budget, and we brought in about $50,000,” said Mr. Wineberg. The goal of road races is to allow organizations to raise money. He cited the Chicago Marathon, annually produced by Bank of America (clearly a for-profit company) but used by organizations to raise millions for particular charities.
Mr. Solomon said the goal was not to make a profit but to produce a great event for Evanston and the community. At the same time, he said, they wanted to produce an event that would be successful. He cited the Rotary 5K run, an event no longer on the calendar because, he said he suspected, it did not make enough money to continue.
Ald. Wynne then disclosed that she knows Mr. Solomon, who she said lived on her street. “I did not know he was involved in this,” she said. “I want to understand your model better. … That’s why I want to hold off,” she said.
Discussion turned to the number of events on the lakefront, a matter discussed in February 2012, when council approved a 13th lakefront event.
At that time, Doug Gaynor of the City’s parks department said the impact of an event is more pertinent than the actual number of events. An employee picnic, for example, has far less impact than a three-day arts festival. The Duck Pluck, with 150 participants, has very little impact.
A foot race, which typically starts early in the morning and is completed with everyone gone by 10:30 a.m., has much more limited impact than an all-day event, according to the discussion at the Human Services committee last year. The time of year should be considered as well, with the summer months being far more crowded than fall.
Ald. Grover said she supported the addition of the Flying Turkey race. Speaking at the March 18 City Council meeting, she said there are now no events on the lakefront in October.
The neighborhood can easily handle an October morning event. Further, she said, a foot race supports one of the City’s goals, which is community fitness. “In October, we don’t have any community-fitness events,” she said. Runs on the lakefront have less impact than other races because participants stay on the lakefront path and the events do not require the temporary closure of City streets.
Ald. Wynne said that such discussions had not been completed and that she and her constituents would not support an expansion to 13 events. Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl agreed, saying that an expansion of the number of events required the knowledge of and notice to the community as a whole. Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, echoed opposition to any additional events on the lakefront, particularly by commercial enterprises.
City Manager Wally Bobkeiwicz said that he and Mr. Gaynor had had several discussions with Ald. Wynne about changing lakefront event policy over the past several months and that such discussions had resulted in a misunderstanding about the number of lakefront events. The alderman and the neighbors were under the impression that the number of events would remain 12, he said, despite discussions.
Mr. Bobkiewicz said the misunderstanding had been cleared up, and asked Council to continue in April any discussion of the Halloween Hustle.
“I really believe we’ll get this done [then],” said Ald. Grover. “It aligns so well with all of our goals.”