Taste of Chicago and other city-sponsored events in 2023 were expected to be easily approved by chairmen at Tuesday’s committee meeting. Instead, double-booking two well-attended events at Grant Park threw a wrench in the works.
Taste, founded in 1980 and traditionally held in early July, welcomes around 40,000 visitors to Grant Park for food and music. The city has not announced a date for this year’s event, leading some to worry about its fate.
But a downtown alderman said Tuesday the inaugural NASCAR The Chicago Street Race, which will feature NASCAR’s top drivers spinning in and around Grant Park, will begin on July 2, coinciding with the Taste schedule.
The 12-turn, 2.2-mile NASCAR racetrack will take place on closed streets lined with temporary fencing, grandstands and hotel rooms. The race will require the partial closure of DuSable Lake Shore Drive and is expected to attract 100,000 visitors.
The scheduling conflict has angered Old Town Center. Brandon Reilly, 42, told reporters he learned from Navy Pier officials that the city planned to move Taste to Polk Park on the pier “without having any conversations with the local chairmen.”
“As you know, the easiest and most convenient way to get to the pier is Lake Shore Drive. Lake Shore Drive will be closed to NASCAR,” Reilly said, leaving the best routes to get to the pier via Illinois Street or Grand Avenue, which Reilly said would be a “traffic disaster.”
“It was a planned disaster,” he added.
He asked fellow committee members to hold off on approving the list of city events until a better plan for Taste is in place. Fellow chairmen agreed, and the ordinance will be considered by the Special Events, Cultural Affairs and Recreation Committee, which its chairman, Ald, jokingly refers to as the “Happy Committee.” Nikolay Spasati, 38th.
Reilly suggested instead that the city move “Taste of Chicago” to another weekend, possibly in the fall.
“Trying to do everything at once is irresponsible,” Reilly said.
Madeline Long, spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Culture and Special Events, released a statement: “Taste of Chicago is a beloved summer tradition that’s really happening this year. We are finalizing details for 2023 and will announce dates and locations for DCASE’s signature summer events in the coming weeks.”
The city did not respond to questions about whether it proposed moving Taste to Polk Park, any special plans for traffic or pedestrian flow, or questions about booking musical entertainment. Long said those questions will be addressed once Taste is officially announced. Similar questions to officials at Navy Pier were relayed to Long. A spokesman for the Chicago Park District did not respond separately.
The situation has caused confusion and anxiety among those trying to plan the annual event.
“We’ve heard a lot of different things over the last couple of days,” said Mark Shulman, president of Eli’s Cheesecake, which debuted at the first Taste of Chicago in 1980 in front of the Tribune Tower and has participated every year since. “Obviously we’re worried. … We love Taste, we love Taste in Grant Park, so we’ll have to wait and see.”
Taste of Chicago, the city’s summer tradition, has brought together dozens of restaurants and food trucks from various neighborhoods for a weekend of food, drinks, live music, dancing, karaoke and children’s activities every year for the past four decades.
In 2022, Taste of Chicago. is back in full force — even expanding to the Austin, Pullman and Little Village neighborhoods in addition to the main event in Grant Park — after two years abbreviated and virtual offerings following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.