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Alderman: I don't support Riot Fest's return to Humboldt Park

Alderman: I don't support Riot Fest's return to Humboldt Park

Roughly seven months after Riot Fest, some residents are fuming over the lingering damage – caused by a mix of rain and heavy foot traffic—to Humboldt Park and the local alderman says he doesn't want the three-day music festival to return to the neighborhood this year.

"I am exceptionally disappointed at the Riot Fest organizers for the mess they left at the park last year and their shallow and hollow promises to restore the park," Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th) said. "I don't support them coming back."

Riot Fest founder Michael Petryshyn in a statement issued Thursday said he was "extremely surprised" at Maldonado's comments since the alderman supported the festival in the past.

"Due to the economic benefits Riot Fest brings to many 26th Ward businesses, the hundreds of thousands of dollars Riot Fest has donated to ward charities, our support in his reelection, and more importantly, job creation in a ward that has sorely lacked new job development, the Alderman and Riot Fest have been on the same page in shining a positive light on our culturally rich and magnetic neighborhood," Petryshyn said in the statement.

That "support in his reelection" included a $1,500 contribution from Riot Fest to the Citizens for Maldonado in August 2014. Maldonado won re-election in February.

The alderman questioned why Riot Fest's support for his re-election campaign is a factor in the saga. Just because they donated to his campaign doesn't make him beholden to them, he said.

"Ultimately I hope that they supported my re-election effort because they believe in what I have done representing my community and my ward," Maldonado said.

He acknowledged he did support the festival in the past because of the economic benefit. There was no negative community reaction until last year, he said.

"After the aftermath of the last Riot Festival, now I have to have a different position because it was a big mess, which still the park is trying to rectify," he said.

Petryshyn said he has a meeting set up with the alderman next week to center on Maldonado's concerns. He said he wants Riot Fest to stay in Humboldt Park.

"This is our home," he said. "We are invested in this community."

He shared more than two dozen letters of support from neighborhood associations, residents, businesses, state representatives, and even the bassist for Wilco John Stirrat that were addressed to Mayor Emanuel asking that permits be granted for the festival. Petryshyn said the park district has not expressed any issues with Riot Fest returning. He said he's had conversations with departments and groups, which he would not identify, that "reassured us that Riot Fest will be happening in Humboldt Park."

RedEye is a Riot Fest sponsor this year, like it was last year.

September's music festival marked the third time Riot Fest was held in Humboldt Park. But in 2014, the footprint for the venue expanded to much of the park bordered by North Avenue to the north, Division Street to the south, California Avenue to the east and Kedzie Avenue to the west.

Petryshyn agreed that some areas needed additional landscaping maintenance, which are being addressed. Riot Fest would like to make infrastructure improvements to the park as well, he said.

The Riot Fest founder lives right by the park. "You don't think it pains me that the grass hasn't taken? Absolutely," he said.

Maldonado said the festival has been disruptive to other park users. For example, there was no public access to the baseball diamonds or the field house in the days leading up to the event and following the event, he said.

Petryshyn said it was Maldonado's decision to expand the fest's footprint to include low-lying parts of park, causing the displacement of baseball leagues and park users, and leading to park grounds getting damaged due to bad weather that weekend.

The alderman denied it was his decision to get Riot Fest to change their footprint last year.

"That is, I'm sorry to say, that is an absolute lie by Mike," Maldonado said Thursday afternoon.

The decision on the layout is made between Riot Fest, the park district and the police department, he said. Maldonado said Petryshyn came to his office twice to show him the festival map, not to ask for approval of it.

Petryshyn disputed Maldonado's account. He said the alderman stood up at a meeting at the city's Office of Emergency Management and Communications last July and said he would not support the event unless the entrance to Riot Fest was located at Division Street and Mozart Drive. That resulted in a change to the entire footprint of the fest last year when they had  not planned on using the east side of the park at all, he said.

"We pulled it off. We didn't want the low-lying parts of the park and that's what we were given," Petryshyn said. The parts of the park most damaged are where two stages were set up in areas that were not part of the original footprint and on land that had drainage issues, he said.

Petryshyn also said in an earlier statement, "Nonetheless, between the support we have received from the Mayor's office, congressmen, state legislatures, county commissioners and the many Alderman in having Riot Fest's permanent home in Humboldt Park -- just like Fiestas Puertorriqueñas and Fiesta Boricua -- we are completely confident that any and all future concerns from Alderman Maldonado will be handled in the fashion we know best: as good neighbors."

The repairs, which included grading, reseeding, adding topsoil and soil aeration, nearly tripled in cost from the prior year for a tally of $150,000, according to Riot Fest, which paid for the repairs.

But patches of grass still are missing in areas.

Park repairs are ongoing, concert organizer Max Wagner said. "We'll keep doing it until it gets fixed," he told residents at a recent Humboldt Park Advisory Council meeting.

After a walk-through of the park this month, Riot Fest was asked to re-do aeration and seeding of the patchy areas that got a lot of foot traffic during the fest, he said. The cold weather didn't help the grass grow and neither did the birds that flocked to the planted seeds as soon as the park thawed out from winter, he said. There was also a two-week delay last year in getting the landscaping contract for the post-fest repairs, he said.

To help prevent damage in the future—should the park host the festival—the amount of ground covering, which look like durable plastic mats, would double to protect the grass from foot and vehicular traffic but that would require laying it down days in advance of the festival, he said.

In a letter to the Chicago Park District, the park's advisory council urged them to address their concerns about the condition of park, the size and layout of the festival and a post-event plan before a permit is granted for the festival, which is set for Sept. 11-13 this year.

The Chicago Park District did not respond to questions about the repairs and the future of Riot Fest.

Riot Fest has said it wanted to make Humboldt Park its permanent home. While presale tickets already have been sold for this year's festival, those tickets and the fest's website don't list Humboldt Park as the venue.

No permits have been granted yet for Riot Fest in Humboldt Park, which organizers don't typically get until the week of the fest, Wagner said. There is no multi-year permit agreement for Riot Fest like Lollapalooza has for Grant Park.

Wagner said they intend to hold the festival at the park but don't want to use land east of Humboldt Drive.

"We want to use about half the park. We want to scale it way back. We've agreed to not grow the event any more. We simply don't want to sell any more tickets. We don't want any more people. [We're] fine with capping it where it is," Wagner said.

While park repairs remain an issue, other residents supported the return of Riot Fest.  They credited them with boosting business and helping dispel the perception of the neighborhood as being crime-ridden.

"Riot Fest is the icebreaker. We need people to come to Humboldt Park and see the gangbanging days are long over," Richard Karwowski Sr., who has lived in Humboldt Park for 12 years, told RedEye.

Karwowski doesn't want to see the park destroyed, but he believes Riot Fest is committed to fixing the park. He said he sees the benefit of having Humboldt Park host the event, pointing to a team of volunteers recruited by Riot Fest to help clean the park on Earth Day and the donation of instruments for the park's music program and at least $15,000 to the park advisory council.

"The first two festivals were perfect and nobody complained. The problems Riot Fest is having in Humboldt Park is extremely minor. The grass regrows," he said.

Another criticism was that park activities were relocated to other areas of the park or to other parks altogether following the festival.

"Currently I am in constant communication with the Chicago Park District and the organizers of Riot Fest in a combined effort to get the necessary repairs completed as expeditiously as possible, while resisting interference with the ongoing park activities," Humboldt Park Advisory Council president Amy Vega said in a statement. The council is a group of residents who volunteers to advise the park district on services, programs and issues regarding the operation of the park.

Some residents expressed hesitation about Riot Fest coming back to Humboldt Park, questioning whether the park is the right location for the big fest.

"If the park district is going to commit to having this be an annual thing, then they also have to show the diligence to getting the park back in as good a condition as they can as soon as possible for all the people that use it," resident Brian Hacker told RedEye. "If they can't, then maybe they should consider an alternative [site]."

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