Massive Uptown Summer Fest is Real, Organizers Say, But It's No Done Deal
UPTOWN — An Uptown couple has big plans for the neighborhood this summer — an 18-day lakefront festival that has residents wondering if they're serious or not.
The plan for the endless Uptown bash is real — but actually staging the festival is no sure thing, officials said.
Michael Snell and Derrick Sorles' plan for the Chicago Uptown Lakefront Carnival and Entertainment Festival includes five nights of fireworks, at least two stages for musical acts, 10 beer gardens and 100 food vendors. It would span the lakefront from Lawrence Avenue on the north end to Wilson Avenue south. Admission would be free, and it would run June 20-July 7.
Snell said the couple — a marketing duo who owns and operates websites Inside Your Chicago and the Best Gay Travel Guide, but has no background in festivals — submitted application materials to the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events late in the fall,and to the Chicago Park District this week seeking permits and approval.
The festival earned its first bit of media exposure on Monday after popular neighborhood blog Uptown Update got its hands on a news release touting it.
Ric Addy, owner of bookstore Shake Rattle and Read, who sits on the board of Uptown's chamber of commerce, said that Snell and Howard shared their vision with the chamber "about six months ago."
"We thought it was ambitious," Addy said, with a wink. "And that's the last we heard of it. And then I see it on the website, Uptown Update, that these guys have plans."
But those plans may run into roadblocks in the form of other scheduled events. The Wavefront Music Festival at nearby Montrose Beach runs from June 30 to July 1, the Gay Pride Parade is on June 24 and would take revelers into Uptown, and the Taste of Chicago will run for five days in mid-July.
That's a lot of competition, Addy said.
"I don't think their plan is clear and has been thought out with the community," he said.
A lot of confusion is going around about the festival, with some people — both officials and Uptown residents — unsure if it is a real thing or not.
The festival proposal, at least, is "a real thing," said Tressa Feher, chief of staff for Ald. James Cappleman (46th).
But Feher said "there's no way" the project will survive as proposed.
"It won't look anything like what it looks [like] on their website," she said, citing recent conversations with the city and Park District.
Snell said there's nothing funny or funky about the festival they envision.
“The phone has been ringing off the hook all day since this thing came out,” Snell said.
He said that three restaurants that he declined to name already have bought vendor booths, which range from $3,000 to $10,000 depending on the size and rental duration.
Organizers said they would finance the event primarily through proceeds from selling booths to vendors, and that they would be looking for restaurants from downtown and the South Side — rather than Uptown restaurants.
Event proceeds would go to various police, fire and veteran charities, Snell said, and the festival would offer fundraising opportunities to nonprofit organizations.
People are skeptical about the event, Snell said, because it seems too good to be true given its location. Most people would expect something like this downtown, Snell said. He hopes to surprise them — soon.
“We need to get this thing rolling if we’re going to pull it off in time,” Snell said, adding that he's already met with Cappleman and earned his approval.
Officials with both the Park District and the Cultural Affairs Department said their agencies had received applications for the event, but no decisions had been made and no permits had been issued.
Feher acknowledged that the alderman wrote a letter indicating he approved of Snell and Sorles' proposal moving forward to seek city approval. The letter was not, however, a vote of confidence in Snell and Sorles' vision, according Feher.
Feher refused to cite specific flaws in Snell and Sorles' plan, but she said the event was not very realistic — especially given the amount of time it would take to approve and organize a new event of its scale.
"I think they jumped the gun a little bit by sending out that press release to Uptown Update," she said.
Asked about the mixed response in the neighborhood about the festival, Sorles said: "When it happens it will happen. A lot of people say it's not going to happen. We'll see."