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Uptown Summer Festival Still Not Approved, But Organizers Are Optimistic

 Festival organizers and Uptown couple Michael Snell and Derrick Sorles in Disneyland in 2011.
Festival organizers and Uptown couple Michael Snell and Derrick Sorles in Disneyland in 2011.
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Courtesy of Michael Snell and Derrick Sorles

UPTOWN — An Uptown couple's dream for a summer festival along the lakefront is closer to becoming a reality — but red tape remains and their original plan has been significantly scaled back, officials said.

The original proposal for the Chicago Uptown Lakefront Carnival and Entertainment Festival included five nights of fireworks, 100 food vendors, 10 beer gardens and two stages for music acts from June 20 - July 7. It was planned for lakefront park space from West Lawrence to West Wilson avenues.

In its truncated form, the festival would run Aug. 1-4 and ditch the fireworks, according to the event website. The website describes a revised four-day festival with two beer gardens, a "dance area," and one stage. It would have a dozen carnival rides and 20 or more food vendors, organizers said.

The fest remains only a plan for now — and is not a done deal, according to officials with the city and Chicago Park District.

Uptowners Michael Snell and Derrick Sorles expressed frustration with bureaucratic red tape in a statement sent to DNAinfo.com Chicago Wednesday about the status of the festival. Yet, the couple remained optimistic their vision will become a reality.

"It was very frustrating at times — but we're excited it is going to happen, even if it's on a smaller scale than our original vision, at least it's going to happen," the statement said.

“It’s basically a done deal,” Snell said in a phone interview.

The organizers said they were promised a "10-year commitment" to the event by park district officials. A spokeswoman with the park district, however, said Sorles and Snell "do not have a permit and there is no contract."

The park district said the organizers "need to get other approvals from the city" before a permit would be considered.

Tressa Feher, chief of staff to Ald. James Cappleman (46th), said the alderman's office has "not seen a revised application yet," adding that the police haven't completed a review of the festival plan to make sure it fits their guidelines.

The bold initial plan sparked excitement in some but skepticism in others after Uptown Update reported on the festival in January.

A winking Ric Addy, owner of the venerable bookstore Shake Rattle & Read, described Snell and Sorles' plan as "ambitious."

Feher said in January that "there's no way" the plan would survive at the scale organizers were pushing.

The marketing duo of Sorles and Snell operate and own two websites: Inside Your Chicago and the Best Gay Travel Guide. The organizers, both in their mid-40s, said they didn't have a background in festivals but had organized private events.

One of the things the city wants to see before approving the festival is a list of food vendors, which won’t be finalized for a few weeks, Snell said.

Organizers said the festival would be financed primarily through vendor booth sales, but the total cost of the event was unknown. Those who want to sell food or merchandise at the festival can buy a booth for $1,800, according to a recent vendor application.

Snell said a portion of event proceeds would go to various police, fire and veteran charities, and the festival would offer fundraising opportunities to nonprofit organizations.

Wally Rozak, assistant director at economic development organization Uptown United, said the festival "could be a good thing" for the neighborhood, if approved.

Douglas Brandt, the owner of Pie Hole Pizza Joint in Lakeview who is working to open a second pizza joint in Uptown, thinks it sounds like "a great idea," if it's "organized and managed properly."

"A carnival would attract visitors from all over and introduce them to the area and everything we have to offer," Brandt said.