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Irish Fest Proposal Met With Mixed Reaction From North Center Residents

By Patty Wetli | June 25, 2013 11:24am
 North Center residents debated whether the benefits of a proposed Irish Fest outweighed the inconveniences to neighbors.
North Center residents debated whether the benefits of a proposed Irish Fest outweighed the inconveniences to neighbors.
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Flickr/Steven Depolo

NORTH CENTER — Does Chicago, and specifically North Center, need another summer festival?

That was the question posed at a community meeting Monday night, hosted by the Northcenter Chamber of Commerce, with residents split on their reactions.

North Side Irish Fest, as proposed by the chamber and organized by Star Events, would run Sept. 13-15, replacing the less-than-successful North Side Summerfest, which netted a paltry $3,000 in 2012.

The fest would remain on Lincoln Avenue, but the location would shift from just south of the intersection with Irving Park Road to just north of it, and extend to Warner Avenue.

"We've tried it and tried it and tried it again" south of Irving Park Road, said Garrett FitzGerald. "It's a dog."

In moving the event from Summerfest's August scheduling to mid-September, the chamber aims to put a little distance between Irish Fest and a crowded slate of summer gatherings, while also billing the timing as "halfway to St. Patrick's Day."

In addition, the Irish theme would give the fest a stronger identity and tie into the neighborhood's Celtic heritage.

"Historically, people who settled in this area were Irish just as well as German," said FitzGerald, of Irish ancestry himself.

He painted a picture of traditional Irish entertainment during the day — with the Irish American Heritage Center playing a role in the programming — that would transition into Pogues-type music for the evening. The fest would differ from the Heritage Center's own Irish Fest, set for July 12-14, by drawing fewer suburbanites and being more accessible to public transportation.

While still awaiting approval from Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), the chamber has made "soft plans" regarding vendors, which FitzGerald hopes will skew toward the authentically Irish.

"I want to be proud of this," he said. "I want people selling Irish sweaters."

Not everyone bought into the chamber's vision.

"If it's just a bunch of guys and sorority girls drinking Irish beer, I'm not in favor of that," said Kathleen Abbott.

She also questioned why the chamber would continue pressing for a festival considering the lackluster performance of Summerfest.

The chamber already operates the wildly popular Ribfest Chicago, which attracted 56,000 attendees in June. Money raised from festivals is pumped back into the community in the form of programming such as summer concerts, beautification and branding efforts, and philanthropy grants totaling more than $185,000 since 2008, according to FitzGerald.

A second successful festival would extend the chamber's capabilities.

"People now proudly identify themselves as North Center," said FitzGerald, which wasn't the case when he joined the chamber in 2006. "We didn't know we lived in North Center."

Still others debated whether the community benefits outweighed the disruption to residents.

"It's such an inconvenience," said Lawrence LeVine, who lives on the stretch of Lincoln Avenue affected by Ribfest and now Irish Fest.

"It's good for the community at the expense of residents. It's loud early, it's loud late. I have to leave my home" during Ribfest, he said. "I can't even come home on Sunday night because the streets are blocked. I'm inconvenienced Friday morning to Monday night."

That's just city living, countered Jason Ramirez.

"That's why people move here. It's fun to be here," said Ramirez.

Two bothersome weekends were worth the boost to the neighborhood, he said.

"You say North Center, people know it," said Ramirez. "It's not like it's Wrigley Field outside."

Ernie Constantino was on hand from Ald. Pawar's office to absorb the comments made at the community forum.

The alderman, he said, was interested in creating more cultural opportunities in the ward, but was also mindful of the community's interest in a festival that would be more family-oriented and feature local musicians and vendors.

"We're in the listening phase now," said Constantino, who projected a decision from Pawar by mid-July.

"If you have any kind of feedback, now's the time to give it."

The 47th Ward Office can be reached at 773-868-4747 or via email at info@chicago47.org.