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North Side Irishfest a No Go in North Center for 2013

 North Side Irishfest is off the table for this year, by mutual agreement of the Northcenter Chamber of Commerce and Ald. Ameya Pawar.
North Side Irishfest is off the table for this year, by mutual agreement of the Northcenter Chamber of Commerce and Ald. Ameya Pawar.
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Flickr/Steven Depolo

NORTH CENTER — The Northcenter Chamber of Commerce's plans to mount an Irish-themed festival in September have been put on hold by mutual agreement with Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th).

The primary issue was the festival's timing, according to Pawar.

The proposed dates, Sept. 13-15, were just a week after Lincoln Square's annual Von Steuben Parade and German-American Festival, and would have closed many of the same streets.

"We had people say, 'We're all for supporting the chamber but two weekends in a row feels like a lot,'" said Pawar. "We have to make sure we're not hitting the same footprints over and over."

In addition to street fests, an increase in the number of block parties being held throughout the ward — as many as 13 to 14 each weekend — has also contributed to a rise in the number of street closures.

"We need to have some streets open," said Pawar, who expressed particular concern about maintaining access for emergency vehicles.

The Northcenter Chamber already operates the highly popular Ribfest Chicago, held in June. Proceeds from that event bankroll the chamber's annual operating costs as well as its philanthropic efforts, including grants to neighborhood organizations totaling more than $185,000 since 2008, according to the chamber's executive director Garrett FitzGerald.

Ribfest's success also leaves the chamber at the mercy of Mother Nature, he said. The potential for inclement weather, which would slash the fest's attendance and profits, is a constant concern.

"One year it's going to happen, we're going to get showered on at Ribfest," said FitzGerald. "Two festivals is insurance for us."

Pawar said he's not opposed to the idea of a second North Center fest, particularly if it's more family friendly.

"Some fests are mainly about people going and getting drunk," he said. "Parents in our neighborhood want to go to festivals and bring their kids along. Obviously, the format is something we'd like to discuss."

FitzGerald's vision for Irishfest was one part traditional street fest, one part celebration of Irish culture, including Irish vendors, Irish dancing and even an Irish Mass to be held outdoors on Lincoln Avenue.

"We want to engage people in a way they're not typically engaged," FitzGerald said.

Pawar left the door open to revisit the concept in 2014 or 2015.

"It's about finding the right date and right footprint. I think we can figure something out," the alderman said. "We just want to make sure we're doing it right."