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Little Italy's Festa Italiana Overhauled, Organizers Seek Bigger Crowds

By Chloe Riley | February 6, 2014 6:45am
 Corn husking at Suzie's Sweet Corn at Festa Italiana 2013.
Corn husking at Suzie's Sweet Corn at Festa Italiana 2013.
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DNAinfo/Chloe Riley

LITTLE ITALY — Taylor Street’s Festa Italiana is back for its eighth year, and organizers hope more people than ever will attend the Italian food-focused fest.

This year’s fest runs Aug. 14-17 on Taylor east of Ashland. The fest won't raise its suggested donation from $5 to enter. The meatball-eating and grape-stomping contests are back, along with more carnival rides for kids, which were added last year. Plans for a large Sunday Taylor Street mass are also in the works. 

Star Events — which runs the Taste of Randolph in the West Loop and Andersonville’s Midsommarfest, among others — will take over management for the fest, previously run by Vasta & Associates Inc.

According to the University Village Association — which organizes Festa Italiana — the shift in management came about in part due to seating and traffic issues.

But Lou Vasta, who ran Festa Italiana the past two years, said the increased cost of running the fest was too much for his company since the suggested entrance fee would not be increasing. The contract calls for a $50,000 donation to the University Village Association, which is $20,000 more than last year. 

“There were no issues, there were no problems. We were told the fest was bigger and better than it’s ever been,” Vasta said. “We couldn’t afford the donation we’ve given [University Village Association] in the past.”

With Star Events expecting more than 50,000 Festa Italiana attendees this summer, owner John Barry said additional seating and traffic control, which could include shutting down traffic a day earlier and using parking lots at nearby St. Ignatius College Prep, would be a priority for his company.

“We’ll do our best, but in the end there’s only so much we can do,” Barry told members of the association board at a meeting earlier this week. “When you close eight blocks of the street, you’re gonna have traffic.”

Cost for an artist booth will be $295 and restaurants looking to buy a booth for the weekend will pay almost $2,000, up about $500 from last year. That cost includes the booth’s canopy, electricity, a shared sink, and poles and banners, Barry said.

University Village Association members receive 25 percent off both of those costs.

For more information, or to request a booth, go to Star Events website here.