CITY HALL — Taste of Chicago lost $169,000 after rain wiped out what's usually its busiest day, but nonetheless produced widespread satisfaction, according to the city commissioner who oversees the annual food fest.
Michelle T. Boone, head of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, testified before City Council budget hearings Wednesday and said rain spoiled Saturday of the Taste — as well as the Air and Water Show and the first Great Chicago Fire Festival — but she put a sunny spin on all three.
According to Boone, the rainout robbed the Taste of what is usually its busiest day, yet overall the fest "saw only a slight shortfall of $169,000."
She added that surveys of visitors showed that "overall event satisfaction ... increased significantly," with 61 percent rating their experience "excellent," up 23 percent from last year. Almost two-thirds said they "definitely will" return next year, an 11 percent increase.
Boone testified that she knows people like to focus on the "bottom line," but she emphasized the Taste is "the premier showcase we have for promoting Chicago's culinary scene."
She added that 59 percent of Taste attendees are out-of-towners, and that each Taste visitor spends an average of $46 a day in the city.
Yet Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) said, "I think it's time we all sit down and figure out where Taste of Chicago goes."
Hairston also called for more arts spending south of 57th Street, calling it "a tale of two cities."
Boone cheered the return of military jets to the Air and Water Show and the 1.5 million who came to the lakefront to see it, even though planes were grounded by fog the second day.
Rain and chill also dampened the first Great Chicago Fire Festival, but Boone pointed to the 30,000 who lined the Chicago River for it, saying it "did ignite the imaginations" of spectators.
Ald. Ray Suarez (31st) asked if Boone would say she was sometimes embarrassed by events that don't come off as planned.
"I would never say that," Boone replied. "There's no embarrassment in delivering arts and cultural experiences for free to our residents."
Ald. John Arena (45th) applauded the fire festival and said he hoped it would continue.
"We know in the arts, it's about experimentation," Arena said. "Thank you for taking risks."
Ald. Deb Mell (33rd) echoed that, and Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said the festival helped teach many neighborhood kids about the artistic process, adding, "This was much more than barges on the river."
Ald. Edward Burke (14th) had labeled the fire fest a "fiasco" and called for hearings on it, but did not sit in on the budget hearing with Boone.
Boone said 1.1 million turned out for the Taste, but emphasized how 135,000 attended the Jazz Festival, up 35,000 from last year.
Boone touted a 20 percent jump in movie and television production in the city, including six TV series, three feature films and 137 commercials.
She looked ahead to next year's 35th annual Taste and 30th annual Gospel Music Festival as causes for celebration.
But Boone did not endorse a return of the city's Fourth of July fireworks Downtown, pointing to the regular fireworks at Navy Pier and adding, "It's quite expensive, as you know."
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