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Is Tour de Fat Outgrowing its Humble Palmer Square Beginnings?

By Darryl Holliday | April 14, 2015 8:40am | Updated on April 14, 2015 3:11pm
 Summer festivals like Tour de Fat and Taste Talks could be due for regulation at the seven-acre park.
Summer festivals like Tour de Fat and Taste Talks could be due for regulation at the seven-acre park.
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Flickr/Matt North

PALMER SQUARE — A new council formed by Logan Square residents surrounding Palmer Square is examining warm weather event permits at the park ahead of festival season in Chicago.

The second meeting of the Palmer Square Park Advisory Council opened Monday at St. Sylvester School, 3027 W. Palmer Square Blvd., focusing on one of the larger issues facing the park in recent years: the growing popularity of summer events hosted within the seven-acre green space.

Two annual festivals, Tour de Fat and Taste Talks, are set to return this year, happening July 11 and Oct. 3-4, respectively. But while the new Park Advisory Council is largely in support of both events, regulation of festivals and large-scale events at the park was identified as a priority moving forward.

That's largely because a deluge during last year's Tour de Fat left a portion of the grass at Palmer Square Park "ruined" for two months, according to Palmer Square Park Advisory Council president Michael Warner. Though New Belgium quickly offered to contribute $73,000 to resod the park.

Tour de Fat fit the park space in its early years as a small, boutique festival and bike ride, but the fest has since grown, according to board member Steve Hier.

According to Tour de Fat operations manager Paul Gruber, the maximum number of attendees at each Tour de Fat has never exceeded around 8,000 people and has never had more than 5,000 on the park ground at any one time. Gruber said fest organizers planned to cap attendance if or when demand was expected to outpace capacity.

"[New Belgium's] goal has been to grow this thing every year and it has grown every year," said Carrie Cochran, a 30-year resident of the neighborhood and one of the park's early founders. "They do a lot of things right, it's just that there's only so much capacity."

"People have worked really hard to make this the attractive place so many people want to use. It's our little bit of heaven," she continued, noting that the park, part of the city's historic boulevard system, was once a "mudhole" that is now in need of neighborhood protection as its popularity grows.

In addition to forming relationships with members of the Palmer Square community, Tour de Fat has also helped raise at least $250,000 for youth programs at local bike shop West Town Bikes Gruber said. Tour de Fat festivals in Denver have grown to exceed 12,000 attendees, and while New Belgium hopes to grow its festivals, Gruber said the company also takes consideration from groups like the new PAC to heart and has tentative plans to cap its Palmer Square Park festival at 12,000.

A majority of members support having both Tour de Fat and Taste Talks back in 2015, but the same majority also supported imposing restrictions on future festivals such as the implementation of a rain plan requirement and noise reductions.

While Park Advisory Councils don't have binding control over the parks they cover, the groups do have the ability to influence decisions within those parks through community organization, political influence and fundraising.

New Belgium has already begun advertising for Tour de Fat 2015 in Palmer Square Park and a conditional permit has been issued for the event but the festival "isn't a done deal," according to Chicago Park District area manager Derrick Martin.

Palmer Square Park renovations such as drainage improvement, a running track upgrade and the possibility of future fundraising efforts were also discussed at the meeting.

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