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Riot Fest Complaints Down Since 2015 Move To Douglas Park

By Ariel Cheung | September 19, 2017 5:12am
 Crews were at Douglas Park Monday cleaning up from the three-day Riot Fest.
Crews were at Douglas Park Monday cleaning up from the three-day Riot Fest.
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DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung

NORTH LAWNDALE — Three years ago, Linda Street was uneasy about the thought of Riot Fest moving to her neighborhood.

Street, 60, lives directly across from the park in the 3000 block of 19th Street and had heard of the punk rock festival's reputation as a noisy event that can "ruin" a Chicago park as its horde of fans descend on the block.

But after the festival's third year in Douglas Park, Street said her concerns have subsided, despite increased traffic and a slight snag with organizers initially banning parking on her permitted street.

"It's OK to deal with for a couple days," Street said outside her Little Village home Monday. "Even the noise you can tolerate, because they're not playing all the time [at all four stages]."

While the festival's move to Douglas Park drew opposition from neighbors in 2015, nearby businesses and neighbors have mostly reacted positively to Riot Fest's impact, officials said.

Some, like 24th Ward Ald. Michael Scott Jr., even see it as a chance at transforming the neighborhood it now calls home.

"I think residents understand my vision of creating a cultural hub in Douglas Park," Scott said. "Riot Fest is just a piece of that."

There were some complaints to the ward office, which largely focused on the restricted parking, traffic and the influx of "outsiders" on their blocks, Scott said. But the number of complaints has declined since the fest's move, he added.

Garbage is rounded up Monday in Douglas Park after the three-day Riot Fest. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]

Few complain about the noise from the festival, and Scott said fest organizers are careful to end shows by 10 p.m.

"I live right across the street, and the noise isn't as bad as you would think," Scott said.

While there aren't many eateries surrounding Douglas Park — most buildings are residential or non-retail businesses like hospitals — the few that do exist noticed some increase in business.

Guerrero's Pizza, in particular, had "maybe double" the usual amount of customers, owner Martin Guerrero said. Guerrero hired extra workers for the weekend, expecting an uptick in business like he saw in 2015.

"For me, it's excellent," Guerrero said of the fest's location. "If they did this two or three times a year, that would be perfect."

But others said there wasn't enough foot traffic along California Avenue to draw many customers south of the California Pink Line station. At Teloloapan Grocery, 2027 S. California Ave., street vendors siphoned off what little business the corner store might have attracted, the owner said.

Crews were dismantling tents and other equipment in Douglas Park on Monday after the three-day Riot Fest. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]

As in previous years, Riot Fest will pay for the cleanup, which was ongoing Monday. Rainy weather in 2015 left damaged, muddy fields at the park and racked up a $180,000 tab for the fest, but the sunny weather this weekend minimized damage.

The fest also hired more than 150 neighbors for the event, hosting a job fair at the park to target residents nearest to the festival. About 2,000 neighbors are also given free tickets to the event.

"Riot Fest has made a commitment to doing a lot to mitigate some of the things that happen in Douglas Park, like flooding," Scott said. "So we haven't seen the landscape issues we've had in the past."

The park straddles North Lawndale and Little Village, with its north half in the city's 24th Ward and the south end in the 12th Ward.

Ald. George Cardenas (12th) was unavailable for comment Monday.

Riot Fest moved abruptly from Humboldt Park in 2015 after 26th Ward Ald. Roberto Maldonado vowed to bar the fest for what was supposed to be its fourth year there.

The plan to relocate to Douglas Park was initially met with neighborhood opposition, with some even booing Scott during a June 2015 meeting. Some feared the move put the festival in a hot spot for gun violence and drug activity, while others said fest organizers and city officials saw the park as a commodity rather than a community asset.

The nearby St. Anthony Hospital went so far as to file a suit against the festival, seeking a temporary restraining order on the grounds that the fest would disrupt flow to and from the hospital's entrance and disturb recovering patients.

Riot Fest began as a multivenue festival, with shows taking place in some of the city's top concert halls and theaters. It moved to Humboldt Park in 2012.