City "Still Reconciling" Cost Of Running Taste Of Chicago

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Oct 22, 2012 9:30PM

2012-6-12_TasteofChicago-005.jpeg Taste of Chicago 2012 drew 5,000 more people per day than last year’s festival, vendors saw their highest profit margins in years and the blueprint for the revamped festival worked so well for the Emanuel administration that it’s staying in place for 2013. But what about the most important metric at which the city looks to gauge Taste’s success: profitability?

According to Cultural Affairs and Special Events Commissioner Michelle Boone, Taste of Chicago 2012 didn’t even come close to breaking even. Boone revealed this Monday as she testified during City Council budget hearings. She said Taste cost the city $6 million to produce and, while she and Mayor Rahm Emanuel believe the changes to the fest have ended a period where it lost more money each year, the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events is “still reconciling” how much the city lost with this year’s festival and Boone doesn’t believe the city will ever be able to return taste to profitability. That doesn’t mean the Emanuel administration will suddenly add a cover charge to enter taste.

"The mayor's mandate is to present a family-friendly event that is safe, entertaining, showcases our culinary scene and provides high-quality entertainment for Chicagoans. We don't have a mandate for profitability for programs at-large," Boone said.

"The focus has always been on Taste in the past about the revenue. But, our goal is to present a safe, enjoyable experience for residents and visitors....We would like to minimize the burden and the cost to taxpayers as much as possible. Whether or not you can have a break-even point for Taste, we're still learning."

The subject of charging a fee for Taste of Chicago was broached during the last years of Richard M. Daley’s mayoralty, when the city accepted bids for private contractors to produce the festival. The sole bid received suggested a $20 admission fee and anywhere from $25 to $65 charge for a music stage that will draw headline acts as a way of boosting talent and improving attendance. Daley nixed the bid after public opinion was negative