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Emanuel Sticks To His Guns With Higher Taste Of Chicago Fees

By Chuck Sudo in News on Feb 11, 2014 10:30PM

Photo credit: City of Chicago/Brooke Collins

Remember when Rich Daley considered privatizing Taste of Chicago only to face a citywide backlash when the sole bid for the festival involved charging admission? Charging a fee to enter the annual gluttony fest is about the only thing Rahm Emanuel hasn't done since he was elected mayor.

Emanuel, like Daley before him, has shown a knack for obstinacy in the face of criticism. The mayor defended his latest plan to squeeze a little lemonade from a giant lemon—hiking fees and surcharges related to Taste. Emanuel proposed doubling the cost of seats at Petrillo bandshell for Taste 2014 to $50; raising the surcharge on the festival's food tickets and selling what he calls "general admission lawn seats"—about 3,000 lawn spaces—that used to be first come, first serve.

What is Emanuel's defense? "Hey, the city is making money on Taste again!"

“When I ran for mayor, the Taste of Chicago for a number of years was losing money. Everybody was pushing to scrap it. I said, `No, we’re going to reform it and change it.’ Three years later, it made a little money,” Emanuel said.

“There’s now food trucks, which never existed before. There are also celebrity chefs that have seatings and a fixed menu. All of those changes have added to [the experience]... We actually showed that you can not only make the changes, [but] modernize the Taste of Chicago. Chicago is more than what it used to be. It’s the culinary capital of the world.”

I'm not Emanuel's biggest fan and to be frank his bragging about making a little money on last year's Taste still needs to pass an audit from the Inspector General's office before I believe it, but he may be on to something. Look at the gutting and new things his administration brought to Taste since he inherited a bloated mess from Daley. Emanuel cut the length of the festival to one week. He added celebrity chef pop-up dinners. The bandshell seats are no longer free.

Now take a look at the number of lawn seats available around the bandshell. Less than 10 percent of the 34,000 available spaces will go up for sale under the new proposals. The surcharge for a dozen food tickets will only add 50 cents to their cost. And guests still aren't being charged to enter the festival. I can live with that but then I don't go to Taste of Chicago. But there are numbers that show folks still flock downtown every year for it and while Emanuel isn't charging them admission (yet) those seem to at least accept the changes.