Des Plaines will have a Summer Fling after all.
City aldermen flirted with the idea of axing the festival this year because they are unhappy with the way it has been managed for the past two years by Chicago-based Special Events Management, the largest producer of street fests and festivals in Chicago and the suburbs.
David Cassidy headlined last year's four-day festival in downtown Des Plaines, and 10,000 Maniacs kicked off its debut year. The event typically includes a musical lineup, arts and craft vendors, children's activities, food vendors and carnival rides.
It replaced the city-funded Taste of Des Plaines, which was nixed after a 10-year run due to budget constraints. The city council Monday night voted 5-3 to pay Special Events Management $9,000 to run the festival again this year, with the condition that there will be no cover charge. The city will incur no other charges, officials said.
City Manager Mike Bartholomew said his office has received several complaints from residents about the entrance fee for a formerly free festival. That admission charge is supposed to be voluntary since the primary moneymakers are corporate sponsorships and beer sales.
"Residents felt uncomfortable having to pay $2 to get into their own event," Bartholomew said.
Bartholomew said the entrance fee generated almost $12,000 in revenue for the organizer. "That's why we arrived on a $9,000 administrative fee for them (to) not charge an entrance fee," he said.
The city hasn't paid a penny toward Summer Fling since all costs were borne by the organizer. Special Events Management also takes all the profits from the festival after covering its own costs for advertising, entertainment, equipment, garbage containers, liquor license fees, security, and insurance.
Some aldermen suggested doing away with the festival for a year until city staff could figure out a better plan.
"For the past two years I have been very, very disappointed in what we have given our Des Plaines residents," 8th Ward Alderman Mike Charewicz said.
Charewicz said he participated in the Taste of Des Plaines for many years and thought the city's Special Events Commission did a good job building it into a community festival.
"The show is not anything like it was in previous years," Charewicz said, adding that the Summer Fling didn't have enough Des Plaines restaurants among its food vendors. "I don't believe the food was very good."
Though volunteers with Special Events Commission organized and ran the Taste of Des Plaines, preparation for the festival tied up several city departments. The city also had to pay overtime costs for public works and public safety employees working the festival. Special Events Management, by contrast, hired private workers for security, set up and clean up.
Charewicz said with only three months to go there's not enough time to pull together a quality community event since many entertainers and vendors are booked a year in advance. He suggested the city give the $9,000 to the Des Plaines Park District for its Fall Fest instead.
"I would rather have no event for one year than a crummy one again," he said.
Ward 6 Alderman Mark Walsten said residents enjoy the festival and it would be a disappointment to cancel it.
"I'd like to explore different options and see if we can get a better plan for the future," Walsten said. "Our backs are kind of against the wall here, and I don't want to miss this year's festival. It's my opinion that it was not a crummy event."
Ward 1 Alderwoman Patti Haugeberg said the agreement with Special Events Management doesn't specify that the company would actively seek out Des Plaines restaurants and she fears the company will charge vendors a lot more to make up for the city subsidy being $3,000 less than what was collected last year in admission charges.
Acting Mayor Dick Sayad said the organizer has agreed to get more participation from city restaurants. "We tried to put everything we could in this agreement to try to cover ourselves," Sayad said. "We got a whole year to go and see what we want to do with it then."