Naperville shuts out Italian fest from city's history museum

Organizers didn't meet deadlines, city says

Updated 2/14/2018 1:46 PM
  • Naper Settlement will play host to numerous events this summer, but they won't include Festa Italiana because Naperville officials say organizers didn't get on the city's special events calendar in time.

      Naper Settlement will play host to numerous events this summer, but they won't include Festa Italiana because Naperville officials say organizers didn't get on the city's special events calendar in time. Daniel White | Staff Photographer August 2013

Editor's note: This article has been updated to clarify Star Events' role in Riot Fest.

The Naperville City Council rejected an event company's request to host a three-day Italian festival at Naper Settlement this summer, saying the firm failed to meet deadlines to get on the city's 2018 special events calendar.

Star Events, which organizes the food vendors at the Riot Fest punk rock shows in Chicago and plans about 15 other festivals each year, wanted to hold Festa Italiana Aug. 3 through 5 at the living- history museum near downtown, CEO John Barry said.

The fest was designed to be an upscale, "niche event" with Italian food, entertainment and cooking demonstrations by top-tier chefs.

Barry said he had been planning it with staff members of Naper Settlement, a city-owned museum, for 14 months. He signed a contract with the museum last June and began preparations.

"We thought we had done the right thing knowing that Naper Settlement is a city entity, to a certain degree," Barry said.

But Pam Gallahue, Naperville city clerk, said Barry never completed the city's special event permit application, which went live May 5 of last year and was due June 5. She said she first heard of the event in late October, when Naper Settlement presented its 2018 spending plan during a series of budget hearings.

The city council reviewed the 2018 special events calendar and voted to close it to all new events in December. Mayor Steve Chirico said that happened before anyone told the council there was one more event they might like to get on the list.

"In fairness, I wouldn't have voted to close the calendar if they said, 'We do have one (event) we haven't been able to get together with,'" Chirico said.

It wasn't until January that leaders of the Settlement and the city's special events team were able to meet, Gallahue said. That prompted Tuesday's city council discussion on whether to allow Festa Italiana to take place despite the missed deadline.

The council denied the request by a 7-2 vote, with Chirico and council member Patty Gustin the only ones favoring an exception.

Gustin said she thought the council was "overscrutinizing" Festa Italiana, which could help build the profile of one of the city's own facilities.

"We say to the museum, 'Keep yourself relevant. Make sure you have things going on where people want to come,'" Gustin said. "For me, this type of event for the museum to some degree takes precedence over other events because the museum is a city asset."

Rena Tamayo-Calabrese, Naper Settlement president and CEO, said hosting events such as Festa Italiana is part of the museum's mission and follows the desire of Caroline Martin-Mitchell, who donated the property to the city, for it to be used as a gathering place.

But several council members said special event rules exist for a reason. They said the procedures must be followed to ensure fairness among all of the walks, races, wine events, beer festivals and cultural activities that want to call Naperville home.

"Italian food -- I'm all in," council member John Krummen said after Barry made his pitch for festival approval. "But we have processes, and we have to draw the line somewhere so we can plan the next year ahead. You came in after the close of the process. I encourage you for next year, but this year the process is closed."

Some encouraged Barry to apply again, but at a different location.

Council member Becky Anderson, who owns Anderson's Bookshop, said large events at the Naper Settlement have noticeably bad effects on downtown parking. Council member Rebecca Boyd-Obarski said she wouldn't want to allow the event because the Downtown Naperville Alliance said it could cause a "disruption."

Council member Paul Hinterlong said the confusion over procedures shows the need to re-evaluate event planning, which the city will begin during a workshop Feb. 26 about its Special Events and Cultural Amenities fund.

"We are just overwhelmed by events, and I think we really need to take a look at our events -- our processes, what we like, what won't need as much public safety personnel," Hinterlong said. "I think we are evented-out."

Barry did not return a call seeking comment about the next steps for Festa Italiana.

This is not the first time in recent history Naperville has turned down an event for failing to meet deadlines. In 2014, the city denied two 5K races -- to be hosted by Rotary Club of Naperville and Scullen Middle School -- because they failed to get on that year's calendar.

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