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Revamped and shrunken Taste of Chicago didn't come close to breaking even

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A shortened Taste of Chicago had it's final day on July 15, 2012. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

The shrunken and revamped Taste of Chicago still didn't come close to breaking even and may never return to profitability, a top mayoral aide said Monday.

Cultural Affairs and Special Events Commissioner Michelle Boone said the she's "still reconciling" the cost of city services before releasing a final financial report on the revamped 2012 Taste.

But, she disclosed that Chicago's premier lakefront festival costs $6 million to stage and isn't "close to breaking even." That's despite the fact that individual restaurants saw their highest profit margins in five years.

Taste of Chicago was once a cash cow that bankrolled the city's other music festivals. But, Boone said it may never return to profitability.


"It's very difficult to find a financial model that creates profitability for a free festival," the commissioner said after testifying at City Council budget hearings.

"We certainly have reversed the downward trend. Whether or not we're able to totally close the gap or if we did that this year is still to be determined. The cost of city services has increased, so that'll impact that number."

But, what about Mayor Rahm Emanuel's mandate to stop the bleeding?

"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."

To reverse $1 million in losses in 2011 alone, Emanuel cut the Taste--from ten days to five--and bumped it to mid-July from its prime position around July 4th.

The number of restaurants was reduced. A handful of "pop-up" restaurants that had never before participated were allowed to get in on the Taste for just one day. Celebrity chefs--including Graham Elliot and Girl & the Goat's Stephanie Izard--prepared three-course, sit-down meals for $40-a-person.

For the first time, Taste patrons were asked to pay $25 each for 3,000 reserved concert seats at the Petrillo Music Shell that had long been free.

The concert tickets and Chef du Jour brought in $280,650 in additional revenue. The city plans to duplicate that foremat in 2013.

Boone said there are no plans to raise the price of concert tickets or the surcharge on food tickets. Nor is there any plan to charge an admission fee.

Two years ago, then-Mayor Richard M. Daley's plan to privatize the Taste fell flat on its face. At Daley's insistence, City Hall rejected a lone bidder's proposal to charge a $10 admission fee to the Taste and kept the admission free.


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5 Comments

It also has lost relevance. At a certain point, people don't need to come downtown to get cheesecake on a stick, nor goat on a stick.

the stupid management like ms boone agrees to privatize every resource the city already has.........

garbage at the taste is done by waste management :) thats a funny name, it reflects on all upper management in the city. where is streets & san?

the stages are all privatized by kobotech productions. 98% of all his workers come from indiana. carpenters, electricians, plumbers,sound engineers.

smg security? why cant chicago police handle security? they already work for the city, the OT would be cheaper to pay than hiring a hack mayor daley security shop.

WASTE MANAGEMENT!! PUN INTENDED :)

Let us all praise Rahm Emanuel like Fran and the Sun-Times. All great and glorious Rahm!!! All praise to Rahm.

Cost of driving plus $40 to park plus $25 to listen to some music and you haven't even had your first bite of overpriced food. I'm only shocked anyone bothered to show up.

But, hey, that Tiny Dancer is such an expert at business, putting his ballet school to good use. Next up, government mandated attendance that all taxpayers show up, lest our real estate taxes be raised again.

The events downtown have become to dangerous to attend. Numerous shooting every day and gang members harassing patrons of this event and "testing" police response while video recording themselves to claim" brutality". Etc. who wants to be around that?! Might as well have the event in Baghdad!

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