The price tag for restoring Chicago’s Grant Park after this year’s four-day Lollapalooza festival totaled more than $400,000, a $120,000 hike from the year before.
The $409,695 bill for 2022 includes the cost of new seed, sod and shrubbery; irrigation; and reinstalling mesh fencing, according to documents obtained by the Tribune through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Costs vary from year to year — largely depending on weather — and are paid by the festival’s organizer, C3 Presents. The company has spent roughly $2.3 million for such repairs for the past five festivals (Lollapalooza was not held in person in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic), according to the cost estimates prepared for C3 by the landscaping company Christy Webber & Co. and provided by the Chicago Park District.
The most expensive repair year in recent history was 2019, when the total cost came to $645,000. One of the costliest years for cleanup was 2011, when heavy rain saturated the festival grounds, leading to more than $1 million in restoration costs.
In response to a public records request, the Park District said the two-day Pride in the Park music festival, held in Grant Park in June, caused no damage. Meanwhile, the cost to clean up the inaugural Sueños festival — held in May, also by C3 — was just shy of $45,000. That included $28,577 to repair “badly damaged areas” at the south end of lower Hutchinson Field.
As of Tuesday — about five weeks after Lollapalooza’s run in late July — roughly 90% of the sod and aeration work had been completed, and the rest is due to finish next week, weather permitting, Park District spokesperson Irene Tostado said. The restoration of baseball infields is complete, and “additional seeding of grass areas will be completed in the next few weeks as temperatures begin to cool,” Tostado said.
The largest portion of the cleanup costs over the past five years, records show, went to repair upper and lower Hutchinson Field, where much of the festival’s action takes place.
Sign up for The Spin to get the top stories in politics delivered to your inbox weekday afternoons.
With Lollapalooza and the city announcing a deal in July to keep the festival in town for another 10 years, some park and neighborhood advocates wanted the new contract to include a provision for C3 to pay for longer-term infrastructure work to Grant Park, including water management.
“I think Lollapalooza could solve the perennial problems related to destroyed fields and banged-up infrastructure by having Lolla assist with the cost of putting in a permanent wastewater and flood management system,” Ald. Brendan Reilly, 42nd, told the Tribune in July.
“What happens is it rains, the fields are used, they turn to mud, and the general public can’t use it for two to three months while the sod is taking hold. You can make a permanent investment in that area of Grant Park, and you’d be able to eliminate hundreds of thousands of dollars of remedial repair,” Reilly said.
But the new agreement does not include any long-term infrastructure improvements, aside from C3 paying $100,000 to resurface Grant Park’s tennis courts, where organizers park vehicles during the festival. It’s unclear if that matter is still under negotiation. When Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced the deal on the festival’s final night, July 31, the contract was in “draft form,” and all that had been signed was a three-page “agreement term summary.”
C3 released a statement Tuesday saying it annually has paid “the full cost of the restoration of Grant Park in mutual consultation with the Chicago Park District.”
“In addition, we have listened to community feedback and have extended an offer to fund the resurfacing of the tennis courts, a cost that is above and beyond our rent fees and contributions to the Park District,” C3 said. “We are excited to continue our long-term partnership with the City of Chicago and the Chicago Park District.”
That partnership could lead to worse field damage over the next 10 years, as the daily attendance cap in the new agreement is being bumped up to 115,000 festgoers from 100,000. Reilly called the deal a “missed opportunity” to protect the taxpayer-funded park assets.
Juanita Irizarry, the head of the parks advocacy group Friends of the Parks, said her group would press for the city to set up permanent festival grounds, built to withstand heavy traffic, the weight of stages and the electricity load to handle the power demands of festivals. Having a dedicated festival ground, Irizarry told the Tribune, would ensure downtown residents have access to much-needed green space.
The new Lollapalooza agreement also changes the formula for how much the Park District receives from C3 to host the festival, with C3 paying a cut of overall revenue rather than specific percentages for admissions and sales of sponsorships, food and beverages. Under that formula, C3 paid the Park District $7.8 million for last year’s festival.
The Park District “plans to provide a public presentation” on both Lollapalooza and the planned NASCAR street race “during an upcoming board meeting,” board spokeswoman Katie Ellis told the Tribune last month.
Next year’s Lollapalooza is slated to take place Aug. 3 to 6.