City plans to combine festival-oversight departments

Dalia Naamani-Goldman

Festival planning in Evanston could get easier if officials decide to consolidate the city’s current oversight forces into one centralized committee.

Instead of independent departments reviewing the various details of event planning, the city would grant a special events committee the ability to investigate all of the specifics.

“The process has been different over the past few years,” said Robert Dorneker, recreation superintendent for the city. He said Evanston is considering centralizing the process of approving events to make it more efficient.

Under the old system, events were reviewed by city staff in the individual departments that would be affected, like police, fire, health, and parks and forestry.

“It has become obvious with the large number of festivals that sometimes the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing,” said Ald. Stephen Engelman (7th). City officials said they were not sure what the timetable for the consolidation will be.

But some Evanston residents are less concerned about the administrative process and then the perceived increase in lakefront events and festivals. Noise, traffic congestion and overscheduled parks are among some of the most frequently named problems, according to Dorneker.

“On top of real use, there is an increasing number of events,” said Kathryn Stallcup who lives on Greenwood Street facing Dawes Park along Lake Michigan. “There has been a real decline in the availability of lakefront to use it as a natural area.”

She and a number of other residents in the area have asked Douglas Gaynor, Evanston’s director of the parks, forestry and recreation department, and other city officials to limit the number of festivals held along the lakefront. She said Evanston should follow the example of other North Shore communities like Wilmette and Winnetka, which have limited access to the lakefront in their villages.

“It’s not like these are bad causes, but there’s a lot of (other) places on God’s green earth,” she said. “There’s a tendency to overuse free resources and almost destroy free things.”

During some of the busiest festivals, people have tried to use her lawn as a picnic area because there is no place else, Stallcup said.

“Since we live here, we have a front row seat on what happens here,” she said. “(Others) don’t see the big picture.”

Dorneker said the city tries not to impede on residential areas.

“We try to be very sensitive to the needs of residents and minimize the impact of any activity permeating into the park systems,” he said.

Patricia Battaglia, a recreation program manager for the city, directs lakefront events such as the Lakeshore Arts Festival at Dawes Park and the Starlight Concert Series, held at both Dawes and the Robert E. James Park, near Oakton Street and Dodge Avenue. She said many artists and patrons come to the festivals specifically because they are along the lake.

“A lot of people come because of the atmosphere,” she said. “People (enjoy) beautiful programs in a beautiful setting.”

Festival planners are careful to address residents’ concerns about noise and traffic, which Battaglia said are all valid concerns. But she said the lakefront is still public property and it can be used by all residents.