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As Riot Fest begins in Douglass Park, new proposal would make it harder for such events to use public space

Activists, neighbors object to presence of Riot Fest in Douglass Park
Activists, neighbors object to presence of Riot Fest in Douglass Park 02:28

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Riot Fest was officially under way Friday, taking over Douglass Park on the city's West Side for the next three days.

The event comes despite some heavy backlash from the communities around Douglass Park. Neighbors say they want the annual festival moved somewhere else.

And as CBS 2's Sabrina Franza reported, changes are on the horizon.

The entrance to Riot Fest at Douglass Park flooded with people Friday. Alkaline Trio, Portugal. The Man, Bleachers, Taking Back Sunday, and The Descendents were among the headliners Friday. Yellowcard, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Ice Cube, and Jimmy Eat World will play later this weekend.

Riot Fest has been in Douglass Park in the North Lawndale neighborhood for six years. The festival had been held in Humboldt Park before that, but moved in 2015 after a backlash spurred by what was estimated by $182,000 in damage to fields at that park.

When the festival moved, Humboldt Park residents were not hesitant to say they were glad to see it go. One resident, Charlie Billops, said the Riot Fest prevented residents from using buses because they were full – while rideshare services charged premium rates and cellphone service went down.

"I think the lesson is simple," Billops said back in 2015. "We cannot allow big corporations that are making a lot of money to have blanket access to the park."

This year, Riot Fest has moved the entrance around the corner from its previous location to mitigate traffic concerns. Meanwhile, a proposal from the Chicago Park District would make it harder for festivals hosting more than 10,000 people to occupy public spaces at all.

"Offensive that our young Black and brown youth are being told that they're not welcome in this city, and you know, other folks with money are more than welcome to come and trash our public parks," said Elvia Rodriguez Ochoa of Friends of the Parks.

For weeks, people have been complaining about Riot Fest and its use of Douglass Park.

"This is a public park. This is a public asset," Rodriguez Ochoa said, "and the public that lives here doesn't have access to it during this time."

Friends of the Parks would like to see Douglass Park be more public and less festive. And the organization might get its wish.

"There's a possibility for creating a permanent space for these festivals," Rodriguez Ochoa said.

The Park District Board has a new proposal, which would require board approval for events as big as Riot Fest. It would also make hosts like Riot Fest engage with the communities they're hosting in.

"My neighbors over here get the worst of it, because they're right in front of the festival," Rodriguez Ochoa said.

"It" means the sound.

Not all the neighbors object to Riot Fest. Sabrina Pope lives along the park.

"I never had a problem with it," she said. "We just, as a family in this building – this is a family building – and we just get together and enjoy it."

A Riot Fest representative said they consider Douglass Park their home. The spokespersons aid Riot Fest gave hundreds of neighbors complimentary tickets, and launched a festival app with a neighborhood guide to local businesses.

The people jamming out for the festival are happy to be in Douglass Park – or really, anywhere Riot Fest is happening.

"I guess if they've got to move it out, they've got to move it out," said Franco Pettinato, who has been going to Riot Fest for three years. "I think the people are going to go wherever they bring the fest to."

The festival goes until Sunday in Douglass Park, and then the cleanup begins. That is another reason why opponents of having the festival in the park are against it – because it takes away the public space even longer.

There have been previous events to eject Riot Fest from Douglass Park – going back to the year it first moved there. In 2015, St. Anthony Hospital filed a temporary restraining order to stop the festival out of concerns for its patients and staff.

The festival later reached an agreement with the hospital to maintain emergency vehicle access and monitor noise.

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