Too late to hit brakes on NASCAR race in Grant Park, Ald. Reilly moves to curb future special events

It’s too late to stop Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan to turn Chicago’s most famous streets into a 12-turn, 2.2-mile showcase next July for the first street race in NASCAR’s 75-year history — an event that part will tie up Grant Park for two weeks.

But in downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) wants to make sure this never happens again – at least not without local councilors being notified and council approval.

At Wednesday’s city council meeting, Reilly made good on his promise to curb the mayor’s virtually unbridled power, which must now approve major special events that take up parks for days or weeks, block Chicago’s streets and generally nuisance residents.

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The ordinance would require an order from City Council for any sporting event or special event that:

• Permits the closure of a state highway, arterial road, or more than four blocks of any other public street.

• Requires a portion of the public path to be closed for more than 24 consecutive hours.

• Or more than 10,000 participants are reasonably expected.

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Events with more than 10,000 spectators would also need to have a council-approved permit agreement that sets out the permit holder’s or sponsor’s obligations to restore public property, reimburse city costs, and compensate the city.

The regulation would “strengthen and standardize” Aldermanian verification for all types of sporting and special events, including those that would not trigger a council order.

In an email to the Sun-Times, Reilly said the regulation would “restore the balance of power” between the executive and legislature branches and ensure that “special high-attendance events such as NASCAR, the NFL Draft, Lollapalooza and others are reviewed by City.” and be approved Council.”

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Recently, “we have seen the executive branch decide to unilaterally authorize large special events affecting hundreds of thousands of city dwellers — without feedback or approval from local councillors,” Reilly wrote.

“This ordinance will end unilateral executive branch scrutiny over these events and bring far more transparency and debate about these major events that impact our neighborhoods, our public safety and our city budget.”

The announcement of a NASCAR race in Chicago drew crowds to a panel discussion about the sport's popularity.

The July announcement of a NASCAR race in Chicago drew crowds to a panel discussion about the sport’s popularity.

Reilly and at least three colleagues – Brian Hopkins (2nd), Pat Dowell (3rd) and Sophia King (4th) – have complained that they were kept in the dark before the mayor announced the NASCAR race – something that Lightfoot denied.

They increased their opposition after the Chicago Park District recognized the NASCAR Cup Series-related “non-race event activity” permitting agreement, which allows the organizer to use part of Grant Park for 14 days – from June 22 to June 5. July 2023 – to be filled.

The Chicago Park District defined the “event footprint” as Roosevelt Road north to Randolph Street and Michigan Avenue east to DuSable Lake Shore Drive. Park District officials vowed to work with organizers to ensure there was “minimal disruption” to public access during the event.

The mayor has insisted there will be no full closure.

“Obviously there’s a build-up or down-phase for things like Lolla, for things like what’s going to happen with NASCAR,” the mayor said, referring to the annual Lollapalooza music festival.

But it’s not accurate, she added, to claim “Grant Park will be completely closed.”

She noted that “in the days before and in the days immediately after” the race, “there will be a period where build-up happens, and then de-build.” But…we will work with NASCAR to ensure we minimize the inconvenience to all residents and maximize their ability to continue enjoying Grant Park.”

Lightfoot acknowledged the “inconveniences” associated with both Lollapalooza and NASCAR, but argued that it pays to “present Chicago on a global stage during a nationally televised, first-of-its-kind race.”

In July, just days after Lolla’s Grant Park run was unilaterally extended for at least 10 more years, the mayor said: “I can’t tell you how many complete strangers have approached me over the course of this weekend and the day since [who] said, ‘Gosh, your city is phenomenal.’ I said thank you I agree. And spend a lot of money.’”

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