Thursday Night Out, What's Blooming on Harrison and the Microbrew Review are just a few of the street festivals that call Oak Parkers, along with those outside of the village, to gather for a little fun in the sun before the temperature starts to drop.
But organizers are feeling a lot less festive this year after being hit with thousands of dollars in new fees by the village of Oak Park.
The Oak Park Board of Trustees directed village staff last year to look into recouping some of the costs associated with the festivals, particular those resulting from lost parking revenue from metered spots and village-owned parking lots in the business districts that are shut down due to festivals.
Downtown Oak Park, a special service area in downtown Oak Park, was sent an invoice for $6,300 for the reported loss of parking revenue resulting from its closure of Marion Street every Thursday from late May to the end of August. What's Blooming on Harrison, which is held for a full weekend in May, was sent and invoice for $1,200 for the street closure.
The list of invoices goes on, and organizers are pushing back.
Shanon Williams, executive director of Downtown Oak Park, said she still has no idea where the fee came from. She said it is not properly authorized anywhere in the village code.
She says she and others were blindsided by the big bills.
"We got hit and others got hit harder than us," she said, noting that festivals like What's Blooming have very tight budgets to hold their events.
"We've never been charged with any kind of parking [fees] at all," she said, noting that previous boards encouraged the events to attract people to the shops in the downtown area. "Everything was made so that the street could be closed down for events. The direction [from previous boards] was to close it down for events and have as many as you can."
Williams said her group attracts thousands of people to the downtown area "and now we're getting penalized for it."
It's been explained that the fees are to offset the cost of the lost parking revenue, but Williams said each Thursday Night Out brings in 500 to 800 people.
"They are parking somewhere," she said in an email.
Kim Humphrey, owner of Bead in Hand, 145 Harrison St., and an organizer for the What's Blooming festival, said they've been holding the event since 1999 and have never been sent a bill.
She said the fee especially makes no sense for the festival on Harrison because there is no metered parking in the area.
Humphrey said that she was told that it was in the village ordinance and cannot be waived, but added in an email: "It's not in the special events ordinance."
"There is not one single statement in any of the special events documents – ordinance, application, fee schedule – that remotely suggests that these fees apply to them. But now that we've been billed for it, it's official and can't be removed.
"This is ridiculous," she wrote.
Village trustees Bob Tucker and Jim Taglia have requested that the issue be reviewed at the village board's next Finance Committee meeting, but Tucker said in a telephone interview that he was not aware the festivals would be charged such high fees when trustees approved recouping some of the lost revenue last year.
He said the fees were implemented by village staff and festival organizers believe they are too high and that they were not given advance notice that the increased fees were coming.
"We fully appreciate they are operating on tight budgets," Tucker said. "We thought those were legitimate concerns, and we want to be sympathetic to the people who attract people to downtown."
He said that the village board did not establish how much the fees would increase but was left to village staff.
"I can understand some of the reaction from the business community," he said. "I think those are fair arguments, and that's why we need to dissect this."
Trustee Simone Boutet echoed Tucker's comments, saying the fees were never approved by the board.
"The staff is authorized to charge for barricades and police overtime and whatever it takes to clean up and manage for the events; we have never authorized for lost parking revenue," she said.
She argued that the Thursday Night out event likely brings in additional revenue from those parking in village-owned parking garages and other metered spots in the downtown area.
Boutet noted that the new parking fee is being charged not through the special events ordinance but under the construction section of the village ordinance.
"I would say it's a misinterpretation of the ordinance," she said. "I don't want to be digging into other inapplicable codes to make things worse for people."
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