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Chicago Ridge may bring RidgeFest back at a later date

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Village eyes Labor Day or Oktoberfest dates

By Dermot Connolly

Discussions are underway in Chicago Ridge about the future of RidgeFest, the annual village festival dating back to 1989, which was canceled last year due to security concerns.

About 20 people, mainly representing local non-profit organizations, attended a workshop led by village trustees before the regular Feb. 20 village board meeting to talk about the festival traditionally held in Freedom Park on the last weekend of July. It became known for featuring nationally known music groups, a carnival, and a host of family-friendly activities. Proceeds were shared among the various non-profits that provided volunteers for the event, including the Chicago Ridge Athletic Association, Jon’s Way teen club, and scouting organizations.

Trustee Andrew Siegel said the non-profits were most affected when the event was canceled last year, mainly due to safety concerns after problems at similar events in Tinley Park and elsewhere.

“Many of the groups count on the money from the fest as a financial boost. That is why special invitations were sent out so these groups would be represented here. We know you count on the money to keep your groups afloat,” said Siegel as the meeting started. “I am going to stop talking and start listening.”

“What I really want to find out if you think it is viable to continue. We’re just looking for fresh ideas. We don’t want to do the same thing we have always done,” said Mayor Jack Lind.

If the fest is held, it won’t be in July because Rob Pratl, president of the Chicago Ridge Park District Board of Commissioners, revealed that the district’s Slice of Summer event is being held in mid-July in Freedom Park. It will feature some of the same attractions as RidgeFest would, including fireworks and a 60-foot Ferris wheel.

“I don’t think it would be good to hold RidgeFest there two weeks later,” said Pratl, noting that the date was set after it appeared the village festival would not be held this year.

“Our fireworks contract was signed last November,” he added, highlighting how delayed RidgeFest planning is already.

Finding a carnival provider may also be a problem this late in the year, but Lind said many people don’t really want a carnival any more.

“I think the carnival is more trouble than it is worth,” said Lind, who has been involved in planning RidgeFest alongside former mayor Chuck Tokar since it began.

He said that from his own observation, any of the fights that have broken out have been located in the carnival area.

“It is a shame that the troublemakers are winning but I have to protect the residents and the police and fire department,” said Trustee Bill McFarland.

“I’ve seen some bad things happen but I have seen a lot of good things happen at RidgeFest, too. Sometimes you only see people once a year and it is at RidgeFest,” said McFarland, who has been involved since it started.

After someone suggested that with July out, talking about having RidgeFest this year is a “moot point,” Trustee Elaine Davenport called that “a defeatist attitude.” She pointed out that money has been set aside in the village budget for the fest and said Labor Day weekend or an Oktoberfest-themed event later might be possible.

There was general agreement that if the fest is held it would be toned down, likely featuring local musical acts. The fireworks would be moved from Sunday to Saturday also.

“I believe our kids look forward to the carnival. I think having RidgeFest is extremely important to our town. I think the camaraderie found at RidgeFest is a lot of what brings us together,” said one man.

“You can get rid of the fireworks as far as I am concerned. We can have local bands. We don’t need Ted Nugent or Taylor Swift,” he added.

“Well, we won’t get Taylor Swift,” said the mayor quickly, drawing laughter from the room.

“We could get five or six local bands (for the same price as a major act), if that is the direction you want to go,” said Trustee Ed Kowalski.

Police Chief Jim Jarolimek agreed that the carnival can put stress on the police force.

“If it was just bands and talent shows, I think it would be better for us to keep everybody safe,” said the chief. “Unfortunately, the older teenage crowd brings problems.”

He said an outside security firm would have to be hired to wand people coming into the fest because he does not have enough officers to do it.

“We are a small department, we have 31 guys – 15 working the weekend, and we need at least six (covering the rest of the village).”

No decisions were made at the workshop, with the board agreeing to hold another public meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 5, before the 7 p.m. board meeting.

Surveys will also be sent out to residents to gather opinions. A decision on whether to hold it will have to be made within a month,

“If everyone wants us to have it, let’s make it happen,” said Davenport.

 

2 Comments

  1. Laura Baikie on March 1, 2024 at 5:50 pm

    You could do if you are under 20must be accompanied by someone 21 or older after 5:00pm. And they can be unaccompanied until 5:00pm.



  2. James on March 4, 2024 at 6:01 am

    I’m hoping for: Doobie Brothers/Styx/Foreigner and Lynyrd Skynyrd!!



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