I strongly urge community members not to attend the “On Devon Festival” scheduled for Labor Day weekend. Its concept, planning, and development are an insult to the community at large and a slap in the face to residents living closest to Republic Bank, like me. How? Let’s see:
- Is a “special event” in a parking lot really the best that West Ridge can do? This event belongs in a park, not a parking lot. Events staged in the north end of the ward always occur in parks. Even Silverstein’s backpack giveaway was in a park. Why do events staged in the south end of the ward always occur in the Republic Bank parking lot? Especially a so-called family festival? Is this really the best place to celebrate community? It’s an insult to the entire West Ridge community.
- We are a neighborhood of beautiful parks, and Berny Stone Park is on Devon. It’s underused, with plenty of room for all the events the SSA and Chamber promise. To the planners of this event, thought, kids from the south end of the ward deserve to run around on hot, hard asphalt instead of soft green grass. Nor do they see anything wrong with subjecting babies, young kids, and neighbors to concert-level music for hours on end.
- Live music? Beer sales? Port-a-potties? On sidewalks and in alleys? Stone Park is too close to the 24th and 25th precincts, filled with Silverstein supporters in single-family homes who might object to all the noise, drinking, and filth. The parking lot is in the 19th Precinct, whose residents have never supported Silverstein.
- Lots of “free” kids’ activities are planned to lure the parents to what is basically a retooled Devon Community Market. The Chamber promises lots of vendors selling goods residents have already declined to buy.
- The Chamber will be selling beer. The musical entertainment is geared to attracting lots of young people. Nothing like having a bunch of rowdy young drunks right outside your windows. Especially when there are kids present. What guarantees are there that heavy drinkers won’t vomit all over lawns and parkways? Who pays for clean-up on private property? Minutes from one of the SSA meetings suggested that one-third of the event would be paid for via beer sales. This has all the earmarks of an officially-sanctioned drunkfest. Do West Ridge residents really want to support a mini-Lollapalooza?
- SSA minutes indicate that the cost of all the “free” entertainment will be shared between the SSA and the Chamber. The SSA gets its operating funds from a 1.5% extra tax (over and above property taxes) levied on all property owners living within the SSA boundaries (Kedzie east toDamen, Granville north to Arthur). This tax is passed on to renters of both businesses and apartments. The SSA committed to spending at least $15,000 on this event. Should taxpayer money be spent on bread and circuses when there are more than 40 vacant storefronts on Devon?
- According to its Charter, the SSA’s mission is to promote existing businesses and attract new ones on Devon, a task at which it has failed spectacularly. Instead, the SSA spends its time creating dubious “business builders” like Devon Movie Night (attracting a crowd of fewer than 20 children and perhaps 4 adults), a talent show called “Devon’s Got Talent,” and this beer-fueled community market/festival. No wonder the Rogers Park Business Alliance was given oversight of the SSA once it proved itself incapable of managing its own affairs. The RPBA has not done much better, although it gets nearly a quarter ($99,000) of the monies raised by the SSA’s tax levy for management fees and staff salaries.
- There will be trolley service from Western to the festival. You’d think the alderman, who’s so proud of her beautiful streetscape, would want visitors to travel the whole length of Devon, not just through Little India. But most of the vacant storefronts are west of California, and she’d prefer that no one see the desolation. Who’s paying for the trolleys? Look in the mirror.
The Chamber of Commerce, the alderman, and the commissioners of Special Services Area #43 should be ashamed of the disregard and disrespect they have shown for the families living closest to the Bank. None of the parties involved in this so-called “community” festival would dare to treat residents of single-family homes in such a manner. But under this alderman, shitting on residents in the south end of the ward has become acceptable–the south end, where shootings are never acknowledged and the residents, primarily immigrants, tend to come from governments run by arrogant tyrants who do not see them as fully human. No wonder they don’t dare object. No wonder they’re right at home in the 50th.
This event has been planned since late last year. At no time was the community involved in the planning. Rather than discuss this festival with the residents most affected, plans proceeded under a veil of secrecy, the alderman’s preferred mode of operation. And Eden Seferovic, the Chamber’s executive director, chose to announce the event at a meeting of the West Ridge Community Organization last June. The first that most nearby residents knew about the fest was when the alderman announced it in her newsletter at the end of July. This is a shabby way to treat Ward residents. It’s to be expected from the alderman, the Chamber, and the SSA, none of whom have ever exhibited the slightest decency toward residents who live around the parking lot.
The bank’s plans to profit from the streetscape by building a parking lot did not work out. The parking lot has failed because the shoppers for whom it was created refuse to pay for parking and prefer instead to break the gates rather than pay. I have been out with my dogs and witnessed the various ways that shoppers evade payment for parking– removing the exit gate, moving or removing the sensors that allow the exit gate to open and close, rolling their vehicles back and forth until the exit gate lifts and then not pulling out until the gate freezes in the up position, etc.
Republic Bank’s failure to properly design, build, and maintain its parking lot does not give the Bank, the Chamber, the SSA, or the alderman the right to turn the lot into a public place of amusement. That requires a license, which is impossible to get because of the housing just across the alley. So the Bank, the Chamber, the SSA, and the alderman simply ignore the legal requirement. It should be noted that the alderman has served for years on the City Council’s Committee on Cultural Affairs and Special Events, the committee that writes the rules for events like this.
But nearby residents are expected to sacrifice the last family-oriented holiday of summer to the alderman’s so-called community festival. Our backyard BBQs and family get-togethers will be lost in a tsunami of noise from concert level music. In addition, Washtenaw Avenue is to be closed from Devon to the east-west alley, a fact unknown until a letter from the Chamber about the festival was placed on building doorknobs yesterday. With characteristic sloppiness, the letter misstates the block to be closed as the 6200 block of Washtenaw. It is actually the 6400 block. The Chamber is listed as the event’s sponsor in an attempt to hide the SSA’s involvement. Those tax monies are a problem.
Community members who attend the On Devon Festival will be acquiescing in the abuse of other community residents. Ask yourself: would you want this across the alley from your home? Would you want others to support it if it were?
I should add that the event is from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. on Sunday night and 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Monday night. Live music. Drunks. Screaming children. If past events are any guide, set-up will begin at 6 a.m. on Sunday morning. Takedown will continue until near midnight on Monday. Kids in the surrounding buildings will go to their first day of school sleep-deprived. But hey! These are the poor kids in the neighborhood, so who cares? Not the Bank, not the alderman, not the SSA, not the Chamber.
Everyone connected with this event should hang his or her head in shame. Shame on Dewbra Silverstein, Robert Taylor, the manager of Republic Bank and president of the Chamber of Commerce, Eden Seferovic, the Chamber’s executive director, and the commissioners of SSA 43: Irshad Khan (Chair), Pete Valavanis (Vice Chair), Sanhita Agnihotri (Treasurer), Maura Nemes (Secretary), Jayesh Shewakramani, Payam Bereliani, and Rebeca Vasquez.
Let’s not forget to heap shame on members of the Rogers Park Business Alliance who helped organize this event: Sandi Price, executive director, Gina Caruso, and Tony Pelikan. Then there’s Bonnie Towse, business consultant for the Chamber. She was invited to all the planning meetings, although members of the nearby community were not. A consultant was needed to deliver another Devon Community Market? What didn’t the powers-that-be get about the failures of the previous three?
Please support your fellow community members. We are people, too, even if the alderman, the Chamber, the SSA, and their enablers don’t believe it. We deserve respect and courtesy, even from Silverstein and her minions.
Don’t attend the On Devon Festival!