Members of the Wicker Park Advisory Council discussed Tuesday night the issue of private vendors operating within the park and, more specifically, their opposition to any vending structure on its grounds that could have a negative impact.
According to an e-mail sent Wednesday from Wicker Park Advisory Council Secretary Doug Wood, Chicago Park District COO Patrick Levar has directed the district's revenue department and concessions manager to remove Wicker Park from the list of available vending options.
"It's a historic park," Advisory Council President Tim Kolecke said. "We have historic elements all around the park. There's certainly not enough park space within the area to support another—and there's no need, publicly, for another restaurant, you know, when there's so many restaurants (in the neighborhood). I mean, we're not in a food desert. We don't need another vendor, especially in this park, which is used by everybody."
The council penned a letter in September to 1st Ward Alderman Proco Joe Moreno and the Chicago Park District in response to proposed plans to build a permanent cafe in the park.
The council cited several concerns about how such a permanent structure could negatively impact the park. Among them were the notions of losing public space in the already-small area to a private vendor; the amount of trash that such a business may generate; the fact that the park is a designated Chicago landmark and the possibility of a permanent structure clashing with its historical aesthetic; as well as the assertion that its field house's staff and budget are already stretched thin.
Kolecke said he and Council Vice President Scott Venable met with Alderman Moreno more than a month ago, and that Moreno told them that the plans for that cafe were scrapped.
"He said in no uncertain terms that that is dead," Kolecke said. "There is no way that's going to ever happen."
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However, the vending issue remains a point of concern for the council because of information Wood recently discovered online in a list of available opportunities for vendors interested in operating in city parks.
"On the Chicago Park District (website) there is a link for prospective vendors in the parks," Kolecke said. "And we found that Wicker Park was listed on there as a potential location for a kiosk and/or cart for the central region. This was information that was not released to us."
The ambiguity of the word "kiosk" is in issue in terms of what kinds of vending opportunities are being offered to prospective vendors in Wicker Park. All of the council members expressed concerns that such proposed non-permanent structures could create the same problems for the park if vendors were allowed to set up shop on a daily or seasonal basis.
"If the kiosk is some business coming out here on a Saturday and promoting what they do in the neighborhood, I don't think anybody would have a huge problem with that," Kolecke said. "If they're talking about setting up a semi-permanent or seasonal kiosk in a corner of the park or something like that, I think people in this room would have a problem with that."
The council agreed that its next step in the matter needs to be finding out more about what is actually being offered to vendors and determining how that aligns with its goals and vision. Kolecke said he plans to speak with park district representatives to clarify some of the council's questions.
In the meantime, the council has also agreed to draft another letter to publicly state its position on future vending opportunities in the park, although the phrasing and details of such a statement still need to be worked out. Kolecke said the letter would be posted to the advisory council's website by the end of the month.
Editor's Note: This story was updated Wednesday, Nov. 14 to reflect the park's removal from the list of available vending options.