Except for the remote version held during COVID-19, Lollapalooza has been a marquee event for Chicago’s “front yard,” Grant Park, every summer since 2005.
But besides the festival’s usual public safety, weather and traffic challenges, this year marks the first test of a new contract overseen by a new mayor, Brandon Johnson. The deal to keep Lolla in Chicago for at least another 10 years — inked by the mayor Johnson later defeated, Lori Lightfoot — makes this year’s fest potentially the biggest Lollapalooza yet: It allows up to 115,000 attendees per day, up 15,000 from the previous contract .
If the company that puts on the festival, C3 Presents, can clear the logistical challenge, the extra attendance could be a win-win, with more revenue for the city too.
Yet extending Lolla’s life in Chicago took some behind-closed-doors dealings, frustrating some aldermen and parks advocates who wanted more transparency over the process and assurances of park protections before the city was locked in for another decade.
Past Lollapalooza agreements — including the 2012 contract, the 2016 expansion of the festival from three to four days, and the one-year extension in 2021 — were not shared with the public until they were signed. In response to some of the criticism against large festivals’ takeover of public parks for days or weeks at a time, the Chicago Park District adopted a new policy to give the community more opportunity for input.
In the case of the current contract, Lightfoot touted a deal months before a contract was officially signed: Though she took to the Lollapalooza stage in late July to herald an agreement to keep the festival in Chicago through 2032, the contract wasn’t inked until early November.
Johnson — fresh off successful large-scale concerts at Soldier Field and another high-profile event he inherited from his predecessor, the first-ever NASCAR street race, which also shut down Grant Park last month — said those strong showings are a signal of the city’s economic vitality.
“What I understand is that there is potential for over 400,000 people” to attend this weekend, Johnson said at press availability Wednesday. The collective attendance at Lollapalooza and the Taylor Swift, Beyonce and Ed Sheeran shows at Soldier Field “says an awful lot about the beauty of the city of Chicago,” he said. “The city of Chicago is well positioned to become better, stronger and safer. And the activity that you’re seeing in the city of Chicago was reflected in how we’re bringing people together.”
Johnson said he does plan on spending “a little time” at the festival, and at opening night Thursday, he boisterously introduced headliner Billie Eilisch.
“I hear that there are some people who want to meet me,” he said. But he added that he needed “to spend a bit more time with my family” before the new school year starts.
Among the biggest changes in the new Lollapalooza contract is how the city will collect fees. C3 spokesperson Sandee Fenton told the Tribune that Lollapalooza paid $6.9 million in permit fees to the Park District in 2022. A breakdown of those fees was not immediately available from the Park District.
The Tribune did obtain detailed numbers from the 2021 festival: C3 reported $64 million in net food and beverage, sponsorship and ticket revenues. C3 cut the Park District a $7.8 million check that year based on a formula laid out in the last contract: 15% of net admission revenue, plus a 5% cut of sponsorship revenue in excess of $3.25 million and food and beverage revenue in excess of $3 million.
Under the new contract, the city’s fee for 2023 and beyond will follow a sliding scale, with the city to receive a 5% cut of the first $30 million in total festival revenue, 10% of revenue between $30 million and $50 million, and then ranges of 5% to 20% for revenue up to or above $85 million.
Using the new fee scale and 2021 revenues, the Park District would have received only $6.4 million. But the new contract broadens the scope of revenues the city will collect from, including merchandise and other goods and services sold at the festival, third-party licensing, and streaming and replay revenue “directly related to the Festival.”
Hulu streamed Lollapalooza in 2022 and is the official streaming partner for this week’s festival, thanks to a deal inked between Walt Disney and Live Nation.
The increase in allowed attendance should also boost overall revenues, if more concertgoers buy tickets. As of Tuesday, only a “limited number” of general admission tickets for Saturday and four-day VIP tickets were still available, Fenton said.
The Park District is guaranteed a minimum payment unchanged from the last contract: $2 million if a four-day festival is held, $1.5 million if a three-day festival is held and $750,000 if no festival is held. Termination language is also the same. As in the last contract, C3 is responsible for collecting sales, liquor and amusement taxes.
The new contract tweaked some language about other mega-festivals, seemingly limiting Lolla’s dominance to Grant Park. The past contract limited all “substantially similar” festivals citywide.
In the new contract, C3 and the Park District “will collaborate in good faith to avoid having a multi-day, multi-stage music Festival which is the same or substantially similar to” Lollapalooza in Grant Park “without the written consent of C3. ”
That is limited to festivals longer than two days or with more than 20,000 daily attendees. Exceptions are the Sueños festival, which C3 helps produce, and city events like Taste of Chicago and the gospel, blues, jazz, world music and house music festivals.
hoped-for language around noise limits and more robust infrastructure improvements to spruce up Grant Park were not in the contract.
After the initial terms of the contract were released last summer, downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly, 42nd, was disappointed the contract did not net more for the city. “This seems like a missed opportunity for the city and the Park District to ensure proper taxpayer compensation for the exclusive use of our highly sought after lakefront park and to secure stronger commitments to repair and improve the park infrastructure Lollapalooza uses,” he said.
While the contract makes no mention of C3 providing any long-term infrastructure or drainage upgrades, the company did announce it would spend $100,000 to help fund the renovation of Grant Park’s tennis courts and add new pickleball courts where festival vehicles normally park.
C3′s Charlie Walker later announced the company would spend $500,000 to “fully fund” the project, noting it was “in addition” to other community investments the company made, including job fairs, arts partnerships with the nonprofit After School Matters and providing “ more than $2 million in funding for arts programs at Chicago Public Schools.”
The rehabilitation of six existing tennis courts and the construction of 16 new pickleball courts is expected to be complete this fall, Park District spokeswoman Michele Lemons said.
The Grant Park Advisory Council has been critical of the impact private events like NASCAR and Lollapalooza have on park access and the wear and tear on the grounds. Council president Leslie Recht and downtown aldermen are anxious to see the balance sheet from the NASCAR street race.
Though stymied by torrential rains that cut one race short and led to the cancellations of several concerts, the NASCAR street race was ratings gold for NBC Sports but has not yet garnered a full-throated endorsement for a repeat by aldermen or the mayor, pending a full report on the event’s economic impact.
“Like everything that I inherited, I am a teacher,” Johnson said July 3 about the race, a message he reiterated this week. “So I will assess it and grade it, and it will be an open process where other folks get a chance to weigh in.”
NASCAR street and park closures were a headache for some, including for those who live and work nearby.
Asked Wednesday whether the city would push for more from corporate users of the city’s parks and public spaces, Johnson said, “The good of the public has to be maintained and protected so that we can optimally serve the interests of people, and because we have such a beautiful landscape, I understand why there are corporations that want to have access to these spaces. There’s been some discussion about how to do this in a balanced, constructive way with some consistency, and so those dynamics are being explored with great sensitivity.”
So far, Lollapalooza officials have “been pretty helpful” in terms of keeping portions of Grant Park open during setup, Recht said.
The park itself is in decent shape, she added, because NASCAR events that might have damaged it were canceled by rain. The race did re-crack sidewalks that were temporarily patched for the race, she said, a fix she hopes is addressed in addition to whatever damage might be done to the park’s grounds during Lollapalooza.
Other changes to Grant Park might be coming: Earlier this year, the Park District began gathering community input for a new master plan, dubbed “Chicago’s Front Yard Reimagined.” Residents at a January open house asked for safer streets for bicyclists and pedestrians, more access for those with disabilities and more public bathrooms, according to Block Club Chicago.