Forty some years ago what was to become the “South Side Summer Spectacular,” had its beginnings as the kind of event that any city neighborhood would welcome. It was a family-oriented church bizarre sponsored by St. John the Evangelist Church, with the festivities largely held on 12th Street, between Sarah and Carson.
It had the feel of a traveling carnival in those early days in the 1960's, and I have the fondest memories of attending with my own family and enthusiastically enjoying the various ethnic foods and games of chance the event offered.
Through the years, the event grew in popularity and size, expanding onto East Carson Street in the early 1980's. Becoming more of an “arts festival” now, this event drew family friendly crowds from all over the tri-state area, and enjoyed a good run much of the decade. However, the nature of the event began changing forever with the ever increasing amount of alcohol in the equation. Every year, the event became less attractive to city families and more attractive to people from all over the region that were interested in building their visits around drinking.
Sadly, this trend from a neighborhood arts and food festival to becoming the city's largest “pub-crawl” was hard on local residents. Visitors began to treat the South Side as if they had received a “Get Out of Jail Free” card upon their arrival. Many visitors illegally parked on sidewalks, screamed at the top of their lungs in the middle of the night, relieved themselves wherever it was convenient and created a “frat house mentality” that continues on weekend evenings to this day.
Matters came to a head in 1994 when residents were so frustrated and disgusted by the effects of the event that our then council member Gene Ricciardi, along with his fellow council colleagues, passed a ban on open containers of alcohol in public places. Eventually the event was scaled-down and closed at 9 p.m. in an attempt to limit the more objectionable behavior, but it was obvious that its days were numbered. Closing the event early did not stop the alcohol from flowing freely into the wee hours of the morning, and the assault on the South Side as a residential neighborhood continued.
Finally, after very careful consideration and the input of local residents, the South Side Local Development decided to end the event, and mercifully, the Summer Street Spectacular died a quiet death.
You would think that the resurrection of an event like this in our neighborhood would be unthinkable. But, if you did, you'd be wrong. Presently there is a proposal to revive the infamous Summer Street Spectacular and to once again promote our neighborhood as the site of the region's largest outdoor cocktail party and a Mecca for the irresponsible, unchecked consumption of alcohol and all related bad behavior.
I attended the presentation to the South Side Planning Forum of a proposal by the South Side Bar and Restaurant Association to revive the Summer Street Spectacular. I heard not one community group, religious leader or resident, including myself, present at that meeting speak in favor of the proposed event. And the one voice that held the power to defend us, that of our councilman, Jeff Koch, remained totally silent throughout the meeting.
While I understand the desire of bar owners to promote their businesses, no one has the right to do so at the expense of the residents of the neighborhood. As a small business owner, I face many of the same financial pressures and obstacles to growth as the bars do. But, in earning my living, I don't expect, nor do I feel entitled to force my neighbors to regularly endure illegal and irresponsible anti-social behavior so that I may increase my profits.
It is this sense of entitlement by a select few purveyors of alcohol that is most offensive to those of us who have watched this event grow into a “monster” that must not be allowed to return. I would hope that the Bar and Restaurant Association would find more constructive ways to responsibly promote their establishments, come to the understanding that they conduct their businesses within a residential neighborhood and our city officials will find their voice to defend us from this ongoing, unwelcomed intrusion into the peace and tranquility of our neighborhood.
(Bruce Kraus is a candidate in the May primary nomination for the Democratic Party.)