Two-Fer Tuesday: Fireworks and Pickwick


Got A “Taste” For Fireworks?   A recent article in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate reported that Park Ridge-based, the sponsor of Park Ridge’s Fourth of July fireworks show the past two years, is balking at re-upping this year (“Park Ridge Recreation and Park District: Sponsor’s support for July 3 fireworks display fizzles out,” April 12).  

The reason, according to Americaneagle’s owner and Park Ridge resident Tony Svanascini: while his company has been donating $18,000/year for the fireworks, the City continues to give away approx. $20,000/year in City services (police, fire & public works) to Taste of Park Ridge NFP (“Taste Inc.”), the private corporation that was organized in June 2005 to glom onto the City’s signature even, Taste of Park Ridge event (“TOPR”) – which former mayor Howard Frimark and a compliant City Council handed over on a no-bid, no contract, no accountability basis back in May 2005, and has kept on handing over ever since. 

For those who missed our previous posts on this topic, Taste Inc. has claimed to be a not-for-profit corporation since its creation, although that claim has become increasingly questionable in light of Taste Inc. apparently never having filed the IRS Form 990 tax returns (required of not-for-profits with gross revenues over $25,000) for 2005, 2006, 2007 or 2008 before it mysteriously dissolved in February 2009, only to be just as mysteriously re-incorporated as a 501(c)(6) corporation that, unlike its purported 501(c)(3) predecessor, can use its assets for lobbying and political contributions. 

The new Taste Inc. did file an IRS Form 990-EZ (for 2009) on March 12, 2010, however, which showed it ending its first official year of operations with $65,221 of net assets.  So far, however, shows no 2010 return on file for Taste Inc.

Svanascini, who was first solicited for the fireworks contribution back in 2009 by then-mayor Howard Frimark and then-Park Board commissioner Dick Barton when the event was going to be cancelled for lack of funding by the Park District, says that Americaneagle would be willing to re-up its donation if Taste Inc. were to reimburse the City for its Taste of Park Ridge expenses.

Not surprisingly, Taste Inc. has remained silent on that point.  Meanwhile, TOPR committee member (and newly-elected Park Board commissioner) Mel Thillens reports that the Park Ridge Indian Scouts (whose Federation Chief, Jim Bruno, formerly was Taste Inc.’s treasurer) plan to sell $20 raffle tickets for prizes solicited by the Chamber of Commerce in order to raise funds for the fireworks.  And the Park District reportedly is “in talks” with two potential fireworks sponsors.

Good for them.

But that sure seems like a lot of effort just to enable Taste Inc. to remain in control of TOPR and on the taxpayers’ dole, especially when paying for City services and opening its books to confirm its non-profit status all these years would seem to be the far easier and honest thing to do.  

Pickwick A “Dinosaur”?  Both local newspapers recently reported on the Pickwick Theater’s plans for $1.5 million in renovations/improvements to both the exterior and interior of that historic building, which will be funded in part by tax breaks and state grants related to its historical designation.

While we question the wisdom of the State of Illinois funding anything but the most essential services, given the woeful condition of Illinois finances, we nevertheless applaud the Pickwick’s owners for putting up what we understand will be the lion’s share of the costs of this project.  The Pickwick building is perhaps Park Ridge’s most iconic structure, and its owners deserve credit for their vision and tenacity in making it a success during a period when the theater industry’s business declined.

They also deserve credit for resisting an ill-advised attempt back in 2004 by certain members of the City Council – led by then-Alds. Don Crampton (1st), Mark Anderson (5th) and Rex Parker (6th) – to have the City acquire that structure and turn its management over to a group known as the Pickwick Theater Council, which would have taken it off the property tax rolls and made the City responsible for its operating costs. 

At that time, Pickwick Theater Council president Catherine Kenney, in arguing for the City’s takeover, claimed: “A theater offering discount priced movies is a dinosaur.”

Seven years later, this particular “dinosaur” appears far from extinct…which is more than can be said for its Council critics and the now-defunct Pickwick Theater Council.

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