The Mayor’s Office of Special Events today announced the schedule of free family programming offered by the City this year and outlined changes in events and festivals including a major change to the Independence Day fireworks event.

“Whether it’s in good economic times, or bad, our mission is to do all we can to enhance the quality of life for every Chicagoan and the experience of visiting our city for our tourists and out of towners. But like every level of government, the bad economy has challenged us to do more with less and to even more efficiently manage our limited resources,” said Megan McDonald, executive director of the Mayor’s Office of Special Events.

“It’s with this in mind that we have rethought many of the events on our schedule and challenged ourselves to improve on a number of our long-time festivals. We’re excited about these changes, which we believe will improve on the experiences that each of our festivals will offer.”

This year will mark the 30th anniversary of the Taste of Chicago, the largest of the city’s festivals and one that Chicago is identified with around the world.

The city made several enhancements to the Taste over the past couple years to add greater value to residents and visitors including a new festival footprint that makes it easier for visitors to move through the venue, and upscale gourmet area on the Buckingham Fountain table, lunchtime Loop trolleys during the week and a large menu of free programming.

McDonald outlined two major changes that will take place during the Taste of Chicago this year:

* First, instead of holding one major Independence Day fireworks display in Grant Park on July 3rd, the City will be organizing three coordinated lakefront fireworks displays on July 4th so that residents can more easily enjoy them, closer to their homes. The fireworks display on July 4th will be a coordinated show that includes a central location at Navy Pier as well as a South lakefront location and a North lakefront location. It will begin at 9 p.m.

* Second, the Taste of Chicago will close at 6 p.m. on both July 3rd and July 4th (Taste of Chicago has always closed early on the final day.) However, the Taste will open everyday at 10 a.m.

“We recognize that there are many who enjoy the Independence Day holiday in their own communities with friends and family, so we decided this year to bring the fireworks to them.

This will result in a more cost efficient celebration and less congestion of people in one site for a more pleasant experience. Additionally, these savings will enable the Office of Special Events to feature name talent every day of the ten-day Taste of Chicago,” added McDonald.

McDonald outlined details regarding the other events/festivals including:

* The City will move three music festivals from Grant Park to Millennium Park. The previously announced moves are Celtic Fest Chicago, May 8-9; íViva! Chicago Latin Music Festival, September 18-19; and the Chicago Country Music Festival, October 9-10.

* Blues Fest and Jazz Fest will remain in Grant Park this year and their schedules will remain the same as they have been in the past.

* Other lakefront events including the Air and Water Show, Bike to Work Day Rally, Kids and Kites, and the Memorial Day parade will all continue this year and are free and open to the public.

* Due to the challenging economy this year, the City was forced to cancel Venetian Nights, the Chicago Criterium, the Outdoor Film Festival and Great Chicago Places and Spaces.

“We are pleased to roll out a very exciting calendar of events this year. We are proud of our events and festivals and proud of the fact that we remain on of the only major cities in the country to continue to offer free family programming for those who live, work and visit here,” said McDonald.

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