Naperville officials this week made it clear that they want no part of an American Predator Fighting Championship mixed martial arts event scheduled next month on the city’s northwest side.
City Council members Tuesday night erected a virtual “no parking” sign when they turned down a request for use of vacant city-owned property to provide extra parking for the anticipated turnout of 2,000 spectators for the fights at Players Indoor Sports on Oct. 19. Mayor A. George Pradel cast the sole vote in support of the application.
Although the eight council members didn’t hide their reluctance to support the event through provision of free parking on Quincy Avenue just across the railroad tracks from Players, Police Chief Bob Marshall said his inquiries had found no problems with similar tournaments in Naperville and nearby towns in the past.
“They did hold one of these events at the Holiday Inn about a year and a half ago, and there were no issues,” Marshall said.
Councilman Doug Krause said the risks of granting the request needed close consideration all the same.
“You’ve got people who are going to be drinking at this thing, coming out of that lot, plus walking down Quincy,” he said.
Quincy has no sidewalks, Krause added, also noting that the lot is not lighted and opining that the absence of a plan for traffic and parking control is “not very good.”
City Attorney Margo Ely said she had no concerns about the city’s liability related to the event. Despite her statement, and the city’s existing insurance coverage, officials were not reassured.
“There’s still exposure,” City Council member Steve Chirico said. “If there’s something that happens, yeah, we won’t get sued or whatever, and that’s fine. But still, there’s a reflection on the city. You can’t really insure a reputation. When you have these kinds of things that happen, we look bad. It’s not really covered under our insurance.”
Doug Krieger, city manager, said the potential risk to the city’s image is “difficult to quantify, but absolutely is very real.” He also pointed out that while the parking would come at no cost, the promoter must share 3 percent of gross receipts with the city as an entertainment tax. If the request is turned down, he said, other parking arrangements would have to be made.
APFC promoter Rich Sildal, whose plans fall under the city’s permitted uses for the location, said he’ll hold an event for a smaller crowd at Players, which has 285 parking spaces on its property, if the city won’t let him use the parking lot. City code requires 670 parking spaces for the expected head count, and the vacant lot would furnish about 400 of those, according to staff estimates.
Sildal, a Roselle resident who said his son attends Naperville North High School, described mixed martial arts as a mixture of football, boxing, hockey and alcohol, with music added into the mix. He said it’s the fastest-growing sport in the world, and is aired in Naperville bars every weekend.
“Knock on wood, we’ve done 25 shows and haven’t had a problem yet,” he said.
Councilman Bob Fieseler wasn’t convinced.
“We’re knocking on wood potentially at Naperville’s expense,” he said, expressing concern that letting the event proceed as planned would threaten the improvements seen over the past year in the city’s late-night crime downtown.
Fieseler insisted that the council must use all legal means at its disposal to prevent the event from happening.
“The whole thing is just bizarre to me,” he said to Sildal. “Shame on Players for even bringing this into Naperville. God bless you, do it where people, I guess, are able to stand it.”
Councilman Paul Hinterlong said agreeing to the free parking request would amount to the city becoming a de facto promoter.
“I don’t like the use whatsoever. We had issues of fighting down at BlackFinn (American Saloon) and our downtown, and this isn’t much different except we’re putting them in a cage,” said Hinterlong, suggesting the cage offers the only difference between an outlawed event and a legal one. “I don’t want that here. Enough fighting already. ... I don’t think it’s an image we want. We decided not to have tattoo parlors, we decided not to have video gambling. I rank this right up there.”
Council member Joe McElroy said while he appreciates knowing there have been few troubles during cage fighting events in the past, he nonetheless had qualms about this one.
“I’m wondering what happens after the event is over, and the estimated 2,000 attendees leave the American Predator Fighting Championship Mixed Martial Arts event. Where do they go?” said McElroy, who predicted that “some percentage” of the visitors will likely go downtown. “And given the fact that alcohol is being served, having once been a young guy myself, it concerns me, frankly, that’s all.”
Marshall said the two officers assigned to patrol the event inside will maintain order, with reinforcements if deemed necessary to see that it all ends well.
“Our hope is when the event is over, those 2,000 people will leave peacefully,” Marshall said.