Magic Tree and Visitors Bureau hope Harry Potter flies again

? Memories of overcrowded 2003 event on Oak Park Avenue raise cautions for potential backers.

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By KEN TRAINOR

The last time J.K. Rowling released one of her Harry Potter books, Magic Tree Bookstore decided to throw a book release party?#34;and thousands of people showed up.

Magic Tree was the only book store to have the idea back in June 2003, so people came from all over and the media gave it lots of play (it even made the New York Times). To say the event was a success would be an understatement. Parents and kids and curious onlookers crammed elbow to elbow on the 100 block of North Oak Park Avenue.

Magic Tree's owners and most of the merchants were delighted.

It scared the living hogwarts out of village officials and leaders of The Avenue Business Association which co-sponsored the event.

Now Rowling is on the verge of releasing book number six, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and Magic Tree is planning another event for Friday, July 15, leading up to the midnight release.

But this one, said co-owner Rose Joseph, will be different. The idea, she said, is to spread it out among a number of venues in order to avoid the same concentration of humanity.

Ideally, she said, they will have programs at the public library and Wonder Works Children's Museum. There would be a quidditch match (the popular sport at Hogwarts Academy in the books) in Mills Park. Circle Theatre would perform a play based on the third Potter book (adapted by former Magic Tree employee Debbie Mitchell, who coordinated the 2003 event) in Scoville Park, along with the Academy of Movement and Music, which would reprise a former recital ballet based on the Potter books. A "potions" (i.e. cooking) class would be held at Cheney Mansion, and Joseph said they would also like to have a Harry Potter movie marathon at the Lake Theatre.

Now all they have to do is get approval from the affected village agencies. And a grant from the State Tourism Bureau would help. But only if they can come up with local matching funds. And all these elements seem to be waiting for the others to get on board.

One person who is on board is Rich Carollo, executive director of the Oak Park Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. OPACVB is acting as the "backing organization" and go-between to bring all the parties together. Carollo wrote the state grant, which would bring $10,000 to bear on the event, but they can't get the grant unless they can come up with at least $7,500 in cash from local matching funds, plus $2,500 of in-kind contributions.

So far, the fundraising has been slow. Maybe that's because the village and park district haven't signed on yet. Gary Balling, park district director, said they have concerns and questions because park land would be much more directly involved this time.

"We want to make sure that it's done safely and responsibly," Balling said. "Encouraging young people to read, that's all good stuff. But the bottom line is increasing business. We want to make sure all the values mesh."

Balling said a letter from Carollo estimated anywhere from 5,000 to 7,500 people could attend. "That's a large event and would need a strong police presence," Balling said. As a result, he reiterated with Joseph last week that they are waiting for The Avenue Business Association to endorse the event and the village to give its OK.

The lateness of the event also concerns him. Magic Tree indicated they would like to end the Scoville Park entertainment at 10:30. Balling would prefer 10 p.m. He would also prefer that food and beverage sales take place in the business district, not in the parks.

He isn't opposed to keeping Scoville open till midnight as long as there is a sufficient police presence, but for the stage portion of the evening, the organizers would need to provide the lighting and sound systems.

July is "peak season" for the park district, Balling said, so they want to make sure the details are nailed down before they sign on. In other words, they want to help, but don't want to be left holding the bag.

Carollo is trying to make all the parties feel comfortable about participating, but notes this time won't be like last time. For one thing, plenty of other bookstores around Chicago will be holding similar parties, and the city has an event planned at Navy Pier that night, so the crowds probably won't be as large.

Joseph adds that with concurrent ticketed events, attendees would be spread thinner.

Regardless said Carollo, "It's not a bad thing to have that many people coming to your village to spend money."

Joseph said even if they can't do everything they want, there will be an event at Magic Tree on July 15, however modified.

"It's good for Oak Park," she said. "It's not often that we make the front page of the New York Times."
CONTACT: ktrainor@wjinc.com

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