The Ultimate Guide to Planning Your Chicago Parks Wedding

Most Chicagoans know that winter is a great time to seek refuge in a warm, steamy room of orchids. Alternatively, some of us are looking forward to warmer weather when we can walk the many outdoor parks Chicago has to offer.

So it’s only natural that when the biggest moment of your life arrives, you might consider including a Chicago Park District property. Proposals, engagement photos, and even your wedding can all feature a stunning local backdrop. There are so many lovely gems including parks, gardens, beaches, conservatories, and field houses.

While you might be used to just calling in sick and rolling up to the beach (because you’re worth it), there are a few important pieces of paper between you and your dream photo or event. Let’s start with the basics.

Being from California, knowing other state’s photographer regulations can be super time consuming and stressful. Thankfully Rebecca had the resources to devote to figuring out CPD regulations for photographers. She navigated the system with ease and made the entire process stress free!
— Ryan Greenleaf, Photographer
Photo by Ryan, Greenleaf Photography

Photo by Ryan, Greenleaf Photography

 

Here are a few important questions to ask before setting your heart on a CPD location:

  • Check the hours - Will your photo shoot or event fit within public hours or will you need to rent
    the space privately? Decide if you’re willing to share your occasion with the public, because, after all, the parks are for the people! If you can’t or choose not to operate during public hours, prepare your general timing for your after-hours application

  • How many guests do you anticipate? All CPD venues have posted maximum capacities and it could affect rental prices

  • Are you hiring any vendors? They may need a certificate of insurance for liability. If they’re documenting the occasion by photo or video they’ll need a non-commercial or wedding media permit. Caterers and Décor Companies must be on the CPD’s preferred vendor list.

The Chicago Park District website is a great resource for community activities and new ways to explore the city. We’re going to focus on creating an account and the Permits and Rentals tab. Here you can choose Weddings, Filming and Photography, and more.

Creating an Account

Click here to login or create your account with the CPD. Once you get to your dashboard, you’ll see several categories of action and informational links. You will be able to manage your applications, permits and reservations from here.

Filming and Photography

If you are starting out with engagement photos or only intend to do a photo shoot in a CPD location, the process is relatively simple. Always check with your photographer or client to make sure you don’t request (and pay for!) redundant permits.

Media permits fall into one of two categories: commercial and non-commercial. Engagement and wedding photos are non-commercial and are charged lower fees than commercial permits. Keep in mind these permits simply allow you to be on location and professionally document the space within the allotted time. This does not include private access, early or late access or any special accommodations.

You will need to begin by submitting the non-refundable Permit Application and Fee of $35. Completing this step allows you to file for your Non-Commercial Photography Permit (Wedding) for $45 per hour per location.

Applications are accepted for the following year beginning in November and open through the current year. The sooner you file your application, the higher you place in the queue. It’s always better to build a cushion of time around your permit applications for slow response time and don’t forget to check for any bank holidays that may close the processing office.  

For example, we applied for a two-hour media permit on October 5, 2017 and received confirmation of our permit and reservation on October 24, 2017. The wedding wasn’t until November 14, 2017 so we felt great having this out of the way before it got too close.

When you arrive on site, don’t expect a doorman to ask to see your permit when you walk in with a professional grade camera. These properties run on low staff levels and dedicated volunteers whose focus is on the well-being of the property and its operations. In 2017, we were never asked for our permit, but we had the peace of mind knowing that we had it on us to avoid larger fines if we had not followed the rules.

 
 
Photo by Marcin, Wasio Photography

Photo by Marcin, Wasio Photography

 

Weddings and Other Special Events

The CPD acknowledges that weddings play a huge part in the funding and awareness of their properties. They have rules you must abide by, however, these spaces can really make your wedding special in a very Chicago way. You can host your ceremony and reception at a range of locations for a range of pricing.

 

Proposals and Engagement Parties

Within the past three years, the CPD has gone even further to cater to the increasing number of public and planned proposals. Special Event Venues can be booked for $100 per hour for a maximum of three hours. These events include up to twenty guests and do allow for light catering. You will need to submit the Special Event or Wedding Venue Application with a reservation deposit of 50% and non-refundable Permit Application and Fee of $35. The same policies and procedures for weddings below apply to proposals and engagement parties.

Outdoor Ceremony

There are two levels of garden or park ceremonies you can apply for, referred to by the CPD as Commemorative Events. Both require a $200 security deposit and allow you to source a trellis and chairs from an approved rental company. Level one includes two hours of rental for $510. Level two includes four hours of rental and approval for a small tent, risers, and amplified sound for $695. Specifically, for the Tiffany Celebration Garden, you may apply for levels three and four which include a similar break down as levels one and two.

Commemorative Event applications are only accepted within the year of their scheduled occurrence and no food or beverages (catered, alcohol or otherwise). They do require the standard non-refundable Permit Application and Fee of $35.

 
Rebecca was my go-to with all questions and was a wealth of knowledge. She saw logistical holes in my planning that I had not even thought of.
— Jenna , Bride
Photo by Marcin, Wasio Photography

Photo by Marcin, Wasio Photography

 
 

Indoor/Outdoor Ceremony & Reception

Booking a full indoor or outdoor wedding with CPD includes many of elements we’ve covered so far with the addition of securing a private rental. The process begins with a call to your chosen venue to check availability and confirm their fees. It is important to understand the operating hours of the venue and to know that all CPD locations close to both public and private guests at 11:00 pm.

Next you must submit the Special Event or Wedding Venue Application with a reservation deposit of 50% and the non-refundable Permit Application and Fee of $35.

At this stage you will sign an event rental contract with the CPD and agree to further pay off the remaining balance of rental fees six months before your wedding date. Additionally, there is a checklist of documentation required including certificates of insurance for service providers, site plans, timelines and guest and staff counts.

As you work through your wedding planning checklist be mindful of the CPD’s policies and procedures. Any décor and catering must be contracted through one of their approved and preferred vendors. Your best friend may make the most amazing baked goods, or your uncle might offer to bring a tent, however, the list of vendors that work with the CPD have been vetted and are guaranteed to have adequate insurance, food and production safety requirements as well as experience with CPD locations and procedures. You may bring in a wedding cake, however, it’s best to request written approval. If you are more than a year out, it doesn’t hurt to ask a potential vendor if they would be willing to apply for preferential status with CPD, however, like anything, it takes time, money and patience.

Insurance is required in almost every instance and should be secured for a minimum of $1,000,000 for general private events and $2,000,000 for events serving alcohol. The CPD will require proof of insurance and an Additional Insured line item from any qualified insurance agency.

When it comes to liquor licensing, it is always better to play it safe. Liability can be a huge factor and all venues you consider for your wedding will require licensed bartenders whether they require catered bars or allow BYOB.

The CPD will likely hire security officers on your behalf to ensure both privacy and safety for your event. You can expect the officers to cost $30-50 each per hour.

After your wedding or special event, you should have a follow up checklist, so you can stay on top of any refundable security deposits with the CPD and vendors. The more organized you are about documenting your requirements before the event as well as the production and clean up, the stronger the case you will have if any of your or your vendor’s actions are called into question.

 

Ready to get after it? Chicago Parks can be the perfect setting for your dream wedding!

 
Photo by Ryan, Greenleaf Photography

Photo by Ryan, Greenleaf Photography

In conclusion, the CPD properties of Chicago can afford some of the most beautiful and unique wedding locations. You can share a part of the city with those closest to you. Whether it’s an intimate gathering in the park you frequented together or a spectacular field house that can accommodate your long guest list.

As you continue your search for the perfect venue, consider the help of a planner who can advocate for you and guide you through the process. It’s important to showcase your personalities and style on the biggest day of your life!

 

You’ve made it this far. You’re heart is set on a CPD venue and you can already see it, the view, your loved ones, and the moment you and your best friend say I do. Want to savor that joy and avoid all the stress? Tell us a little about yourself and your wedding, we can’t wait to help!

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