Congress Owner: 'Plenty' of New Buyers Possible After Liquor License Yanked

By Victoria JohnsonTed Cox and Heather Cherone  on May 24, 2013 4:13pm  | Updated on May 24, 2013 5:01pm

 The Congress Theater.
The Congress Theater.
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Flickr/pauldavidy

LOGAN SQUARE — The future of the Congress Theater is up in the air following the city pulling the liquor license Friday of venue owner Eddie Carranza.

Carranza said he would appeal, but also seemed to point to the possibility of selling the Congress Theater, located at 2135 N. Milwaukee Ave.

"I will appeal, but I don't have the resources and money the city has to keep going on with court hearings," he said in a text message. "We built a very strong music brand and revived a forgotten theater building. There will be plenty of buyers and operators interested in taking over our business."

The city's Liquor Control Commission ruling, based on testimony at earlier hearings, found the theater "created a nuisance" due to five separate illegal incidents involving narcotics or controlled substances over an eight-month period, from September 2011 to April of last year.

According to Jennifer Lipford, spokeswoman for the Department of Business Affairs, the theater can stay open pending an appeal.

In a number of public hearings, Carranza has defended his management of the Congress, which presents electronic music concerts and DJ shows among other acts.

But hearing commissioner Robert E. Nolan said he found the testimony by Chicago police officers of troubles at the Congress "credible and believable."

The charges against the Congress included venue security failed to cooperate with police, once beating a patron and stealing his cell phone, and did not call authorities when a brawl broke out at a Chief Keef concert.

The theater has had a variety of troubles with the city, including numerous building violations and public nuisance proceedings with the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection.

Carranza had plans of fixing it up — his architect told the city Carranza has dumped $2 million into the building over the last year and a half — but  he has had a hard time getting loans to continue the work, something he's blamed on the city proceedings against him.

The Congress was built in the 1920s as an entertainment palace but has fallen into disrepair, with its filthy bathrooms and battered seats two noted points of complaints.

Meanwhile, Carranza said his Portage Theater in Portage Park would close for the foreseeable future because of a dispute over that former movie palace's liquor license.

Longtime neighbor Joe Kopera has attended nearly every hearing or meeting about the Congress Theater and has described the situation as a "witch hunt."

"I don't think it's the right thing at all," he said of the liquor commission decision. "He's no different from any other concert venue of that size that serves alcohol."

Kopera also pointed to similar problems at the nearby VLive Club, including the 2009 shooting death of a 17-year-old boy. VLive itself was just released from the city's public nuisance proceedings on Tuesday.

"I don't know what to think at this point," Kopera said. "It's all just politics to me."

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