Owner: Sale of Congress Theater Will Bring New Life to the Portage Theater

By Heather Cherone and Victoria Johnson  on January 20, 2014 1:35pm

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  Eddie Carranza, who owns both theaters, plans to concentrate on rehabbing the Portage Theater.
Owner: Sale of Congress Theater Will Bring New Life to the Portage Theater
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PORTAGE PARK — The pending sale of the Congress Theater will allow owner Eddie Carranza to focus his attention on the Portage Theater, which has been dark since May, a spokesman for the owner said Monday.

Joe Houlihan, an associate at Paine/Wetzel and Associates hired by Carranza to find new operators for both former movie palaces, said the sale of the shuttered theater in Logan Square was prompted by Carranza's desire to focus his efforts on the Portage Theater in the Six Corners Shopping District.

"As soon as the sale closes, a sizable amount, a healthy amount of money will be immediately invested in the Portage Theater," Houlihan said, adding Carranza also plans to rehab the buildings he owns around the theater at 4050 N. Milwaukee Ave. "All of the money will be spent right away repairing the theater."

Houlihan declined to reveal the purchase price for the Congress Theater, 2135 N. Milwaukee Ave.

A new operator for the Portage Theater will be announced in the next week or two, Houlihan said.

"We want to be sure that we pick the right partner for the theater and the community," Houlihan said. "We want to avoid the problems we had in the past at the Congress Theater."

Ed Bannon, the excutive director of the Six Corners Business Association, said he would welcome investment in the Portage Theater and the buildings around it.

"There are great things happening at Six Corners," Bannon said, noting that several businesses and restaurants are planning to open in the coming months. "Eddie Carranza is welcome to join the fun."

In May, Carranza lost his liquor license at the Congress after city officials determined the theater "created a nusiance" because of five separate illegal incidents involving narcotis or controlled subatances during an eight-month period from September 2011 to April 2012.

Carranza closed the Portage after Ald. John Arena (45th) said he would not allow Carranza to take over the liquor and public place of amusement licenses at the theater near Six Corners based on the theater operator's pockmarked track record at the Congress. 

In an interview last week with DNAinfo.com Chicago, Carranza said he sold the Congress Theater to an unidentified buyer.

While Carranza called it "a done deal," a source close to Carranza said litigation with Jam Productions, which claims it has the legal right of first refusal on any sale, would complicate the deal. 

Houlihan said he expected the legal wrangling to be settled quickly.

Since last spring, Carranza has announced a series of plans for the theaters, none of which have come to fruition.

In February, he announced plans to restore the Congress to its grand 1920s hey day though that did not occur. In July, Carranza told a judge at a building violations hearing that the venue would have a new operator in "a matter of days."

The Congress Theater, 2135 N. Milwaukee Ave., has been dark since the beginning of June.

Jim DeRogatis of WBEZ reported Monday that Carranza has signed a contract to sell the venue to Michael Moyer, who transformed the former Bismarck Theater at 151 N. Randolph St., into the Cadillac Palace, which primarily presents stage shows.

Moyer has paid Carranza $500,000 in earnest money since August, WBEZ reported.

Another lawsuit against Carranza involves an electronic dance music promoter React Presents, which also claims it has the right of first refusal on the building, according to WBEZ.

"Everyone wants there to be a deal done," Houlihan said.

Last week, three tenants were evicted from the apartments in the Portage Theater building for a variety of reasons. More evictions will follow, to ensure that the "biggest troublemakers" no longer call the historic building home, Houlihan said.

Carranza also plans to replace the businesses in the theater's storefronts and explore ways to add parking to near the theater in the Six Corners Shopping District, Houlihan said.

"We want complimentary businesses for the theater, Houlihan said, adding that Carranza is taking his inspiration from the Logan Theater.

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