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Portage Theater to Get New Operator, Owner Says

 Movies will continue to be shown at the Portage Theater, even though the theater is getting a new operator.
Movies will continue to be shown at the Portage Theater, even though the theater is getting a new operator.
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PORTAGE PARK — A new operator will take over the Portage Theater in April, owner Eddie Carranza said Monday.

Dennis Wolkowicz willingly transferred the theater's licenses to a new operator who will start next month. However, he will stay on to program films at the theater in the heart of the Six Corners Shopping District.

Wolkowicz is appreciated by many in Portage Park for breathing new life into the 1920s movie palace when he took it over eight years ago with his business partner Dave Dziedzic.

Carranza, in an interview conducted via email, did not identify the new operator of the theater. He declined to answer follow-up questions.

Carranza, who also owns the Congress Theater in Logan Square, dismissed Ald. John Arena's (45th) concern that uncertainty over who would run the Portage Theater was destabilizing one of the main attractions at Six Corners, which is struggling to regain a measure of its former glory as one of the city's premier shopping destinations.

"No one is fighting," Carranza said. "We are all working together perfectly and professionally."

Wolkowicz did not return phone messages.

Carranza bought the theater in September, and days later sued to evict Wolkowicz and Dziedzic. In December, Wolkowicz and Dziedzic held a rally to raise money for their legal fight against Carranza.

"Dennis [Wolkowicz] and us are working together on common goals of improving Portage Theater to become an entertainment destination PP [Portage Park] will be proud of," Carranza said.

Wolkowicz and Dziedzic's original lease was not set to expire until 2015, but the pair acknowledged they were $100,000 behind in rent. However, they said they were forced to make repairs to the theater and its heating system the previous owner should have covered.

Rumors that Carranza wanted to remove the seats in order to host music shows similar to those at the Congress drew vehement opposition from community groups and Arena.

"Movies will always be a big part of future programing," Carranza said.

In addition, Carranza said he supported the unanimous vote last week by the Chicago Commission on Landmarks to recommend that the city's zoning committee and the City Council make it more difficult to alter both the inside and the outside of the theater, which was built between 1919 and 1920.

"It's a good thing for the building and there's many tax benefits for being a landmark," Carranza said. "Congress has the same landmark designation and it's a good thing. I love landmark designation."

He added, "We want to bring these theaters back to original glory."