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Congress Theater Passes Inspection, Can Stay Open, Judge Rules

By Victoria Johnson | April 23, 2013 11:41am | Updated on April 23, 2013 1:53pm
 The Congress Theater at 2135 N. Milwaukee Ave.
The Congress Theater at 2135 N. Milwaukee Ave.
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CHICAGO — The beleaguered Congress Theater can stay open — and sell tickets — after it passed a Monday inspection, a judge ruled Tuesday.

Cook County Circuit Judge James McGing ruled that the theater can resume ticket sales as long as capacity is limited on the first floor of the theater to 3,000 and the balcony remains closed until proper lighting and a backup generator is installed.

McGing last week allowed the venue to remain open, but ruled that no more tickets could be sold until after inspections Monday.

On April 12, the city listed 26 "dangerous and hazardous" building code violations in a motion calling for the venue's immediate closure. Among the violations were obstructions of emergency exits, exposed wires, defective lighting, missing fire extinguishers and a broken ventilation system.

There was also concern about a broken fire curtain.

On Monday, however, inspectors found that the most serious issues — the fire curtain and the theater's ventilation system — were working properly, city attorney Judy Frydland said after Tuesday's hearing.

"The majority of the most serious violations are" in compliance, she said. "With all that, I just don't think we have a basis for closure."

The city will keep up with frequent inspections until all the violations are brought up to code, she said.

Neither theater owner Eddie Carranza nor his attorneys wished to comment after the hearing.

The next hearing is scheduled for May 9, which is supposed to follow another city inspection that week.

Though he got good news Tuesday, the code violations aren't Carranza's only problems.

He faces another disciplinary hearing before the Liquor Control Commission on April 30, which could lead to the revocation of his license.

While Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) has said he believed the theater was making steps in the right direction, Carranza faces his third liquor hearing next week.

He also faces a six-month "checkup" on public nuisance proceedings initiated against the theater, which also could result in Carranza losing his liquor license. That hearing is scheduled for the first week in May.

The last public nuisance meeting took place in October, when an assistant city commissioner said Carranza appeared to be doing everything he was asked to do to improve security and lessen noise and fights in the neighborhood after events.

Security is so tight these days, it has become the most common theme in Yelp reviews of the venue and even spawned a mock Facebook page about overly thorough patdowns there.