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Congress Theater Owner Has Invested $2M in Building, Architect Says

 The Congress Theater at 2135 N. Milwaukee Ave.
The Congress Theater at 2135 N. Milwaukee Ave.
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DNAinfo/Victoria Johnson

CHICAGO — Architect Jeremiah Johnson said Congress Theater owner Eddie Carranza has invested $2 million in the building over the last year and half.

Johnson made his comments Tuesday morning at the city's fifth meeting to address complaints about the building by residents and police.

Even so, neighbors said the Logan Square venue has backslid since the last public nuisance hearing in October, in terms of noise, parking and trash.

"The thing I struggle with is we're a year into this and we're still seeing the same issues," said neighbor Diane Miller, who complained of noise and trash. "Sometimes I feel like I'm monitoring a fifth-grader running a venue. Why do I have to stay on top of this? I don't know if you need to be there more, Eddie, or what."

The other major complaint was that of concert goers parking on neighborhood streets.

Carranza took over a lease from the nearby CVS parking lot from adjacent nightclub VLive, but still lacks the proper licensing to operate it, something his lawyer Harlan Powell said has been delayed because of a required zoning change.

Joe Kopera, a longtime resident who has defended the venue and Carranza, said he thought the theater continued to improve.

"I see them out there picking up the garbage," said Kopera. "I specifically go and sit across from the Congress and watch what's going on there. I think they're doing all right."

Shakespeare District police Sgt. Joe Giambrone said, however, that theater staff has not been reporting problems to police.

"Overall, the theater has been disregarding [the city's directive to call 911]," he said. "Instead they've been waving down police."

Giambrone said waving down cops on the street can cause the department headaches. He spoke of one incident when a Congress employee waved down specialized gang-enforcement officers, who ended up taking the arrestee to the wrong district.

"Personally, this creates an enforcement issue on our part and an investigation issue," he said. "It circumvents our investigative responsibility."

All told, he said there were 38 calls for service at the Congress Theater since Jan. 1, 14 of which resulted in actual police reports — six assaults and one possession of PCP.

Tuesday's meeting — meant to be an informal meeting between residents, police and Congress staff — drew a relatively large crowd that included Congress Theater's security contractor, Blue Corp's William Whelehan.

Whelehan was quick to point out at that two of the assaults were committed against his  employees.

Also present at Tuesday's meeting was architect Jeremiah Johnson, of CBD Architects, who came to Carranza's defense on building matters, emphasizing that work on safety improvements had started in the fall of 2011, long before Carranza's other city hearings began.

"It doesn't look [like] he's done a lot of work, but we have permits, we have drawings," he said. "Right now, he's paying out of cash flow, so it's going a little slower."

Johnson said Carranza has struggled to get bank loans because of city actions against the theater, but said he is still making progress on projects such as a cafe and grocery store, as well as a restaurant and smaller venue.

Carranza is still battling the city on two other fronts — a case before the liquor board was wrapped up last week, though no decision has been made, and Carranza will return to circuit court Thursday morning for a hearing on building violations.

He hardly spoke at Tuesday's meeting, except once to note that the Congress was having more country shows when assistant city commissioner Barb Gressel mentioned she preferred country music.

Gressel said she wanted to continue to see improvements from Congress staff, particularly relating to safety concerns.

"Certainly, the reports you've given today, show you've given a great deal of time and effort in responding to these issues," she said to Carranza and Congress staff. "We certainly have heard from the neighborhood that there have been positive changes, but I just want to see that that's been continuing over time."

She scheduled another public nuisance meeting for 10 a.m. Nov. 12.

After the meeting, Carranza said he was frustrated by delays with licenses.

"I could have had the cafe, restaurant and storefronts done by now," he said. "But all these license issues have delayed those businesses from opening."