PORTAGE PARK — Portage Theater owner Eddie Carranza said Friday the Six Corners landmark would close for the foreseeable future because of a dispute over the former movie palace's liquor license.
Ald. John Arena (45th) said Friday he would block Carranza's plan to take over the liquor license at the theater at 4050 N. Milwaukee Ave. in the heart of the Six Corners Shopping District because of Carranza's checkered track record at the Congress Theater.
"The theater going dark is not what I want, but a bad operator would be equally as bad," Arena said.
On Friday, city officials revoked Carranza's liquor license at the Congress, finding 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 2012.
Carranza's track record makes him a bad fit for Six Corners, a family-oriented shopping district close to homes and apartments, Arena said.
The closure brings to a halt the Northwest Chicago Film Society’s screenings of classic films. The society had been planning to show Douglas Sirk’s “All I Desire” starring Barbara Stanwyck Monday.
Carranza said he was disappointed by Arena’s actions and accused him of being anti-business.
"I had great plans with great people," Carranza said, adding that he planned to turn the 94-year-old theater into a music venue and several nearby storefronts into a restaurant, a brew pub and a market. "Arena is driving away business. This is going to scare away other business owners who want to invest in Portage Park."
Work to turn the theater into an entertainment complex will continue, Carranza said.
Six months ago, Carranza bought Portage Theater Management, LLC from Dennis Wolkowicz and Dave Dziedzic as part of an agreement to end the legal fight over the lease of the former movie palace, which was built in the 1920s.
In April, Carranza said he and Wolkowicz would run the theater together, with Wolkowicz programming movies and Carranza scheduling musical acts. Wolkowicz and Dziedzic breathed new life into the 1920s movie palace when they took it over eight years ago.
However, that agreement fell apart when Arena said he would not support the transfer of the liquor license, Carranza said.
Arena said Portage Park residents had urged him not to allow Carranza to operate the theater.
"People have told me, 'Alderman, if it is [Carranza] or nothing, we'll take nothing,'" Arena said. "I have to be responsible to my constituents."
Had Carranza operated the Portage as he did the Congress, it would have diminished the quality of life in Portage Park, Arena said.
Arena acknowledged that the closure of the Portage Theater is a blow to his efforts to revitalize the struggling shopping district by turning it into the arts and entertainment hub of the far Northwest Side.
"We didn't put all our eggs in one basket," Arena said. "There are lots of other things happening at Six Corners."
A new operator will lease the Portage and schedule shows and films, Carranza said. The same company is expected to also run the Congress Theater, Carranza said.
"Who knows how long that will take?" Carranza asked. "There will certainly be a delay."
Carranza bought the theater in September, and days later sued to evict Wolkowicz and Dziedzic for failing to pay nearly $100,000 in back rent, angering Arena who said Carranza promised him he would not do that. The two men have been at loggerheads since.
Arena urged Carranza to find a good tenant to run the theater.
"That way, everyone will win," Arena said.