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Portage Theater Owner to Blame for Closure, Ald. Arena Says

 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.
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.
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PORTAGE PARK — Ald. John Arena (45th) blasted Portage Theater owner Eddie Carranza on Tuesday, calling Carranza's behavior "erratic" and saying there was no reason for the former movie palace to go dark.

Carranza has "decided to use a fog of misdirection to avoid confronting the truth; he alone is the cause of his problems" at the Portage Theater, Arena wrote in an email message to his constituents.

Arena said he was shocked to learn of the theater's closure from news reports, a move that came after Arena had vowed to block Carranza's plan to take over the theater's liquor license.

The closure forced the Northwest Chicago Film Society to move its screenings to other theaters.

Arena had vowed to block Carranza because of Carranza's troubled track record of operating the Congress Theater. On Tuesday, Arena wrote that "there was nothing I did that forced Mr. Carranza to close the venue" and that "it was solely his choice."

Arena, who has clashed repeatedly with Carranza since he bought the Six Corners landmark in September, said he expected former theater operator Dennis Wolkowicz to manage the theater on an interim basis.

"I was comfortable with this. Mr. Wolkowicz has managed the day-to-day operation of the theater since it reopened, and he has poured his heart and soul into the building," Arena wrote. "He is the reason that theater has been a community asset for the last eight years."

In a letter to City of Chicago Liquor Commissioner Gregory Steadman dated May 16, Carranza's attorney Harlan Powell said Carranza planned to transfer the theater's liquor and public place of amusement licenses to a new operator but asked that events already scheduled at the theater be allowed to continue under Wolkowicz's management.

Despite his attorney's letter, Carranza told DNAinfo.com Chicago on Friday that he planned to apply to have the licenses transferred to him and Wolkowicz so they could jointly run the Portage but Arena's opposition left him no choice but to rent the theater to a new operator, which could take months.

"I will not support any application by Mr. Carranza until he can prove that he can be a responsible liquor license holder and venue operator," Arena wrote Tuesday. "That stance continues in light of Mr. Carranza’s recent erratic behavior."

However, Powell said Carranza shuttered the theater after Jennifer Esposito, an attorney for Wolkowicz and his partner Dave Dziedzic, informed him May 17 that Wolkowicz and Dziedzic were no longer interested in working with Carranza or running the theater on an interim basis.

Esposito could not be immediately reached for comment.

Arena said he would support a mixture of films and live entertainment at the Portage Theater, as long as it did not diminish the quality of life for residents near Six Corners.

On Friday, city officials yanked Carranza's liquor license to run the Congress Theater, finding that the theater "created a nuisance" due to five separate illegal incidents involving narcotics or controlled substances from September 2011 to April 2012. Carranza said he would appeal the decision.

That revocation means Carranza would have been prohibited by city officials from taking over the liquor license at the Portage Theater regardless of Arena's opposition unless his appeal is upheld, according to the city code.

Arena said he would continue to work to revitalize the Six Corners Shopping District, regardless of the closure of the Portage Theater.