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Wanted: New Operators for the Portage and Congress theaters

  Owner Eddie Carranza has hired a firm to find new operators for the shuttered theaters.
Wanted: New Operators for the Portage and Congress theaters
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PORTAGE PARK — Eddie Carranza, the owner of the Portage and Congress theaters, has hired a real estate development firm to find operators for both of the shuttered former movie palaces.

Joe Houlihan, an associate at Paine/Wetzel and Associates, said Carranza would not operate either venue and was instead working to lease the theaters to operators who would transform the landmarks "into buzzing hives of activity."

"We're looking for the best fit for the community," Houlihan said, adding that Carranza wants the theaters to be community centers much like they were when they were built in the 1920s. 

Interest in both theaters has been high, as well as nearby storefronts that are also owned by Carranza, Houlihan said, declining to reveal the identity of firms interested in either the Portage or the Congress.

The Congress will be run by a "big" music company and the Portage will be run by an "independent movie and live music entertainment promoter/operator," Carranza said in a text message.

New operators will be announced "soon," Houlihan said.

In addition, plans call for a mix of stores and restaurants near the theaters to draw shoppers and diners throughout the day, Houlihan said. An art gallery as well as a vintage clothing shop has expressed interest in space near the theaters, he added.

"We're looking for small businesses that could use these storefronts as launching pads," Houlihan said.

Carranza's announcement that he will lease the Congress or the Portage theaters to new operators is the latest in a series of plans for the theaters, none of which have come to fruition.

Both theaters have been at the center of controversy for months.

Carranza closed the Portage May 24 after Ald. John Arena (45th) said he would not allow Carranza to take over the liquor and public place of amusement licenses at the theater near Six Corners based on the theater operator's pockmarked track record at the Congress.

On the same day the Portage went dark, city officials revoked Carranza's liquor license at the theater, finding it "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.

Although the theater was allowed to continue selling booze while Carranza appealed the revocation, the Logan Square theater was shut down June 11 as Carranza worked to correct multiple building code and safety violations.

Last week, Carranza's attorney told the judge overseeing the Congress building violations hearing the theater would have a new operator "in two days." The Congress will remain closed at least until July 25, when the next hearing is scheduled in the case.

An agreement with a new operator for the Congress has not been finalized, Houlihan said.