UPTOWN — The city asked the owner of the Uptown Theatre to change the massive, vacant building's oil heating system to a natural gas system — but didn't anticipate that work would start in the winter, leaving the 46,000-square-foot building without heat during some of the most frigid Chicago weather in years.
Jerry Mickelson's Jam Productions has owned the theater at 4816 N. Broadway since 2008. The ornate but deteriorated former movie palace was built in 1925 and held its last concert in 1981.
The latest issue with the theater, Chicago Law Department spokesman Roderick Drew said, was that the owner began changing the heating system this winter, leaving the building without heat during the cold snap last week that transformed Chicago into "Chiberia."
Last week, city inspectors were worried about the possibility that drainage pipes between the theater's interior and exterior walls could freeze due to subzero temperatures.
A firefighter present during the inspection said there was a giant icicle in the basement "about 3 feet wide and 30 feet tall," although Mickelson told the Tribune the icicle was closer to 2 feet by 10 feet.
At a city housing court hearing Wednesday, Judge Joseph M. Sconza was concerned that Jam decided to begin the work in the winter. Drew said that the city and court's main concern was that the deteriorated building wasn't further damaged in this cold weather.
A lawyer representing the owners of the theater said the heat was off because the owners were honoring the city's request to change its heating system, and that the building was cold but didn't pose any code violations or danger, the Tribune reported. He added that one bathroom still has water, but that it drains into a pit in the basement, which explained the icicle, the Tribune reported.
Another status hearing on how long it would take to restore heat was set for Jan. 24. Mickelson wasn't immediately reachable for comment Thursday.
Reviving the theater is considered an important part of making Uptown a thriving entertainment destination.
Ald. James Cappleman (46th) said in August that work at the theater was being done "to protect the building from water intrusion and damage while a long-term redevelopment plan is worked out."
His office indicated during the summer that a finance plan for the theater blending $70 million in private and public funds would be submitted to the city by Dec. 1, but there haven't been any updates on the plan.
Cappleman declined to comment on the financial plan, the heating issue or the progress of the renovation effort.
"At this point the alderman has no comment on this," his chief of staff Tressa Feher said in a statement. "He will let the community know when he does."