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Preston Bradley Center Seeks Spot in Proposed Uptown Entertainment District

By Adeshina Emmanuel | January 22, 2014 3:17pm | Updated on January 22, 2014 4:22pm
  The Preston Bradley Center is weighing changes that officials hope lead to a starring role in Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Ald. James Cappleman's vision of a go-to entertainment district in Uptown.
The Preston Bradley Center
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UPTOWN — After months of internal debate, the Preston Bradley Center will pursue a zoning change aimed at giving the six-story 1920s building a prominent role in plans to bolster Uptown's entertainment district.

Officials at the historic building, which is owned by the Peoples Church located there, floated the idea last spring of swapping the building's residential zoning for business zoning and seeking a performance arts venue license.

The zoning request will be reviewed by the city's zoning committee Thursday, according to Ald. James Cappleman (46th).

The North Side alderman also indicated he would help seek landmark status for the building at 941 W. Lawrence Ave. Prominent Edgewater architect J.E.O. Pridmore designed the building in the Neo-Classical style. He also designed the Vic Theatre in Lakeview.

 Rev. Jean Darling wants the People's Church to "keep its identity," regardless of any zoning changes at the Preston Bradley Center.
Rev. Jean Darling wants the People's Church to "keep its identity," regardless of any zoning changes at the Preston Bradley Center.
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DNAinfo/Adeshina Emmanuel

Cappleman, in an email to constituents Wednesday, said that because of "concerns that this zoning change could make the property more appealing for redevelopment at a future date," his office is helping the building pursue landmark status so that any significant physical changes to the building would require approval from the Chicago Landmarks Commission.
"I believe that this is the ideal solution to meet everyone's interests," Cappleman said. "It keeps all the existing uses in the building, and will bring new users to the building, making it a hub of arts and culture in the Uptown Entertainment District."

The Peoples Church had more than 4,000 members at its peak in the 1940s when the Rev. Preston Bradley, a charismatic and connected preacher, led the congregation. These days, the church has fewer than 40 members.

While the Preston Bradley Center is currently home to religious groups, social service agencies, an art center, cafe and two theater companies  — the National Pastime Theater and Pegasus Players — the building has many vacancies.

The zoning changes and performance-arts venue license would allow a broader range of arts and entertainment businesses and large special events in the building, according to Preston Bradley board president William Boulware. He has emphasized in past interviews that new tenants and special events could help fund sorely needed repairs and improvements at the building.

But while Boulware's board oversees the building's upkeep, the People's Church owns the structure.

The Peoples Church pastor, the Rev. Jean Darling, had delayed making a decision about the zoning and permit changes for numerous months citing worries about opening the building up to subsequent redevelopment.

She also worried the shift toward a more entertainment-oriented use of the building could eventually backfire.

Darling told DNAinfo Chicago in October that she was worried that the church and a shelter in its basement might need to apply for special-use permits to continue in the building under business zoning -- and that neighbors might oppose the request.

But Cappleman's office said Thursday that there is community support for the zoning change, and that the church and shelter would be grandfathered in under the zoning proposed with Cappleman's support and wouldn't have to apply for any permits.

Darling couldn't immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.

But a message on the Peoples Church website says, "We are working to ensure that existing uses of our space can remain active and viable, even as new uses are created. ... We are simultaneously seeking landmark status ... to protect this historic building as we move into a changing future in Uptown."