UPTOWN — A $10 million state grant for revitalizing the historic Uptown Theatre could be lost in Gov. Bruce Rauner's proposed budget cuts.
Rikeesha Phelon, a spokeswoman for state Senate President John Cullerton, said the promised money is on hold and under review by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.
Proponents called the news "disappointing," but promised to continue fighting for the project.
"It's unfortunate," said Keith McCormick, executive director for the Uptown Chamber of Commerce. "But I don't think ownership is willing to give up on it and I don't think the city is willing to give up on it."
He added while "it's important to be patient, it's tough to preach patience when you feel like you've finally got some momentum."
In July, the Senate passed a bill that included a state appropriation of $10 million toward renovating the theater, a concert venue and movie palace originally built in 1925 that has sat vacant since 1981 due to flooding. JAM Productions bought the building in 2008. The grant was intended to be seed money, as the entire renovation is slated to cost as much as $70 million.
But when Rauner ordered a freeze on state spending in January, all capital grants were put on hold pending further review, including the theater's $10 million grant, Phelon said.
Now the fate of the grant, and potentially the historic theater, will be decided by the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. The state agency did not immediately respond to questions seeking a decision date.
Andy Pierce, who co-founded a group that has advocated for the theater for decades known as Friends of the Uptown, called the holdup "disappointing" and "another empty promise."
"This volunteer group is among the most patient and cooperative under the sun, but come on guys," Pierce said. "At some point, city and state government need to put money where their mouth is and they need to make a difference."
Ald. James Cappleman (46th), whose ward includes the historic theater, said in a written statement the state funding is a "critical piece to moving the project forward."
The alderman said he's been "working closely with Senate President Cullerton to make sure that the state of Illinois lives up to the promise of restoring this historical treasure."
Revitalizing the Uptown Theatre is among his top priorities for the next four years, the alderman said.
Cappleman's challenger, Amy Crawford, said "it's unrealistic to make a campaign promise that the theater will be up and running" soon given the complexities of the project.
Crawford, who will square off against Cappleman in the upcoming runoff April 7, said he hasn't been an active champion of the project.
Phelon has told DNAinfo Chicago that Cullerton is a "longtime supporter of plans for an arts-based revitalization of Uptown."
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