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Overcrowded Portage Theater 'A Recipe for Disaster,' Alderman Says

By Heather Cherone | November 11, 2015 6:23am
 The Portage Theater was dangerously overcrowded during a hip-hop show Saturday night, Ald. John Arena said.
The Portage Theater was dangerously overcrowded during a hip-hop show Saturday night, Ald. John Arena said.
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DNAinfo/Heather Cherone

PORTAGE PARK — The Portage Theater was "a recipe for disaster" Saturday night with more than 400 people over the building's maximum capacity at a concert by several hip-hop acts that stretched into the early morning hours of Sunday, Ald. John Arena (45th) said.

While the theater's legal capacity is 1,321 people, more than 1,800 people attended the concert by Bone Thugs N Harmony, Twista and Da Brat at the Portage Theater, 4050 N. Milwaukee Ave., Arena said.

"That's a recipe for disaster," Arena said. "It is a fire hazard, and I'm not willing to take that risk."

Arena said he expects the theater operators and owners to be issued a number of tickets based on what he saw Saturday night and early Sunday morning.

Charlie Burns, the operator of the theater, and Eddie Carranza, the owner of the theater, did not respond to repeated requests for comment from DNAinfo Chicago.

Police were called to the theater by several noise complaints filed by nearby residents about the music and noise generated by the show — which ended 45 minutes after the theater was scheduled to be shut down, officials said.

One theater patron was ticketed after the show — marketed as a gathering of "Midwest Hip Hop Legends" — for urinating on a nearby sidewalk, Jefferson Park Police District Cmdr. Roger Bay said.

Arena, who lives near the Six Corners theater, said he frequently drives by the theater on nights when big shows take place to ensure it is operating smoothly.

The alderman said he was alarmed to see that security was not present at the city-owned parking lot near Cuyler and LaPorte avenues, where a man was shot in June after a dance party at the theater.

After the June incident, Arena said he was concerned that problems surrounding the theater would stymie efforts to revitalize the Six Corners Shopping District, which is home to approximately two dozen new shops and restaurants.

When he reached the theater, Arena said he was alarmed to see trucks, production vans and cars parked in the alley that leads to the back of the theater.

"It is incredibly dangerous to have that alley blocked," Arena said.

When he entered the theater, Arena said he was dismayed to see that theater operators had added five portable bars to the theater and one to the lobby.

"They are not allowed to have any bars in the lobby," Arena said.

Portage Theater officials have asked city officials to modify their licenses to allow them to add bars and remove seats, Arena said, but those applications are pending, he added.

Arena said he would ask the liquor commissioner to consider the fact that theater's operators did not wait for permission when he issues a decision on the Portage Theater's application for additional bars.

In addition, theater operators have begun using vacant apartments in the 95-year-old theater building as spaces to host meet-and-greet events with artists performing at the theater, Arena said.

Most of the noise complaints were caused by the theater's creation of a VIP area behind the theater in the alley, Arena said.

"How big is the theater's footprint going to grow?" Arena asked.

After the June shooting, Arena has said he would use all of the tools at his disposal to prevent the theater from becoming a nuisance.

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