PORTAGE PARK — David Feller remembers summer nights as a kid, when he would walk up Austin Avenue to check which blockbusters had reached the dazzling marquee and cavernous chambers of the Patio Theater.
"That was where I saw 'Jaws' and 'Star Wars' for the first time,'" said Feller, now president of the West Portage Park Neighbors Association.
Four decades later, he said, little has changed. And that's the problem.
"I don't think the previous owners, or this one, have put one dollar into that building," Feller said. "It looks the same as it did when I was a kid. ... They haven't done anything with it. And now the outside looks like a dump."
It's been a year since the property, at 6008 W. Irving Park Road, was bought by Eddie Carranza, who vowed to keep the lights on after the Kouvalis family ended their 28 years in charge. In that time, the theater has been mostly limited to community meetings and vintage film screenings.
Meanwhile, neighbors like Feller and Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38th) have been left wondering what the new owners can do to draw larger crowds to the 89-year-old venue.
"I know they're trying, but I wish there were more things happening there," Sposato said. "I know it's not so easy to get top-notch entertainers in there, but you're not going to make money by showing 'Bambi' and charging $5 for it."
Although Carranza delegates management of the theater to the Portage Theater Group, neighbors were suspicious of the property owner's checkered operating history on the Northwest Side.
City officials moved to revoke Carranza's liquor license at the Congress Theater in Logan Square after they flagged five separate illegal incidents involving drugs between September 2011 to April 2012. His stewardship of the Portage Theater also drew heat from Ald. John Arena (45th), who called it "a recipe for disaster" before Carranza ultimately sold the building in 2015.
And in October, McHenry County officials yanked the liquor license from Plum Tree National Country Club, a property Carranza owns in suburban Woodstock.
Four months after securing its license, the Patio still hasn't begun pouring drinks. The venue's chief operator, Charlie Burns, is "preparing the theater's infrastructure for the sale of beer and liquor and should have that ready in the next month or so," he wrote in an email.
An operational bar will "help pay the costs of maintaining the building while attracting comedy acts and other events where selling alcohol is appropriate," Burns said.
In the meantime, business owners around the crowded intersection are itching for the extra traffic.
"It's got great potential, and we've been really excited about some of the events they've done there, like screening classic Chicago movies," Melissa Basilone, who runs the Irving Austin Business District with her husband Joe, said in October. "But we need to see some consistent programming there, and it hasn't been there. It's a huge opportunity that's not being taken advantage of."
Feller posed a sharper challenge to the managers of the theater.
"Talk is cheap, but this has the potential to be a tremendous boon to our community, and I want to see them make good on their promises," he said. "You've got your liquor license. Now what are you going to do with it?
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here.