Congress Theater partners up… and looks to expand

July 26, 2012

As he continues trying to convince the city that the Congress Theater is not a poorly run blight causing myriad problems in Logan Square, its colorful owner has partnered with an Internet entrepreneur to develop the ground-floor block of the venue… and apparently is bidding to expand by buying the Portage Theater on the Northwest Side.

The social media director for Doejo, which describes itself as “a full service digital agency and startup accelerator headquartered in Chicago” and founded by “serial entrepreneur” Phil Tadros, announced earlier this week that the advertising and marketing firm “has partnered with Congress owner Eddie Carranza to oversee the cosmetic and business phase as well as strategy and online development” for the dozen or so storefront spaces on the ground floor of the theater on Milwaukee Avenue near Western.

Plans for these spaces, which will be part of a grander “Congress Theater Entertainment Center,” include an organic grocery, a café and a brewpub. The press release notes that work will begin this fall — which seems ambitious, given the hurdles of city permitting, especially when the Congress still is fighting to mitigate a long list of complaints from city officials and neighbors in the midst of a series of “Deleterious Impact/Public Nuisance” hearings.

"It’s a free market, but really? You [Carranza] still need to get your act together and deal with all of the problems at the theater you already own."
- 1st Ward Ald. Proco Joe Moreno

Frustrated by years of empty promises from the Congress to address problems with security, noise and the beyond-grungy state of the nearly century-old building, First Ward Ald. Proco Joe Moreno initiated the hearing process in March, and it could end with the theater losing its liquor license if it doesn’t clean up its act.

The second of three public hearings took place on June 19, and it was sparsely attended compared to the packed opening session in April.

In between innumerable interviews justifying his opposition to the homophobic Chi-fil-A opening in his ward, Moreno said yesterday that the second hearing showed that the Congress is “making steps in the right direction,” including beefing up security in the theater and surrounding neighborhood, committing to install security cameras and cleaning up the interior. But it still has not mitigated neighbors’ noise complaints.

“I think you can say I’m happy, but still not satisfied,” Moreno said.

Carranza and his attorney, Homero Tristan, did not respond to requests for comment, but Jazmine de Natera, the Congress Theater Community Outreach Liaison, issued this statement from the owner: “We at the Congress Theater have worked hard at complying with the city’s requests, as well as working with our neighbors and the Alderman’s office to improve our business. Through attending CAPS meetings and keeping in weekly communication with the 14th district police commander and Alderman’s office we strive to keep improving our business and the community.”

The third hearing on the Congress is scheduled for August 16.

Meanwhile, Chicagoist, following up on numerous blog posts and rumblings on neighborhood bulletin boards in Portage Park on the far Northwest side, reported on Tuesday that Carranza is one of several bidders vying to purchase the Portage Theater near the six corners of Cicero, Milwaukee and Irving Park. The Chicago Tabernacle had been hoping to turn that historic venue into a church, but it announced on July 19 that it was withdrawing its appeal to the Zoning Board.

Asked about Carranza’s interest in the Portage, de Natera dodged the question. “According to MLS (real-estate multiple listing service) it’s listed as contract pending,” she wrote via email. “That’s as much knowledge as I have on the subject.”

The prospect of Carranza turning the Portage into the Congress North already has concerned many in the neighborhood, however, including 45th Ward Alderman Joe Arena, who reached out to Moreno. “I’ll tell you exactly what I told him,” Moreno said. “It’s a free market… but really? You [Carranza] still need to get your act together and deal with all of the problems at the theater you already own. You’re crying poor to me all the time [when urged to improve the Logan Square venue], and now you want to buy another theater?”

As for Carranza’s new partnership with Doejo and Tadros, Moreno said, “It’s a good move. The guy [Tadros] has got a vision and he’s got clients… Of course, Carranza has been talking about plans like these since five years before I became Alderman, and nothing has happened yet.”

Earlier reports in this blog about the Congress Theater:

April 14: More trouble at the Congress Theater

March 28: Critical of Congress security, headliner brings his own

March 25: Congress Theater responds to complaints

March 22: City to Congress Theater: Clean up your act!