Congress Theater liquor hearing rescheduled

Any deal with Live Nation for the Congress and Portage on hold

March 6, 2013

Unlike many cancelations yesterday, snow wasn’t to blame for the second Chicago Liquor Control Commission hearing on the troubled Congress Theater being rescheduled to March 26.

Controversial venue owner Erineo “Eddie” Carranza has switched lawyers for the second time in seven months, and his latest attorney—number three in the series representing him on several fronts with city agencies—requested more time from Deputy Hearings Commissioner Robert Nolan to get up to speed on the case.

Nolan granted the request over the objection of assistant corporation counsel Maggie Shiels, who is pursuing five city charges against the Congress for violations that could cause the revocation of its liquor license. The Congress also is involved in Deleterious Impact/Public Nuisance Hearings with the Department of Business Affairs and a case involving 37 code violations with the Building Department.

Carranza initially was represented by Homero Tristan, a politically connected lawyer who had served as Chicago Commissioner of Human Resources before he resigned following charges of public misconduct from the city’s Inspector General. Tristan participated in a 4,000–word interview with this blog and Carranza published last March.

Attorney number two was Thomas Raines, who took the helm late last summer and whom Carranza said was an expert at dealing with the Liquor Commission. Though he spoke often with this blog in the months that followed, Raines could not be reached for comment for this story.

Now comes attorney number three, Harlan C. Powell, whose firm appears to be even more expert in liquor proceedings. From its Web site: “Webster Powell Concentrates its practice in the beverage, alcohol and hospitality industry.”

“Harlan is a real pro in this arena,” said one attorney familiar with his work. But the lawyer himself declined comment when asked why he was brought on board and whether he also will be representing the Congress in the other two proceedings.

“While I appreciate your ongoing interest in the Congress Theater story, I have no comment on any aspect of my firm's representation of Mr. Carranza or on any of the legal proceedings in which Mr. Carranza is currently involved,” Powell wrote via email.

Powell may be trying a different tactic than his loquacious predecessors Tristan and Raines, or he may have learned from being criticized for comments to the press in the past. Chicagoist took a shot at him in 2006 for “an overdose on truth pills” when he was representing several clubs fighting city violations for bottle service.

In any event, Carranza has a reputation for rapidly burning through partners and employees. Several development partners have come and gone from the project to repair the Congress and redevelop its ground-floor storefronts. And, according to a report today at DNAinfo.com, the new corporate partnership for both the Congress and the Portage theaters that he promised two months ago now is on hold or has fallen apart.

City officials reported that representatives from monopolistic concert giant Live Nation met with them early in the new year and talked about leasing and operating Carranza’s two theaters. Live Nation has refused to comment. But Carranza now tells DNAinfo: “I had a deal, but now I gotta to do all this [city-mandated] stuff first… I’ve got to clean everything up. … If I have to stay independent, I will.”

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