City wants Congress Theater shut down immediately

April 17, 2013

City attorneys Thursday morning will seek an immediate injunction against the owner of the troubled Congress Theater in Logan Square, prohibiting Erineo “Eddie” Carranza from “renting, using, leasing or occupying” the 87-year-old, 3,500-seat venue, and granting police the power to force him from the premises if he doesn’t willingly vacate immediately.

This extreme move against a major concert venue is without precedent on the city’s music scene. It comes as a result of Carranza’s failure to correct in a timely fashion a long list of violations that the city Buildings, Fire and Health departments say constitutes a “hazardous and dangerous” situation for concertgoers.

The emergency motion, which was filed by Chicago senior counsel Kimberly Roberts on April 12, followed the latest round of city inspections on April 3. It will be heard by Judge James McGing in Cook County Circuit Court at 11 a.m. on Thursday.

By far the biggest and most immediate threat to Carranza’s thriving bookings of electronic dance music, hip-hop, and punk rock at the Congress, the injunction could compound the theater’s problems before the Liquor Commission and the Department of Business Affairs, which initiated Deleterious Impact/Public Nuisance hearings against the venue in March 2012 and which could result in the loss of the theater’s liquor license.

Carranza also is a source of controversy in Portage Park because of his plans there for the future of another landmark venue, the Portage Theater, which he bought in September even as he complained about the steep costs of making city-mandated repairs to the Congress.

Carranza’s attorney Harlan Powell did not respond to a request for comment.

The city motion details what it calls the “hazardous and dangerous conditions” at the Congress, and the list is long and daunting:

a. The electrical system is in a dangerous condition. There is improper clearance for the main distribution of live front switchboard in the basement area.

b. Bare electrical cable wires throughout the basement areas lack ground continuity and therefore pose a dangerous hazard to occupants and emergency responders.

c. There are defective lights throughout the theater area, second floor bathroom, and second floor projector rooms, which are a dangerous and hazard. d. There is a defective live front service and main distribution board, as well as electrical panels, fire pump controllers, motors with exposed live feeds throughout the basement, first and second floors, and stage areas, which need to be replaced with a dead front.

e. The ventilation system above the stage block specifically designed to vent flames and smoke in case of a fire is totally disabled. This condition poses an extremely dangerous hazard as the flames and smoke will back draft into the occupied auditorium putting all patrons at risk.

f. Theater has not posted revised capacity placards. Recent change in exit pathways has altered egress including removal of fire escapes and construction of exterior stair systems. The floor plan used to obtain first level auditorium capacity placard is inaccurate. The existing toilet rooms are insufficient for current capacity.

g. Unknown insulation material is used on the boiler and piping throughout the basement areas and there is missing and damaged insulation as well as insulation lying on the floor at some locations. Insulation material requires evaluation.

h. Inspectors observed that the fire curtain has not been tested in numerous years, despite the annual testing requirement. The fusible links appear to be painted or covered with dirt, which could effect proper operation. There is wiring and cables, which will block the fire curtain from dropping properly causing a breach in the four hour stage block.

i. Approved fire extinguishers are missing from each side of the stage, each gallery above the stage level, the gridiron, and accessible places below the stage.

j. Fire resistive separation between auditorium and stage block is in dangerous condition. The basement north fire door to the orchestra pit is badly corroded, there is an improperly infilled opening at the basement south fire door to the orchestra pit, the first floor fire doors at each side of stage do not close properly, there is a hole in the wall being used to run a bundle of cables to the auditorium area at the basement level north brick enclosure to orchestra pit, a gridiron level hole in the brick wall between the auditorium and the stage block is being used to provide access for piping, upper level door lacks self closing device on fire door, fire doors are improperly held open.

k. There are no carbon monoxide detectors.

l. The exit capacity at the northeast exit courtyard has been obstructed where safe exiting from the building has been significantly compromised. The presence of dumpsters, crowd control barricades, large steel gates, large steel tubs and designated disabled parking hamper travel and evacuation. The present conditions pose a dangerous hazard to employees and patron many emergency egress.

m. Crowd control barricades, being used near the front of the stage, are arranged in a manner that eliminates access to one half of the exit opens on each side of the stage.

n. There are beverage dispensing stations and bars installed in the south main level exit corridor, balcony exit corridor, and in auditorium at the north and south exit aisles which obstruct access to exit doors.

o. Management or owner contact information on building is missing from the premises.

p. There is neither smoke nor fire detection in the loft space above the main ceiling. Breaches in the fire rated ceiling are used for rigging concert equipment creating a dangerous condition.

q. Com Ed room in basement unlocked, main area of Com Ed feed under vaulted sidewalk grid work rotten out and firebrick wall supporting grid has collapsed in part.

r. The catwalk for access above the ceiling in the auditorium, to rig shows and change lighting, is old and dilapidated posing risk of collapse. This condition poses a hazard to any unexpecting employee.

s. New permanent generator needs test and exhaust needs to be extended from beneath stairs and away from fresh air intake. Carbon monoxide detector needs to be installed in generator area.

t. Obstructions in the main lobby, 1st floor, and balcony, specifically bars and coat checks reduce the path of egress. Safe egress is significantly obstructed is any emergency exiting.

u. Both the wooden platforms in the rear of the auditorium and the sound and lighting platform were constructed without plans and permits and are not non-combustible or approved fire rated material.

v. The sprinkler heads in the VIP room and within the stage block are in dangerous condition. Inspectors observed that sprinkler heads have been painted and the inspectors were unable to test sprinklers of both areas to assure that the system is operational.

w. There is no railing system to prevent falling in either the balcony or the VIP room.

x. There is water in the basement near an open live front electrical panel. The panel is in use and feeds through wiring which stretches around the basement area to numerous unprotected holes in order to feed the stage block and auditorium areas. The conditions pose an electrical fire hazard and possible electrocution to occupants.

y. Inspectors observed a hole on the roof of the mechanical room tower. There is missing firebrick, which suggests that there could be other structural issues with the roof.

z. Ventilation system is inoperable; vents have been blocked and sealed. There is no fresh air supply to patrons, nor is there any exhaust of polluted air from the theater.

Depending on the outcome of Thursday’s hearing, several shows at the Congress could be cancelled immediately. Country singer Easton Corbin is set to perform Thursday night; the Funky Meters are booked on Friday, and the electronic dance reggae act Rebelution is scheduled to appear on Saturday.

Earlier reports about Carranza, the Congress and the Portage:

March 27: Chicago police official: Congress Theater ‘untruthful’ on night of underage drinking

March 8: The fate of the Portage remains a messy mystery

March 6: Congress Theater hearing rescheduled

Feb. 22: Congress Theater restoration underway, but it’s got a long way to go

Jan. 16: Congress Theater liquor hearings begin with undercover cop’s testimony

Dec. 3, 2012: A rally to save the Portage Theater ‘as we know it’

Nov. 28, 2012: The Portage Theater uses Graham Elliot’s name in vain

Nov. 2, 2012: Congress Theater’s new security chief: An ex-cop with a troubled past

Oct. 31, 2012: Congress Theater police calls rank with Soldier Field, United Center

Sept. 23, 2012: How did things turn so bad so fast at the Portage Theater?

Sept. 22, 2012: New Owner of the Portage Theater moves to evict current operators

Sept. 16, 2012: Congress Theater splits with development partner

Sept. 11, 2012: The Portage Theater: What’s Eddie up to?

July 26, 2012: Congress Theater partners up… and looks to expand

April 14, 2012: More trouble at the Congress Theater

March 28, 2012: Critical of Congress security, headliner brings his own

March 25, 2012: Congress Theater responds to complaints

March 22, 2012: City to Congress Theater: Clean up your act!