Congress Theater gets another pass from the city

Most pressing code violations seem to have been resolved.

May 9, 2013

By Leah Pickett and Jim DeRogatis

In his third appearance in Cook County Circuit Court Thursday facing a long list of building, health, and fire code violations at the 87-year-old Congress Theater, controversial venue owner Erineo “Eddie” Carranza once again was given the “all’s clear” to continue operating.

During the court appearance, which lasted less than five minutes, attorneys for the city and Carranza updated Judge James McGing on building renovations, including the removal of obstructions from passageways in the corridors and installation of back-up lighting on the upper floors. Another inspection was scheduled for May 22, with another court date the following day.

Judy Frydland, the deputy corporation counsel who is the city’s top building code enforcement official and the attorney prosecuting the case, said that there is a “small show” tomorrow night (the Electric Circus DJ event), but nothing else is scheduled past that date. This, however, contradicts the theater’s list of upcoming concerts advertised on its own website.

Carranza’s lawyer said he wants a “short court date” for May 23, because they only have a few “minor” repairs to go and then they’ll be “ready to rock and roll,” reopening the upper floors and restoring the capacity to one of the largest music venues in the city.

Thursday’s quick hearing comes as no surprise, since after filing a lawsuit on April 12 seeking the immediate closure of the Congress based on a harrowing, 26-item, literally A-to-Z list of “dangerous and hazardous” building, health, and fire code violations, the city flip-flopped a mere 10 days later and declared that the main floor of the venue could remain open, though the second and third floors have been shut since January, and capacity is reduced from over 5,000 to 3,000.

Frydland told this blog on May 1 that the city “tries to work with” venues like the Congress because, “Theaters are like churches… They’re also older buildings with large assemblies.” Of course, crowds dense with 18-year-olds—some of them over-served with alcohol or high on drugs, according to testimony before the Liquor Commission—generally do not dance the night away in most churches.

As Chuck Sudo wrote on Chicagoist on April 23, “Carranza has nine lives, a genie who granted him three wishes, a lucky rabbit’s foot, a backyard full of four-leaf clovers, and a horseshoe planted firmly up his ass.” Well, we now can assume that there also is a rainbow hovering over his Logan Square theater, as well as a stash of wishbones in its basement.

Carranza may not be so lucky on other fronts, however. While the latest Deleterious Impact/Public Nuisance hearing Tuesday found the Department of Business Affairs cautiously optimistic about progress, the owner is awaiting a ruling about whether the Congress can keep its liquor license, following three hearings before the Liquor Commission that included testimony about fights, drug activity, and security’s mistreatment of concertgoers.

The venue owner also may be stymied in his plans to bring more music to another vintage theater at Six Corners on the Northwest Side, the Portage, which he purchased last September, two months before his bank filed a $4 million foreclosure suit (since settled) against the Congress.

On Wednesday, the City Council granted the Portage Theater landmark status, which could frustrate Carranza’s plans for the venue to host live music as well as movies. Ald. John Arena (45th) has expressed extreme skepticism about Carranza and live music at the venue, and he praised the landmark designation on his Facebook page.

“May the light from the projection booth shine long and bright for generations to come,” Arena wrote.

Earlier reports about Carranza, the Congress and the Portage theaters:


May 7: Congress Theater’s neighbor: ‘Sometimes I feel like I’m monitoring a fifth-grader running the venue’ (By Leah Pickett and Jim DeRogatis)

May 1: Is the Congress Theater safe or not?

April 30: Congress Theater defends itself before the Liquor Commission (By Leah Pickett and Jim DeRogatis)

April 23: Congress Theater allowed to remain open, next inspection scheduled (Alison Cuddy reporting)

April 17: City wants the Congress shut down immediately

March 27: Chicago police official: Congress Theater ‘untruthful’ on night of underage drinking (Leah Pickett reporting)

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

March 6: Congress Theater hearing rescheduled (Robin Amer reporting)

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. 29, 2012: Congress Theater defaults on $4 million loan

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 18, 2012: Chicago officials scrutinize public safety, other neighborhood concerns at Congress Theater (Robin Amer reporting)

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!