The Portage Theater didn’t have to close, but it did

Situation at the Northwest Side venue still a muddled mess

May 26, 2013

UPDATED SUNDAY 7:45 p.m.

Although the city on Friday revoked the liquor license owned by mercurial landlord Erineo “Eddie” Carranza at Logan Square’s Congress Theater, the move did not immediately affect his second venue, the Portage Theater, four miles northwest on Milwaukee Avenue at Six Corners.

Yet several hours after the license revocation became public Friday afternoon, the Facebook page maintained by the current Portage film programmers announced that, “Due to circumstances beyond our control, the Portage Theater is closed until further notice.”

The Monster Film Festival scheduled for Saturday was cancelled—the Tribune reported on disappointed patrons being turned away at the door—while upcoming screenings for the Northwest Chicago Film Society have been relocated to the Music Box Theatre on Southport in Lakeview or the Patio Theater at Austin and Irving (though the latter is about to close for the summer because of problems with air conditioning).

Despite media accounts linking the fate of the Portage with the license revocation at the Congress, the two don’t have an immediate connection.

Carranza for months has presented conflicting visions for the future of the Portage, which was granted landmark status earlier this month. He purchased the 93-year-old theater, which has a capacity of 2,250, for about $3 million last September, even as he was in the midst of Deleterious Impact/Public Nuisance hearings and other costly battles with the city at the Congress.

The new owner initially told residents and city officials that he would allow the management team of Dennis Wolkowicz and David Dziedzic to continue booking the rich calendar of eclectic film programming that they have presented for the past few years. But within weeks, Carranza moved to evict them.

In recent days, Carranza struck a deal to purchase Wolkowicz and Dziedzic’s business, including the liquor license they own for the Portage. While assuming that license may be problematic—“It certainly doesn’t help given what happened at [the Congress],” Carranza’s attorney Harlan Powell said on Friday—correspondence between the new owner and the city indicated that programming previously scheduled by Wolkowicz and Dziedzic would continue for the time being.

For reasons that remain unclear, the film duo pulled the plug on their own events, seemingly eager to sever all ties with Carranza and the Portage. They have not responded to a request for comment.

Municipal code stipulates that a liquor license shall not be issued to “A person whose license issued under this chapter has been revoked for cause.” Yet state law allows a license owner to continue serving alcohol while an appeal is being heard.

Carranza filed the appeal of his revocation at the Congress hours after it was issued. And the Congress still has numerous events scheduled and with tickets on sale from today through October, according to its Web site.

The Portage, meanwhile, is locked up.

UPDATE: Sources confirmed Sunday night that Carranza sent his employees to the Portage Theater on Saturday to evict the current operators and lock the doors. This act contradicts Powell’s earlier communication with the city that scheduled events would continue, as well as some of his comments that follow.

On Saturday, Powell said via email that the Portage will not be going dark. “It’s too soon to say that the building will be closed entirely while renovations are underway,” he wrote.

“Like Congress, a plan may be devised to renovate the theater without unduly interfering with Eddie’s ability to hold events there. Eddie’s architect is in the process of preparing a comprehensive plan for repair and remediation for the Portage, which we we’ll then submit to Buildings for its approval. The plan, though, should provide ample flexibility to permit the theater to remain open. It will then be just a matter of obtaining the City’s sign-off. Eddie doesn’t plan to open until he gets the sign-off.”

So what does Carranza want to do at Six Corners?

Concerts, for one thing. “Eddie’s plan for the Portage is to work with the Alderman’s office and all relevant City agencies, bring the building up to code, and to create a first-class concert venue,” his attorney Powell said.

The owner’s long-term vision for Portage Park seem as ambitious as his hopes for Logan Square: In addition to a vintage theater retooled to present music, he bought several properties across the street with an eye toward opening restaurants and cafés. Those properties are currently listed as in foreclosure, though several sources have said that this is not Carranza’s problem, but a dispute between the former owner and his real estate agent.

Will anything Carranza hopes to accomplish at the Portage come to pass?

That now seems as uncertain as what will become of the Congress, should Carranza lose his appeal to retain his liquor license. Movie theaters can make their margin selling popcorn. But the economics of music venues make operating without selling booze nearly impossible.

 

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

May 24: Congress Theater liquor license revoked

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!