As first reported by Darryl Holliday at DNAinfo.com—and subsequently repeated by every other blog in town, most of which made superficial comparisons to the 1984 film Footloose—troubled Congress Theater owner Erineo “Eddie” Carranza has signed a city-crafted plan of operation for the venue that prohibits him or any future owner from hosting the sort of electronic dance music concerts that got the theater in hot water in the first place.
The 4,500-capacity, 88-year-old former movie palace in Logan Square lost its liquor license in May 2013, and that, coupled with numerous and serious building code violations and some hair-raising police reports, has kept it shuttered ever since.
Buried in the new, six-page plan of operation signed by Carranza and Chicago liquor commissioner Gregory Steadman is the stipulation that “the licensee shall not allow any EDM shows/events at the premises.” The plan adds that “the sale of the business to other persons… does not void the conditions [and] any and all potential new owners of the licensed entity shall be subject to the same conditions.”
As Holliday noted, the document includes a handy but pretty much clueless definition of EDM as “any performance by a DJ or multiple DJs… incorporating electronic beats or prerecorded music,” if the performers do not sing or play an instrument. Hence the snickering from hipsters and EDM fans.
Yet while Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1st) initiated proceedings against the Congress in 2012 because of a long list of complaints from neighbors, he is the least tone-deaf member of the City Council, and possibly its biggest fan of underground music. He called the plan of operation “a blunt instrument” and defended EDM as a genre while maintaining that the long list of problems at the Congress were not the fault of the music but of venue owner Carranza, who partnered with promoters React Presents to hold some of the most problematic shows.
React since has been purchased by the giant global EDM corporation SFX Entertainment, and it continues to throw massive dance concerts in Chicago at, among other venues, the city-owned Soldier Field and Union Park. So it’s hardly as if Chicago is reverting to the draconian days of the anti-rave ordinance in the ’90s, much less turning into that small town in Oklahoma that tried to ban rock ’n’ roll and dancing in Footlose.
So what really is going on here?
As this blog first reported in January, Carranza is trying to sell the Congress to developer Michael Moyer, best known for restoring to its full 1920s glory the Loop showplace now known as the Cadillac Palace Theatre, and a lynchpin of Broadway in Chicago. But a troublesome lawsuit by React/SFX is blocking that sale and taking its time winding through the courts.
React/SFX and local rock promoters Jam Productions both claim to have the right of first refusal to buy the theater based on earlier agreements predating the one Carranza made with Moyer. However, sources say Jam is willing to step away, and that it’s SFX that has been blocking the sale and slowing things down.
Moyer did not respond to a question on Wednesday about the status of the lawsuit. But the developer told this blog in June that he remains optimistic, adding: “I am under contract and still working toward closing, [but] the litigation thing is arduous.”
Said a city source close to the situation: “What this really is about is convincing [React/SFX] to get out of the way and accept a settlement in its lawsuit so that this sale [to Moyer] can go through and the theater can be restored for the benefit of the neighborhood and everyone in Chicago.
“When that happens, the city will reassess any act, including EDM performers, being able to perform there, because the theater finally is going to be run the right way. That’s all that the neighbors or anyone else has ever wanted.”
So, dance fans, fear not: There’s no need to call Kevin Bacon to save the day for EDM in Chicago just yet.
Here are some of the key reports in this blog’s coverage of the Congress Theater: