The Portage Theater uses Graham Elliot’s name in vain | WBEZ
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Jim DeRogatis

The Portage Theater uses Graham Elliot’s name in vain

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Graham Elliot

In an effort to engender good will among skeptical residents at Six Corners—or to start spinning them, if one is inclined to be cynical—controversial new Portage Theater owner Eddie Carranza has hired a community activist to trumpet his plans for the venue after evicting the much-admired current movie operators.

But at least one of the new spokeswoman’s claims appears to be untrue.

Jennifer Dianovsky, president of the Friends of Portage Park and now “the new community liaison for the Portage Theater… involved in every aspect of this project as we move forward,” began talking up the merits of Carranza’s development plans on EveryBlock on Monday. Since then, the thread on the future of the historic theater has generated dozens of posts pro and con. (Dianovsky now also is involved in bringing a farmer’s market to the Portage similar to the one at Carranza’s other notorious venue, the Congress Theater.)

One of Dianovsky’s claims: “We have received proposals from Graham Elliot and Brendan Sodikoff among others [to bring a restaurant to the Portage development]. We have not accepted or denied any of the proposals at this time.”

Celebrity chef Graham Elliot Bowles is the owner of three popular restaurants, including his namesake Graham Elliot, recently upgraded to two coveted Michelin stars. Sodikoff, a veteran of the kitchens of Thomas Keller and Alain Ducass, owns Au Cheval and has plans to open several other Chicago restaurants in the near future.

Sodikoff has not responded to a request for confirmation that he’s interested in working with Carranza. But Bowles emphatically denied it.

“While I commend Mr. Carranza and his team on their ambitious vision, we have no intent on joining forces,” Graham Elliot wrote via email. “My time, energy and resources continue to be focused solely on Graham Elliot, g. e. b. and Grahamwich.”

Eddie Carranza (WBEZ/Andrew Gill)

Dianovsky did not respond to a request for more information about Graham Elliot’s alleged interest in the Portage project. Nor did she respond to a request to elaborate on Carranza’s plans to bring music to the venue, beyond what she wrote on EveryBlock: “We will be adding a wide range of shows from country, rock, adult contemporary, comedy, pop, etc. … We are also talking with a well-known corporate music promotion company who is interested in investing in our music project.”

Music won’t be a major part of the offerings at the Portage until Carranza evicts the current movie operators. Judge Leonard Murray presided over the first Cook County Circuit Court eviction proceeding on Nov. 8, but the current tenants did not appear. It is unclear whether they have been formally served with an eviction notice, and they have declined to comment.

Questioned about the status of the eviction, Dianovsky deferred to Carranza’s attorney Thomas Raines. Raines also failed to answer the question, instead forwarding documentation of the lawsuit his client has filed against Phil Tadros and Doejo, the developers who were set to bring a brew pub, a café and other amenities to the Congress Theater redevelopment but who split with Carranza after two months, calling him “a slumlord.”

Sources close to the situation at both the Congress and the Portage say that among the many obstacles to Carranza succeeding with his plan to remake the Portage as a smaller version of the Congress is the fact that removing the fixed movie-theater seating would require a new city Public Place of Amusement license. He is unlikely to get such a license until he resolves all of his current problems with the Congress, including ongoing Deleterious Impact/Public Nuisance proceedings and Liquor Commission hearings.

Nevertheless, the ever-ambitious Carranza continues to dream big. Sources now say he has begun to talk about a possible partnership with yet another vintage Chicago movie palace, the Logan Theatre, which opened at 2646 N. Milwaukee Ave. in 1915 with a capacity of 1,000.

Earlier reports about Carranza, the Congress and the Portage:

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

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

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

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

Sept. 16: Congress Theater splits with development partner

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

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

April 14: More trouble at the Congress Theater

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

March 25: Congress Theater responds to complaints

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

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