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Chicago officials scrutinize public safety, other neighborhood concerns at Congress Theater

Chicago officials are looking into whether the Congress Theater in Logan Square is a public nuisance.

Neighbors’ complaints during a community meeting at city hall Tuesday included drunken concert-goers and the thump of loud electronic music. Police say they’ve received more than 120 calls about the Congress in the past 14 months, and reported 36 incidents ranging from theft and battery to drug possession.

Nina Centeno, who has lived five houses down the street from the Congress for the last 33 years, says she’s especially concerned for the safety of teenagers like her daughter, who is not allowed to go there without her. On New Year’s Eve, an 18-year-old girl was allegedly raped near the Congress after the venue reportedly turned her away for not having ID.

“Our youth go to this place as a safe haven,” Centeno said after the meeting. “They want to explore and hear music. You don’t go to Disneyland and get raped, I’m sorry. Our kids need to be safe.”

First Ward Ald. Proco Joe Moreno has been critical of the venue, but says he’ll work with owner Eddie Caranza to help him bring the venue into compliance with city regulations.

“I want them to remain open and get better,” Moreno said. “And I have every belief that [Caranza], in his heart and his mind, wants to do these things.”

The hearing was the first of three meetings between the Congress Theater, city officials and members of the public. Barbara Gressel, counsel for the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, oversaw the meeting and presented a list of items she says the Congress needs to work on before the next meeting, scheduled to take place at City Hall on Tuesday, June 19. The list included keeping 911 call records, sending representatives to all CAPS and aldermanic meetings and improving parking and security.

The owner and his staff say they plan more soundproofing and other changes, and during the meeting Caranza designated one of his employees as a community liaison for future neighborhood concerns.  

At risk here is the venue’s liquor license, which could be revoked if the venue does not make changes according to the city’s specifications.

Wednesday morning on Eight Forty-Eight, Robin Amer sat down with WBEZ music blogger Jim DeRogatis to talk about the Congress Theater hearing and the ongoing conflict with the venue. 

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