The Avalon Regal Theater is a Chicago architectural gem built in the 1920s in the South Shore neighborhood. This 100-year-old building was a center of culture and entertainment for many years but fell on hard times due to low attendance rates and expensive renovations.
The theater has been closed since 2003. Its most recent owner, Jerald Gary, has been trying to revive it since he bought it in 2014. But it’s been an uphill battle.
Gary has faced a number of financial roadblocks tied to the building’s expensive repair and maintenance costs. He also fell behind Cook County property taxes and had until the end of March to pay more than $600,000 in delinquent taxes to avoid losing the theater to the Cook County Land Bank Authority (CCLBA), an agency that acquires vacant and abandoned properties.
But Gary isn’t giving up the fight.
In February, he paid a deposit of more than $350,000 of the back taxes owed, enough to keep his dreams for the building alive for now. This was part of a strategy in which he argued in the circuit court of Cook County that the property’s delinquent taxes were improperly sold to the CCLBA under the Illinois statute, according to court documents obtained by Curious City.
He says he now has support from an investment group called OASIS, which focuses on investing in Black communities across the U.S. often ignored by traditional financiers.
In a statement to Curious City, the CCLBA told Curious City that it no longer has plans to acquire the Avalon Regal Theater. “Subsequent to CCLBA receiving the certificates of purchase, the owner redeemed the delinquent taxes under protest,” said Jessica Tcholakov, a spokesperson representing the agency. “… [W]e will be submitting dismissal orders.”
But Gary’s quest to reopen the theater doesn’t end there. He still has an outstanding property tax balance. He says he’s looking for ways to pay and reduce that tax liability.
Gary also says he is securing additional financial backing to rehab the theater and get the required city permits. He estimates that it will cost about $3.5 million to do the construction work necessary to get a certificate of occupancy with the city of Chicago. To cover some of that cost, he’s applied for city grants. Though he’s been denied in the past, he is hoping that city officials will be more supportive this time around.
“I’m here to stay, I’m not going anywhere,” Gary said. “And I’m here to make sure that the building becomes available to the community, both in terms of its service as a venue as well as an investment vehicle.”
Adriana Cardona-Maguigad is Curious City’s reporter. Follow her @AdrianaCardMag.