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Church Looking To Buy Portage Theater Speaks

By Chuck Sudo in News on Mar 13, 2012 5:25PM

Photo Credit: Don Ritt

The Rev. Al Toledo, pastor of Chicago Tabernacle, spoke to the Tribune about his church's bid to buy the Portage Theater.

Toledo told reporter Nina Metz his church has been looking for a new location for the past six years and, for all the outcry from fans of the classic movie house, there's still a lot of work to be done to make the Portage look truly beautiful. "I understand people being enamored with the glory of the old theater," Toledo said. "But the old theater is not glorious right now."

Toledo said the possibility of his church buying the Portage would not herald an end to arts and culture programming there, although it would mark the end of screenings by the Northwest Chicago Film Society and Silent Film Society of Chicago.

""We happen to have a choir that people come listen to. We do a number of dramatic presentations. We have an Easter presentation coming up. So we have art that we bring forth as well, and I don't think that should be minimized.""

And we aren't. But it isn't the truly independent programming the Portage currently provides. 45th Ward Ald. John Arena, while stressing he isn't against Chicago Tabernacle relocating, did say the chance of the church purchasing the Portage could stop the economic development of the Six Corners Business District in its tracks.

""The entire economic plan for the area was built around having this attraction. And from a cultural standpoint, the theater is an icon in the neighborhood. We're right at the cusp of seeing this area become a destination for a wider range of people, and to pull that rug out from underneath us now would be a travesty."

In the days since the story broke, the Save the Portage Facebook page has attracted over 1,200 fans. Arena also held a 45th Ward community meeting last night that was packed with supporters of the theater, and he told the attendees he's received 250 emails about the issue so far; only 2 were in support of Chicago Tabernacle buying the theater.