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Ald. Moreno Tells Congress Theater To Clean Up Its Act

By Samantha Abernethy in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 23, 2012 6:00PM

Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) is bringing Congress Theater owner Eddie Carranza before City Hall for a Deleterious Impact/Public Nuisance Hearing next month in an effort to get the venue to clean things up. Moreno says Carranza hasn't addressed any of his requests for sound reduction, crowd control, underage drinking or security. WBEZ's Jim DeRogatis writes:

“I just have lost my patience. These requests for security, for additional cameras, for additional lighting and for community clean-up patrols are serious, and now, unfortunately, they’re going to have to be addressed. What I hope comes out of this is: ‘Look, Eddie, get on the ball here, man!’ But he’s hard to talk to. He’s talked to me and to previous aldermen about the development he wants to do. Well, get serious about that. Run it right, Eddie! I’m tired of the lip service.”

Yes, the place is a dump. We've heard plenty of stories about puddles on the dance floor at the Congress from the leaky roof. The draftiness of the ladies' restrooms has been attributed to both holes in the walls and ghosts. It even had a Ghost Hunters investigation. The stairways on the balcony aren't well lit, and people loiter on the main stairwell in the lobby. The last time we were there, we couldn't help thinking of the theater fire in Inglourious Basterds and wondering if the same could happen there. And while, yes, it does fill a void in the local music scene, it has notoriously bad sound. In January the venue hosted the Bluegrass and Blues Festival, but sound issues practically ruined the concert. In March 2010 the city cited the Congress for seven building code violations. The Sun-Times writes:

"There’s obviously issues with plumbing,” city Building Department spokesman Bill McCaffrey said. “There’s sewage smell in the building.”

Other citations said the Congress needed to replace defective windowsills and recharge a fire extinguisher. The case was last up on Dec. 9 and continued to March 31. The Congress is to be reinspected within one week of the case date so the city can testify on the current conditions of the building.

The 86-year-old building is also a landmark, which is why it was saved from demolition in 2000. And this is Chicago's "Hipster Alderman" Moreno, who promises to protect Chicago's music scene. He held a victory party at Congress competitor V-Live down the street, leading neighborhood blog The Pipeline to question Moreno's motives.

A public nuisance hearing could lead to revocation of a liquor license, but Moreno says the goal is not to shut the venue down, just to force it to comply. The city says, "A deleterious impact is presumed to exist whenever a substantial number of arrests have occurred within 500-feet of the premises within the previous two years." We wonder if that brutal attack on a young woman New Year's Eve near the Congress will factor into that, although legally the venue was not at fault. Several promoters have offered to take the venue off Carranza's hands, or at least pay for repairs in exchange for a booking arrangement. Carranza hasn't committed to any of those agreements. DeRogatis writes:

“The Brooklyn Bowl, which I’ve visited in Brooklyn, wanted to put $10 million into the place and run their booking out of there, and [Carranza] said no,” Moreno says. “Look, I’m a D.I.Y. guy. I love the fact that he wants to do things and not quote-unquote ‘work with the corporate powers that be.’ But then you have to be able to manage it and have a serious security company. I love Eddie, but he’s trying to do too much with too little staff.”

Why does the Congress get the bookings it gets? “They get good shows by underbidding because their cost structure is so much less because they have an inferior security company which they don’t pay a competitive wage and they don’t have a managerial staff that’s serious,” Moreno says.