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Congress Theater Owner Serves Eviction Notice To Portage Theater Managers

By Chuck Sudo in News on Sep 23, 2012 6:00PM

Photo credit: the_mel

WBEZ’s Jim DeRogatis has new updates on the Congress Theater/Portage Theater drama and it’s bad enough to make one wish Chicago Tabernacle went ahead and bought the venerable Six Corners movie house.

Congress Theater owner Eddie Carranza served current Portage Theater management Friday with a five-day eviction notice, meaning that back rent must be paid within five days or else Carranza's management team will begin eviction proceedings. The current Portage management team led by David Dziedzic and Dennis Wolkowicz acknowledged last month they were arrears on rent, which left open the possibility this could happen when once Carranza's purchase of the 92-year-old theater became official Sept. 1. DeRogatis cited sources familiar with the situation as saying Dziedzic paid for significant repairs to the building that should rightly have been completed by the previous owners, and that those repairs went toward waiving a portion of the unpaid rent.

The news didn’t please Ald. John Arena (45th), who released an email blast to residents in his ward blasting Carranza as a “liar.”

My office learned early Saturday that Mr. Carranza is threatening to evict the current operators of the Portage Theater for lack of payment of a disputed amount of back rent. This is despite assurances Mr. Carranza gave the Old Irving Park Association, the Six Corners Association, the current operators, and me that he would not make any changes to the operations at the Portage in the short term. Additionally, Mr. Carranza's attorney on Wednesday assured the operators and me that he would not evict the operators.

Moving forward, I will encourage the current operators to explore their legal options. I expect they will operate in the theater until all those legal options are exhausted.

In the longer term, Mr. Carranza has already shown during his short ownership of the Portage that he is not a man of his word. I was willing to give Mr. Carranza a second chance to prove he had learned from his mistakes at the Congress. It seems now that Mr. Carranza has learned nothing. I’m disappointed but not surprised.

(Read the complete statement at Everyblock Chicago.)

Carranza and his management team met with members of the Old Irving Park Association Sept. 10 to quell fears of the Portage’s supporters that it would become a Six Corners version of the Congress. (Click here for a summary of the meeting.)

Congress Theater Director of Special Projects Barbara Sloan acknowledged the Portage’s hardcore movie audience and said any future plans for the theater should take that, and the neighborhood’s residents, into account. Arena, in his statement, reminded residents the Portage’s management team holds the liquor and public place of amusement licenses to the theater, would continue to do so should Carranza succeed in evicting them, and that Carranza’s management team (which now includes executive chef Nick Lacasse) will not secure one until they can prove they can be responsible “through a track record of problem-free management.”

Ownership of the Portage has been a constant story this year. Supporters of the theater and Arena were able to stop a bid by Chicago Tabernacle to buy the theater. Chicagoist first reported Carranza's interest in purchasing the Portage in July.

DeRogatis noted it took three weeks for Carranza to piss off Arena and Portage supporters, whereas his problems at the Congress built up over a period of years before Ald. Proco "Joe" Moreno (1st) took action. It was only Wednesday that Arena tried to facilitate a meeting between Carranza, his attorney Thomas Raines, Dziedzic and Wolkowicz.

So what happened at the meeting? Raines was cryptic when DeRogatis asked him, but said the details would be revealed "in a bigger publication." Raines did say the change of heart was "something the Alderman said a few times and something he did."

“At this point, [Arena] is more of a hindrance than a help to that. He’d rather see the theater go dark. He wants to take his ball and go home.”

Arena's chief of staff, Owen Brugh, told DeRogatis he has no idea what Raines is talking about. Arena's statement also contradicts Raine's claims that he'd rather see the theater go dark than be owned by Carranza. If anything, Arena was one of the few people to give Carranza the benefit of the doubt, given his history at the Congress with underage drinking, security concerns and the crawling pace of repairing the building.

Now Carranza has an influential alderman, a powerful neighborhood group in the Old Irving Park Association, and an involved community lining up against him.

Bad news travels fast.