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Chicagoist's Top Stories Of 2012: Drama At The Congress And Portage Theaters

By Chuck Sudo in Arts & Entertainment on Dec 19, 2012 11:00PM

Photo credits: Daniel X. O'Neil (Congress Theater); Chicagoist/Chuck Sudo (Portage Theater)

The Congress Theater is the devil you know. Local concertgoers attend shows at the venue even though they’re fully aware of the problems with sound bleed, queues for concessions, complaints about security and the building crumbling around them. We were reminded of the Congress’ problems when an 18-year-old woman was found sexually assaulted and beaten into a coma on a lawn near the theater after being refused entry to a New Year’s Eve show. Three teens were later charged in connection with the assault, but the incident kicked off a year where Congress owner Eddie Carranza made headlines for the way he handles the venue’s business, which is akin to Alfred E. Neuman's "What, me worry?"

Carranza’s management style (if there is one) drew strong rebukes from Ald. Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st) and WBEZ’s Jim DeRogatis. Moreno hauled Carranza to City Hall for Deleterious Impact/Public Nuisance hearings. DeRogatis used the power of the Third Estate to investigate the inner workings of Carranza’s business. Carranza defended his venue by saying it was “no better or no worse” than the Vic, Aragon or Riviera Theaters. Things looked to be turning the corner at the Congress when it was announced in July they were teeming with online marketing company Doejo to rehab and redevelop the Congress and adjacent storefronts into an “entertainment complex” including a farmers market-inspired grocer, a cafe called Flat White and a forthcoming gastropub. Weeks later Doejo pulled out of the project and the company’s called Carranza “kind of a slum lord” and “kind of nuts.”

Carranza’s particular brand of management style then brought itself to bear on the Portage Theater, which he bought in September, after weeks where it looked as though the Portage Park movie house would become a church. His reputation at the Congress traveled fast to Six Corners and almost immediately he ran afoul of current management and another alderman in John Arena (45th). Carranza served Portage management with a five-day eviction notice (which he was within his rights to do so as the management team owed back rent), stoked fears among the Portage’s supporters he would turn it into another version of the Congress and have some of us wondering if the Portage would have been better off in the hands of Chicago Tabernacle.

Then there was the news last month that Carranza defaulted on a loan on the Congress as he was securing the loan to buy the Portage. Remember Carranza’s bragging when asked how he was able to secure funding for the Portage purchase?

“Have you ever heard of Bank Loans? Bank loans is where entrepreneurs go to borrow money to grow their businesses. Banks like what we do so they lend to us money. Bank loans have been going on for hundreds of years.”

Carranza has been promising to redevelop the storefronts around the Portage with a plan similar, if not identical to, the plan he and Doejo announced for the Congress. Unless there's another alderman or County Commissioner who doesn't read the media, he’s burned too many bridges at this point to realize these plans. Ald. Moreno took Carranza to task for deleterious impact citations after years of complaints; it only took Carranza a week to piss off Arena. Aldermen are still the first hurdle to jump when a venue owner needs something vital for their business, like a liquor license. Arena already said Carranza will not be getting one until he can prove he can run the Portage in a manner similar to the current management team. Moreno doesn’t want Carranza to lose the Congress, only to comply with code or else he’ll lose his liquor license there.

Eddie Carranza may see himself as this uncompromising businessman. All everyone else sees is a man who shouldn’t be anywhere near promoting live events or owning a theater. That is why the self-inflicted drama Eddie Carranza brought to the Congress and Portage Theaters is one of Chicagoist’s top stories of 2012.