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As Congress Theater Rehab Progresses, DeRogatis Reminds Us Of Deeper Problems Facing Venue

By Chuck Sudo in News on Feb 28, 2013 3:30PM

Last week DNAInfo Chicago’s Victoria Johnson reported on Congress Theater owner Eddie Carranza’s ongoing attempts to renovate the beleaguered Bucktown venue to its roaring 20s glory. DNAInfo included a “hard hat tour” photo gallery showing the work in progress, including building out the space that will eventually become a café and market, a VIP lounge and a smaller nightclub and concert venue called “The Senate.”

At the very least it shows that Carranza, for all that’s been reported about his handling of the Congress and Portage Theaters — including Chicagoist — is making an effort to rehab the space. But Johnson’s story didn’t address the outstanding deleterious impact/public nuisance complaints, building code and other violations that threaten the Congress’ liquor license and could shutter the venue.

WBEZ’s Jim DeRogatis reminded us of all that while getting some shots in at Carranza and Johnson in a post last Friday.

While DNAinfo reporter Victoria Johnson cheerfully quotes Carranza’s optimistic promises for a spiffy Congress development that will include a community center, a premium bar, a cafĂ©, a restaurant, an ice cream shop, a grocery store and a second, smaller nightclub, and her photographs show a fresh coat of paint being applied here and there, the substance of the 37 building code violations or the recent closures at the venue are not addressed.

“There are serious problems at the Congress,” a city official told this blog. “While the owner seems intent on remedying them, it is going to take a ton of money just to bring the building up to code.”

Lighting repairs alone top $100,000, the official added. “And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”

DeRogatis noted the Congress was shut down for a week earlier this month for not having panic bars on exit doors, which brings to mind images of the 2003 E2 Nightclub disaster. The second and third floors of the theater have also been sealed off to customers.

But it's the way DeRogatis reminded us that leaves a sour taste in our mouth. His response to Johnson's report was an equal and opposite reaction, as cynical as Johnson's was cheery. In short, it was the equivalent of MSNBC criticizing Fox News.

We have lots of love and respect for DeRogatis, but this isn't the first time he's gone over his skis. There has to be a better way of reporting on what DNAInfo missed without being emasculating.