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The Portage Theater Set To Re-Open In June [UPDATE]

By Chuck Sudo in News on May 21, 2014 8:30PM

Photo credit: the_mel

Update 4:25 p.m.: Charlie Burns answers our other questions.

Burns said he started talks about leasing the Portage six to seven months ago and signed the lease earlier this year, under the company name Portage Theater Management, Inc. As for his former involvement at the Congress Theater, Burns clarified he was a contracted production manager at the Logan Square venue. Regarding his professional connections to Carranza, Burns said, "People will think and say want they want. However, I’m the sole shareholder and president of Portage Theater Management, Inc. and I’m responsible for the obligations of the company and the ultimately what takes place at the theater. I do not work or take orders from Eddie. I do consider him a friend and a resource and also the landlord of the theater. I have seen the mistakes that Eddie has made in the past. I’ve learned what to do and not to do when operating a venue such as this. I will also be focused on safety and the importance of choosing responsible promoters that respect the theater, the community and the laws.

"My name and pretty much everything I have are in this!"

Burns is in the process of securing incidental liquor and retail food sales licenses for the Portage, and his immediate objectives for the theater involve "safety and general cleanliness."

"From there, (we'll focus on) preservation and using technology to keep the theater attractive for all types of entertainment," Burns said.

Finally, Burns said the Portage will begin their film screenings with a digital projector but, with the help of Wolkowicz and other projection experts, he hopes to have a film projector for silent and classic films in place "as soon as possible."

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes the Portage Theater, shuttered for nearly a year, is set to re-open with a slate of events that were the landmark movie house’s stock in trade before owner Eddie Carranza bought the building and immediately wasted the goodwill with the surrounding community the previous operators spent nearly a decade building.

The new management team for the Portage made their announcement on their website and social media presences Wednesday morning. The immediate calendar features a mix of classic and silent films (the latter scored by former Portage operator Dennis Wolkowicz on organ under his nom de guerre Jay Warren), comedy shows and music concerts through September.

So who is this management team? Chicagoist reached out to the Portage and Wolkowicz for more information on the members of this team, how they came to run the Portage and, most important, Carranza’s involvement which most everyone will agree should be minimal if the theater is to stand a chance of opening, let alone succeeding.

The new operator of the Portage is Charlie Burns, who once worked with Carranza as the operations manager at the Congress Theater. Burns told Chicagoist via email that while Carranza remains the landlord, he will have “no direct involvement with the licensing or operations of the theater.” (Chicagoist has sent Burns follow-up questions and we’ll update the post when he answers.)

Wolkowicz, who has championed the Portage for years, said the management team reached out to him and asked if he would be interested in helping out. “I’m not part of the management team—just doing my part to get the place open,” Wolkowicz added.

DNAInfo Chicago reached out to the office of Ald. John Arena (45th), whose ward is home to the theater, for comment. Arena’s chief of staff, Owen Brugh, said this he was unaware the Portage planned on re-opening. Carranza’s checkered history at the Congress Theater and the revocation of that venue’s liquor license means he can’t hold one for the Portage, so he announced a search for a management team after insisting he would run the theater himself.