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Developer Reveals Congress Theater Renovation Plans

By Katie Karpowicz in Arts & Entertainment on Jan 26, 2015 8:30PM

To say the Congress Theater's recent past has been storied would be an understatement. Dangerously poor management, outcries from surrounding residents and promoter battles are just a few of the issues that have befallen the currently shuttered venue.

However, things appear to be looking up for the 87-year-old Logan Square theater. Earlier this month, 1st Ward Ald. Joe Moreno's office announced that the theater was purchased by developer Michael Moyer with plans to completely renovate and reopen the space. Moyer's previous experience includes his renovation of the Cadillac Palace Theater in 1999.

Moyer and Moreno revealed more plans for the renovation at an open house set at the theater this past Saturday.

Along with a top-to-bottom renovation and refurbishment of the theater's ballroom and lobby, the new Congress Theater will also house a 32-room inn, 14 apartment units that will fall under the city's affordable housing plan, restaurants and retail spaces—"more restaurants than retail though," said Moyer on Saturday. He hopes to create the kind of "economic engine" that the Palace Theater became following its renovation.

Artist renderings from Woodhouse Tinucci Architects on display at Saturday's open house also revealed a new marquee for the Congress.

Moyer predicts the project will take two years but admitted to this writer that "conditions [of the theater] will dictate the amount of time it takes."

Many music fans and neighbors should recall the Congress Theater's problems prior to its shutdown two years ago. Many of these seemed to stem from the combination of previous owner Eddie Carranza's dubious management and a partnership with local promoters Reacts Presents—a partnership that brought in many electronic dance music concerts that lacked sufficient security.

Our questions to Moyer on Saturday about future operators did not reveal whether he plans to run the theater as an independent venue or partner with a national concert promoter such as Live Nation. However, he did explain that he is currently in talks with four different operators and attempting to make a decision in the next two months.

"It's very important that we have a very professional operator who manages it well," said Moyer. "This is a residential neighborhood."

And while the developer stated that the Congress's primary function will continue to be that of a music venue, don't expect to see the same types of acts on its calendar.

"EDM is not going to be first on the marquee as it was for a number of years. There's a history there. Shows won't run until 4 a.m. either."

Despite the bad taste that the Congress Theater left in many Chicagoans mouths the last time around, we're excited and hopeful for its second life. The venue's sight lines and size always made for an opportunity to catch a great glimpse of larger acts just before they hit the arena circuit.

According to Moyer the concert venue, inn, retail and restaurant spaces will all open at the same time upon the project's completion.