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Congress Theater Redevelopment Plan Gets $9.7M TIF Boost

The $69 million redevelopment project hinges on securing the subsidy, according to a report provided to the city.

The Congress Theater, 2135 N. Milwaukee Ave.
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LOGAN SQUARE — The Community Development Commission on Tuesday unanimously approved allocating $9.7 million in Tax Increment Finance funds toward the Congress Theater redevelopment project.

The developer behind the $69 million project, Michael Moyer, still needs approval from the full City Council, but Tuesday’s vote is a step toward that goal.

It’s the latest news to come out of the project, which has been quietly underway for several months now.

The project calls for a total overhaul of the landmark theater, at 2135 N. Milwaukee Ave., and the construction of a 30-room hotel, 14 affordable apartments and 16,000 square feet of retail space in the surrounding 160,000-square-foot theater building, according to a report provided to the city agency. Plus, the construction of an 100-unit residential building next door.

The seats are getting a revamp as part of the project. [Block Club Chicago/Mauricio Pena]

Originally built in 1926 by Fridstein and Company, the Congress is known for its ornate architecture, blending both classical revival and Italian renaissance styles. It was named a Chicago landmark in 2002.

But the theater had a different reputation in the years leading up to its closure in 2013. The theater, dubbed everything from derelict to dangerous, was slapped with a string of code violations and threatened with foreclosure after the previous owner, Eddie Carranza, defaulted on his loans.

The Congress also made headlines for crimes that occurred in and around the theater during shows, including  the rape of a 14-year-old suburban girl in 2013. As a result, the theater’s music genre of choice, electronic dance music, or EDM, was banned for all current and future owners.

In 2015, Moyer bought the Congress for $16 million. The developer is perhaps best known for revamping the Cadillac Palace Theater in The Loop.

The theater was originally built in 1926. [Block Club Chicago/Mina Bloom]

Now, the entire project hinges on securing TIF funds, according to the report.

“Given the difficulty the Developer has had in obtaining financing for this deal the TIF funds are being used as collateral for a portion of the permanent financing,” the report reads.

“Without the TIF funds this project could not be financed and would not generate an acceptable level of return on investment.”

Ald. Joe Moreno, whose 1st Ward includes the Congress, supports using TIF funds toward the project. He provided a letter of support to the city agency.

The Congress sits in the Fullerton Milwaukee TIF district. Such districts capture all growth in the property tax base in a designated area for a set period of time, usually 20 years or more, and divert it into a special fund for projects designed to spur redevelopment and eradicate blight.

As part of the $9.7 million deal, the developer is seeking $800,000 in TIF funds to build the residential building next door, which will reserve 30 percent of its 100 units for affordable housing.

Aside from the $9.7 million in TIF funds, the project is being financed through $29.4 million in loans, $22.3 million in historic tax credits and other financing and $8.6 million in equity, according to the report.

Crain’s Chicago was first to report on the hearing.