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How Will A Restored Uptown Theatre Impact The Neighborhood? ‘Others Will Be Coming,’ Owner Says

A sold-out panel discussion on Thursday will explore how the iconic theater will change the neighborhood around it.

The Uptown Theatre will be renovated with a $75 million budget.
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UPTOWN — For 40 years, the sprawling and gorgeous Uptown Theatre has been vacant.

Now, after a decade of planning, the building that once hosted everything from silent films to Bob Marley is getting the restoration many in the architecture community — and the neighborhood — feel it deserves.

RELATED: Uptown Theater Renovation Would Take 18 Months, Boost Capacity To 5,800

On Thursday night, the Chicago Architecture Center is hosting an event called “Restoring The Uptown Theatre: A New Neighborhood Anchor.”

The panel will be moderated by Chris Jones, the Chicago Tribune’s theater critic. Jones will be leading a conversation about the history of the theatre, the hard-fought battle to preserve it and what the future holds in Uptown’s re-emerging entertainment district.

On the panel is theater co-owner Jerry Mickelson, who has been producing and promoting concert events for close to 50 years. Mickelson bought the theatre in 2008.

“We are trying to restore what I call the eighth wonder of the world,” he said.

Credit: Photo courtesy of Eric Holubow
The interior of the Uptown Theater, seen in 2008.

From 1975-1981, Mickelson used to put on concerts at the Uptown Theatre through his production company JAM. When the theater closed its doors, Mickelson never gave up on the palace, he said. Purchasing it was the culmination of decades of dreaming.

“This theater is too beautiful for anyone to think about tearing it down,” he added.

Mickelson believes that once the Uptown is restored, it will be the “catalyst for bringing the Uptown community back to life.” He pointed to the Fox Theater in Oakland (in a neighborhood also named Uptown), saying “the entire neighborhood blossomed” when it was resurrected.

“[In Uptown] you’ve got the Aragon, The Riviera and the Green Mill,” he said. “There will be others coming.”

Recently, the iconic drag bar The Baton opened its new location just a block away from The Uptown Theatre. The Double Door is also slated to come to the neighborhood.

Related: Legendary Drag Club The Baton Opens In Uptown Friday After Decades In River North: ‘It’s A New Chapter’

Robert Boin and Eleanor Gorski will join the discussion Thursday as well.

Boin is a retired civil engineer who, since 1981, has been among a group of volunteers working to protect and maintain the theater.

Gorski is a licensed architect who has worked for the Chicago Department of Planning and Development since 2011. She specializes in historic preservation.

As for those waiting to attend their first show at the Uptown (or at least the first show since 1981), the work is scheduled to start before the end of the year and last 18 months.

The Thursday event has been sold out for weeks, but there is a wait list for those hoping to get a last-minute invite.

The event will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Gand Lecture Hall, 111 E. Wacker Dr.

For more on the planned theater renovation, click here.

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