BRIDGEPORT — A look inside the crumbling Ramova Theatre shows just how much work will need to go into its revitalization — but developers got one step closer to making it a reality on Tuesday.
Developers hoping to transform the Ramova Theatre into a live entertainment venue cleared a preliminary hurdle with support from the city agency tasked with overseeing tax-increment financing.
The Community Development Commission unanimously approved the sale of the city-owned Ramova Theatre, 3518 S. Halsted St., and an adjoining building that developers hope to turn into a restaurant and brewery.
“I’m kind of thrilled to see an artistic and cultural resource like this being utilized,” said commissioner Maurice Cox. “That doesn’t happen often, so my compliments to you all for taking this on.”
In its recommendation of the project, the commission supported selling the property for $1 and providing $6.64 million from the 35th/Halsted TIF district, which generated $8.7 million last year, mostly from property taxes. Together, the sale and funding would cover 32 percent of the estimated $22,876,893 cost of renovating the theater, commercial building and a nearby parking lot.
Should City Council sign off on the funding, it would come in the form of a forgivable loan upon completion of the project, dispersed over a 10-year period. During that time, the complex must remain open and in operation, with a minimum two shows per week.
From here, the project moves forward to Plan Commission, then the Committee on Zoning before the entire City Council would give final authorization. Developers are hoping for a tight turnaround, with a goal of breaking ground in March on the 16-month construction project.
In addition to the city funding, state Sen. Tony Muñoz (D-Bridgeport) has pledged $1 million of his discretionary spending — akin to an alderman’s menu money — for the project, said Ald. Patrick D. Thompson (11th). Developers will contribute $4.8 million, with the remaining $10.4 million expected to come from a loan.
Commissioners were concerned about the promise of state funding and the consequences should it not be delivered in the near future, but developers said they planned to secure a bridge loan to cover it in the interim. Commissioners also sought reassurance the project would follow all recommendations to maintain historic elements like the facade.
Developer Tyler Nevius plans to create a 38,761-square-foot complex with a live entertainment venue that could hold up to 1,800 people. Alongside the theater would be a revived Ramova Grill, helmed by The Duck Inn chef-owner Kevin Hickey, and a brewery from a yet-unnamed national brewing company.
Bridgeport neighbors were hugely enthusiastic about the plans when they were unveiled at a November meeting, which Thompson noted was “the first time I’ve ever been at a community meeting where we had 100% support for a project.
“It just shows people are eager, both new residents and longtime residents, for the development of the venue,” Thompson said on Tuesday. “It shows how important this is to our community.
Take a look inside the Ramova here. All photos by Ariel Cheung for Block Club Chicago:
Do stories like this matter to you? Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.