SOUTH SHORE — The owner of a long-vacant, landmarked South Side theater needs millions to bring it back to life and pay off his tax debt — and now he’s partnering with a cryptocurrency company to raise money.
The Avalon Regal Theater, 1641 E. 79th St. in South Shore, has been closed since 2010. Jerald Gary bought the theater in 2014 for $100,000.
Gary has only a few months remaining to settle tax debts before the Cook County Land Bank could take ownership of the decaying theater, the Sun-Times reported in April. He outlined his latest plans to revive the theater at a community forum Tuesday.
Joined at the forum by local leaders, including the neighborhood chamber of commerce director and the former land bank director, Gary estimated it will take $12-$15 million to make the repairs and pay the debts needed for him to reopen the Regal.
“To be completely honest, that is really a bargain as far as what these kinds of projects typically take,” Gary said.
Gary owes $450,000 in property taxes on the building, and liens and other expenses will cost $594,000 to clear up, according to a project budget Gary presented Tuesday.
Gary is looking to raise $7.6 million in government funding, $5 million in private equity and $3.5 million in private fundraising for the project. He’s pushing to reopen the theater by early next year if he can raise the funds and hold on to the building, he said.
Representatives from Pitch, a startup where patrons can suggest and crowdfund event ideas, and digital securities company Solidblock presented at this week’s forum.
Both tech companies are working to provide ways for South Shore residents and other supporters to invest directly in the theater restoration, Gary said.
Solidblock partnered with the Avalon Regal Theater to create digital “ArtCoins” offering shares in the project. The coins have yet to launch, though its website references the 2020 NBA All-Star Weekend and the 2020 Year of Chicago Music.
Pitch users pledge funds to ideas for concerts or other events in the theater and they are charged if and when the event takes place.
Kanye West, who grew up in South Shore, has put up about $600,000 of the $1 million commitment he made to the restoration in 2019, Gary told Block Club last week. The rest is dependent on additional investment in the project, he said.
The theater renovation also received a $150,000 state grant for small businesses in May.
Gary launched a crowdfunding campaign in 2018 to raise money for the theater, but it raised just $1,175 before being shut down.
The 79th Street corridor, along which the Avalon Regal Theater resides, has received plenty of attention in recent years from the city and private investors.
The Regal Mile Studios development — at 77th Street, South Chicago and Stony Island avenues — draws its name from the Avalon Regal Theater, though Gary and the studios’ developers have said there are no official ties between the projects.
The nearby intersection of 79th, South Chicago and Stony Island was recommended as a “destination entertainment district” by city planners in 2020.
The corridor is also home to the Thrive Exchange, an apartment, retail and health center being funded through the city’s Invest/South West initiative.
The Regal Theater’s renovation presents a massive opportunity for South Shore residents when its long-delayed restoration is complete, panelists said at Tuesday’s forum.
“The city is investing a lot of resources along the 79th Street corridor to attract new businesses that will potentially bring more residents and patrons into the South Shore community,” said Tonya Trice, South Shore Chamber executive director.
“The Regal Theater will be the anchor of entertainment, and the most transformational project — aside from the Obama Presidential Center — that South Shore has seen in a long time,” Trice said.
The city granted the Regal landmark status on June 17, 1992, which prohibits it from being demolished or its exterior altered extensively unless for safety reasons.
The Moorish-style building on 79th first opened in 1927 as the Avalon Theater, designed by movie palace architect John Eberson.
The original Regal Theater in Bronzeville showcased several prominent black entertainers, including Lou Rawls, Nat King Cole, Etta James, Miles Davis, Curtis Mayfield and Cab Calloway. That building was torn down and the Avalon was renamed the New Regal in the 1980s.
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