LOGAN SQUARE — An $88 million plan to revive the crumbling Congress Theater, the second attempt to restore the historical theater in recent years, was finally introduced in City Council Wednesday after months of false starts — then hit an immediate snag.
Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th), a staunch union supporter who represents the Southeast Side, temporarily blocked the proposal from advancing to the council’s Finance Committee, citing labor concerns. The project calls for $27 million in tax-increment finance dollars.
When the proposal was introduced at the meeting, Sadlowski Garza sent it to Rules Committee, where legislation typically goes to die.
In a written message to Block Club, Sadlowski Garza said questions remain over whether the new Congress Theater will generate “quality” jobs.
The issue has dogged the project for months. AEG, the theater operator, has been working with UNITE HERE Local 1 on a “good jobs” agreement to ensure retail and theater workers have good-paying jobs and will be protected by a union once the Congress is back up and running.
Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st), whose ward includes the Congress, said in February the two groups were “very, very close” to striking a deal, but a union leader said an agreement hadn’t been reached.
Sadlowski Garza said she sent the proposal to Rules Committee so the City Council panel can determine how best to address the labor issue.
“Ensuring there is a pathway to good jobs at this development is an important aspect of evaluating this project,” she said.
La Spata, who has backed the long-stalled redevelopment, said in a written message he shares Sadlowski Garza’s view the project should create quality jobs and he’s “confident that we’ll be able to accomplish that with this agreement.”
Baum Revision, a local developer known for restoring historical buildings, is behind the ambitious Congress Theater redevelopment. The developer plans to fully restore the 2,900-seat, 1920s music venue at 2135 N. Milwaukee Ave. and surrounding retail shops and apartments.
Plans include roughly 5,400 square feet of retail and restaurant space along Milwaukee Avenue and Rockwell Street, 16 apartments and affordable offices and work space on the second and third floors. Fourteen of the apartments would be reserved as affordable housing.
Built in 1926 by Fridstein & Co., the Congress is one of the last-remaining theaters associated with famous “moving picture theater” operators Lubliner & Trinz. The theater started off hosting vaudeville acts and “photoplays” before screening movies and eventually putting on musical performances.
Years into its life as a music venue, the theater fell into disrepair and became a magnet for crime. In 2013, the city shut it down for code and safety violations after embattled former owner Eddie Carranza defaulted on $4 million in loans.
The following year, the city banned electronic dance music — the theater’s music genre of choice — for all current and future owners.
Developer Michael Moyer set out to redevelop the theater in 2015, but his plans fizzled after he was sued by Los Angeles-based lender and promoter AEG in 2020. Similar to Carranza, Moyer defaulted on $14 million in loans.
Baum is picking up where Moyer left off, hoping to secure enough financing to bring the historical theater back to life as it continues to deteriorate.
Sadlowski Garza’s move adds another step to an already-layered regulatory path for the redevelopment plan. Now, the Rules Committee will need to vote on the proposal so it can go before the Finance Committee and then to the full City Council for final approval.
A Baum official didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
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