The Congress Theater, 2135 N. Milwaukee Ave., in Logan Square on Oct. 28, 2022. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

LOGAN SQUARE — The decaying Congress Theater, which has sat empty for a decade, could finally see new life after years of failed attempts at redevelopment.

A $88 million plan to restore the Congress at 2135 N. Milwaukee Ave. passed its final regulatory hurdles Wednesday.

The full City Council approved allocating $27 million in tax-increment finance dollars (TIF) to local developer Baum Revision’s project and extending the life of the Logan Square TIF district, clearing the way for construction to begin.

Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st), a fierce champion of the project since taking office in 2019, cheered the move in a Twitter thread.

“For 4 years, ‘What is going on with the Congress Theater?’ was one of your [sic] top requests. Now, I am thrilled to say, at the Congress Theater, we are restoring the Landmark theater, while also adding affordable housing and affordable commercial space to a true opportunity area!” La Spata said.

“I believe this project will bring good jobs to our neighborhood, and keep neighborhood residents and businesses here while redeveloping the theater. I look forward to continuing work on bringing this project to life,” the alderperson said.

The City Council’s Finance Committee signed off on the key provisions of the project Tuesday.

The enormous dome above the auditorium of the Congress Theater in Logan Square on Feb. 6, 2023. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

Baum’s ambitious plans call for reviving the 3,500-seat venue, as well as the surrounding retail shops and apartments. The project will bring a total of 13,000 square feet of retail and office space to a languishing stretch of Milwaukee Avenue. Fourteen of the 16 apartments will be reserved as affordable housing.

The project is expected to cost $88 million and will be financed through a mix of city funding, equity, loans and historic tax credits, city officials have said.

The City Council’s vote unlocks $27 million in TIF funding — about 30 percent of the project’s total cost — and keeps the source of those city dollars alive long enough for developers to use the money.

The Fullerton/Milwaukee TIF district was set to expire next year. TIF funds must be spent on eligible projects within a certain timeframe, or the money is no longer available. Now, the terms of the TIF district are good for another three years so Baum can complete the Congress project.

Because of the project’s size, and because Baum is using city funding to support it, the developer must adhere to special rules.

The city’s redevelopment agreement requires commercial spaces to be leased to locally-owned businesses, community organizations and local artists. AEG Presents, Baum’s operating partner, also must run the theater for no less than 10 years, among other stipulations.

Decay and water damage seen in the hallway at the Congress Theater in Logan Square on Feb. 6, 2023. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

The Congress was built in 1926 by Fridstein & Co. as an ornate movie palace. Years later, it was refashioned into a music venue.

The venue fell into disrepair under embattled former owner Eddie Carranza and was shut down by the city in 2013 for code and safety violations after Carranza defaulted on $4 million in loans.

Developer Michael Moyer’s attempt to redevelop the landmark theater collapsed after Los Angeles-based lender and promoter AEG sued Moyer in 2020, alleging the developer defaulted on $14 million in loans. 

Baum has struggled to get the project off the ground since taking the reins in 2021. For months, the project was in limbo over a “good jobs agreement” between AEG and local union UNITE HERE Local 1. That issue has since been resolved.

Meanwhile, the condition of Congress has worsened. Giant holes in the ceiling have caused significant water damage.

Ahead of the Finance Committee vote on Tuesday, Baum official Scott Goldman said, ‘We’ve got guys ready to go as soon as we can access it.”

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Logan Square, Humboldt Park & Avondale reporterrnrnmina@blockclubchi.orgnnLogan Square, Humboldt Park & Avondale Twitter @mina_bloom_