POTENTIAL WIN: Stalled Congress Theater Redevelopment Plan Moving Forward Again

Decay and water damage seen in the hallway at the Congress Theater in Logan Square on Feb. 6, 2023. Congress Theater, 1926, Fridstein & Co., 2117-2139 N. Milwaukee Ave. Designated a Chicago Landmark on July 10, 2002. Photo credit: Colin Boyle / Block Club Chicago
The enormous dome above the auditorium of the Congress Theater in Logan Square on Feb. 6, 2023. Congress Theater, 1926, Fridstein & Co., 2117-2139 N. Milwaukee Ave. Designated a Chicago Landmark on July 10, 2002. Photo credit: Colin Boyle / Block Club Chicago

“Long-discussed plans to rehab the deteriorating Congress Theater are back on track, with a key city panel expected to vote on the proposal as early as next month.

“Developer Baum Revision is asking for $27 million in tax-increment financing to support the $88 million renovation.

“The funding request was introduced to City Council last month, but staunch union supporter Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th) temporarily blocked further consideration of the ordinance over labor concerns.

“Sadlowski Garza sent the proposal to Rules Committee — sometimes referred to as legislative purgatory. Alderpeople voted Wednesday to bring the ordinance out of its standstill, and it will now be considered by the council’s Finance Committee before a final vote before the full council.

“In a text message, project champion Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st) said AEG, the theater operator, and labor union UNITE HERE Local 1, have reached a labor agreement to resolve Sadlowski Garza’s concerns. La Spata declined to comment further.

“The historical Congress Theater, 2135 N. Milwaukee Ave., is in a dire state after sitting vacant for a decade and years of negligence.

“Baum plans to fully restore the 2,900-seat, 1920s music venue as well as the surrounding retail shops and apartments.

“Baum is the second developer in recent years to endeavor an extensive rehab of the Congress Theater, which was shut down by the city in 2013 for code and safety violations after embattled former owner Eddie Carranza defaulted on $4 million in loans.

“Built in 1926 by Fridstein & Co., the Congress is one of the last-remaining theaters associated with famous “moving picture theater” operators Lubliner & Trinz. It is a city landmark with an impressive number of original architectural details.

But the historical theater has crumbled in recent years as redevelopment efforts have stalled. Baum officials previously said the theater’s worsening condition — combined with higher construction costs — have made the renovation project challenging.” (Bloom, Block Club Chicago, 4/19/23)

The Congress Theater was designated a Chicago Landmark in 2002 in large part due to the strong advocacy and dedication of Preservation Chicago and Logan Square Preservation. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2017.

Over the past 20 years, Preservation Chicago and Logan Square Preservation have continued to advocate for its restoration and reactivation. There have been many challenges and false starts, but we are optimistic that this renovation effort will prove successful.

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