Sunday, April 6, 2008

Concert Promoters In Tug-of-War Over 'Jewel'

By Jim DeRogatis, Sun-Times

In a city graced by a dozen historic marquees, preservationists, music lovers and community activists maintain that the Uptown Theatre is Chicago's crowning jewel.

Designed by renowned architects Rapp & Rapp, the 4,300-seat theater opened at Broadway and Lawrence as a movie palace in 1925. But since a stint in the '70s when it hosted rock tours by Genesis, Lou Reed, the Grateful Dead and others, it has sat dormant and rotting. Meanwhile, one developer after another has reneged on promises to restore the venue to former glories.

A redeveloped Uptown Theatre is seen by many, including 48th Ward Ald. Mary Ann Smith, as the key that finally could turn Uptown from a "war zone" into a thriving entertainment district -- the only one in the city where live music is the main attraction.
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Update: Join the discussion on the Uptown Theatre at "Cinema Treasures."


  1. Good reporting on a complicated issue.

    It was great that an Uptown alderman was available for comment---eh hem!

    I also liked this bit

    "When Smith was a rookie alderman in the late '80s, Ilitch Holdings Inc...approached her about restoring the Uptown, she said. "The mayor was only in office a year and a half at the time, and I took the Fox Theatre people into the department of planning. They had a complete proposal outlined, brilliant. ... But Jerry Mickelson and his pals did everything they could to kill that deal, [and] they succeeded in convincing the city that because the Chicago Theatre continued to be in trouble, that the Uptown was helpless."

    "Live represented in the Uptown case by Chico & Nunes, the firm headed by Mayor Daley's former chief of staff, Gery Chico."

    Chicago, corruption is thy middle name.

  2. Looks like Daley's former Chief of Staff gets lots of city business, Chico and Nunes is also handling the Truman College building expansion.

  3. Doesn't this just bring hope to your soul?

    One thing Smith and Mickelson agree on -- and which is likely to happen no matter who prevails in court -- is that the Uptown will become the centerpiece of a thriving entertainment district that also includes the Riv, the Aragon, the historic Green Mill jazz club, the recently reopened Kinetic Playground and the Shake, Rattle & Read bookstore in a two-block-square area unrivaled as a musical hotbed anywhere in the United States.

  4. yes, TSN, it makes me sad to hear that there is all this battling going on, but the overall outcome sounds about as promising as anything we've heard in a while.

  5. Ok,

    now the push for the garages on Lawrence and at Truman makes more sense. The dark side is hard to see it is.

    As for JAM, Da Mare, almost always gets what Da Mare wants. I seem to recall a certain non JAM promoter handling the concerts at Northerly Island(meigs field).

    Ze Promoter at Da Mare's Personal Island.

    Worse case the city uses the TIF and eminent domain and takes over the theater. Then they sell it to a promoter. I wonder who that promoter would be?

    I wouldn't be placing any bets on JAM says Pirate I am.

  6. The restoration costs are going to be in the range of $50-60 million.

    Jam owns the Riv. Doesn't look like they've spent more than a few nickels on this theater.

    The sale should be tied to a full restoration plan.

  7. Tear the damn thing down.
    It would be cheaper in the long run that havng this rotting unsafe piece of crap. Hey w';ve torn down F.L. Wright buildings that actually had a value to the city- this rotting, crumbling building has no value at all- tear it down.

  8. Hey, 5:30 poster, your post makes zero sense. If it gets renovated than it won't be "rotting" any more. If it didn't have value, then the different players wouldn't be fighting over it. Try employing some logic and reason next time you write something down. It's conceivable that there is merit to your position, but one would never know from the way you convey it.

    And barring some ploy by Shiller to turn it into subsidized housing, I fail to see how an updated Uptown Theater could possibly hurt the neighborhood.

  9. Actually turning it into low income housing might be less expensive per unit than building new at Wilson Yard........snicker.

    It seems to me that within a few years the Uptown Theater will likely be open for business.

    Toss in a new EL stop at Montrose(close Wilson), and a renovated stop at Lawrence and Uptown is da place to be.

    Bring back some electrified buses and memories of my misspent "yout" will flood my teeny mind.

  10. I just spoke to Roy Orbison through a seance and he said:

    (Uptown, uptown)
    Uptown (uptown) in penhouse number three
    (Uptown, uptown)
    Uptown (doo-doo-wop) there lives a doll just made for me
    (Doo-doo-wop, doo-doo-wop)
    She's the finest thing that you've ever seen, oh, ho, ha
    (Oh, ho, ha, oh, ho, ha)

    Uptown, I see her most every day
    Uptown, but she never, ever looks my way
    I'm just a bellhop, you see I can't stop
    And tell her what I wanna say

    That one of these days, I'm gonna have money
    She'll wanna be my ever-loving, honey
    It won't be long, just'a wait and see
    I'll have a big car, fine clothes and then I'll be
    Uptown, in penthouse number three
    Uptown, just my baby and me

    (Doo-doo-wop, doo-doo-doo-wop)
    Yeah, one of these days, I'm gonna have money
    She'll wanna be my ever-lovin' honey
    It won't be long, just wait and see
    I'll have a big car, fine clothes and then I'll be

    Uptown (uptown) in penhouse number three
    Uptown (uptown) just my baby and me
    (Uptown, uptown)
    (Uptown, uptown)
    (Uptown, uptown)

    Roy's message to the pirate.

  11. The exterior of the Uptown looks derelict for sure. The exterior of the theatre was never the part meant to wow the crowds, its the spectacular interior that is the gem. There are many, many interior elements that are in great condition and just need some cleaning and could never be recreated from the ground up today. Demolishing this theater would most likely end any type of entertainment/theater venue on this site ever again. It must be preserved! Just remember the Oriental and Palace theatres downtown on Randolph were shuttered and they played roulette with the wrecking ball for many years. Now look at them. You can't really imagine that area of the Loop without them now. The Loop without a theatre district remaining would have been an enormous loss.

  12. Well I have to say I believe Smith on this one and think she is doing what is right since JAM screwed her over before.

    I don't think if it wasn't true she would the Illitch name out. AKA Little Ceaser's Pizza Empire.

    Too bad they didn't get it because they have done an excellent job in the City of Detroit with their extensive holdings.

  13. If this building is renovated it should serve as a multi-purpose theater instead of just a live music venue.

    Think of it like a cultural arts center where live music is the main attraction but theater and movie productions could also run there as well.

    Definitely agree that a L stop could make the area accessible and attractive to the young and trendy and eventually the yuppies. But be careful what you wish for! Development comes with consequences look at what Lincoln Park used to be and what Bucktown Wicker Park has become. Is uptown ready to sell its soul to those who are blinded by their pretension?

    This is one site that could jump start the area but are their other creative and grass roots methods the community could use to pump life back into the hood?

  14. Right. Lincoln Parkers and Wicker Parkers are kind of annoying. I love Uptown. I just wish we didn't have these self-loathing middle class poseurs-turned "radicals" in charge of the development. They have to cow-tow to the big $$ / big $$ developers because that is where they are getting the most money to redirect to their causes. I would so love more help for grassroots efforts...but they end up getting squashed. Uptown did have a chance... we've just largely blew it thanks to the Shillerites. Oh, well. I can deal with Lincoln Parkers better than they can.

  15. Understand this article----The only reason that Clearchannel is not right at this time remodeling the Uptown is:::: Jam productions is trying to block the whole deal. Not because they have interest in rehabbing. Only for the reason that they can keep themselves as the promoter in Chicago. They promised to rehab the Riviera as soon as the purchase. Yet to be done. Everybody should do what they can to let Jam know that they are very unhappy with this. They have NO concern for the community, only theyre deep pockets.That is why the city told them to put up the non refundable Five million.

  16. It would be great if it happens but big projects tend to take decades to get up and running (look at the proposed Target). Just be glad that its not in Helen's ward cause she would be sure to screw it up!

  17. Let's get it moving. That renovation could single handedly, turn this rat trap of a neighborhood around. Yes, take the wrecking ball to the Wilson L stop and put one up at Montrose. .

  18. A note to the people commenting on Wilson Yard and the Target and comparing it to the Uptown... the Uptown is in Mary Ann's Ward, not Helen's... and look what Mary Ann has done with the Uptown Broadway Building, the Broadway Bank Building, the Riv building, etc... the Uptown could be repaired and hosting shows for several years before Helen and Holsten break ground on Target and all of those fantastic half-million dollar low-income units.

  19. You are wrong. The Riviera office building is in Helens Ward not Mary-Anns. So is alot of the other buildings. Blame the owners, not the alderman on buildings not getting remodeled. When the owners see they can get the rent to support the rehab. They do it. Has nothing to do with Alderman only with economics.

  20. you are wrong, 8:52. They are all in Mary Ann's ward. Last time I checked a map, Racine down to Leland and Broadway down to Leland was all in Mary Ann's ward.

  21. Check again---The Riviera and Riviera office building are in Helens Ward.

  22. "Has nothing to do with Alderman only with economics."

    Right. You are not going to spend millions of dollars upgrading a building in a blighted area where the law isn't enforced because law enforcement = police brutality. That is economics. But, is that all the "invisible hand" or the hand of someone or something else---that is the question.

    I tell ya what, I'd be happy to send you to a few economics classes or direct you to some books if you would like to learn more about economics.

  23. Let's face it, Mary Ann Smith and the 48 ward are the finger down Broadway to Leland, and I mean that in a very good way.

    The 48 ward development in Uptown continues to breath new life with Fat Cat, Crew Bar, Border's, Agami, Marigold, Soggy Paws, the Annoyance Theater, and, of course, the Green Mill Jazz Club.

    This summer the Uptown Broadway building's new tenants will totally rock this stretch of 48 ward Uptown!

    Eventually the slum landlords in the bordering stretch of Leland and Racine will have to face the reality that the neighborhood has changed. The meth clinics will vanish, Cornerstone will become a distant memory of how not to help people, but keep them hopeless.

  24. Right, Uptown on the Upswing. Now is the time for people who want to advocate for Uptown's poorest and most troubled residents to figure out a way to get broad-based support for how to have a diverse community where all can thrive. This kicking people in the teeth, bare-knuckled brawling and back-room swindling stuff has to stop. There is a will for balance but it won't happen when one side uses sneaky tactics & abuses of power to get its way. It also won't happen when the favored rhetorical tactic is to call property owners a bunch of racists and haters of the poor. Even if it were true (which it is not), you catch more flies with honey.

  25. The Uptown theater is definitely in Smith's ward, and the border between the 46th and 48th wards is Leland on Broadway. Just stand on the corner of Leland and Broadway, and you will see what a difference an alderman can make. To the north, there is a vibrant business community, with buildings being renovated and new shops restaurants, and bars opening. To the south, there are vacant shop fronts, abandoned buildings, and a crumbling el stop.

  26. Here is the link. Check the map. The west side of Broadway, in that area, is in Helen's Ward.