Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Uptown Theatre In A Jam

By David Roeder, Sun-Times
Ald. Mary Ann Smith (48th) is encouraging a new deal involving control of the landmark Uptown Theatre, 4816 N. Broadway. What that means to the theater, empty for 25 years, or its current owner is anybody's guess, but Smith's move could be controversial.
The Uptown's owner is concert promoter Jam Productions Inc., which with a partner put up $3.2 million last summer to get it in a foreclosure auction. Since then, Jam has battled in court over a $5 million reserve City Hall wants it to post to cover repairs. It also wants $1.7 million in cover liens placed on the property for emergency work. Continue Reading


  1. That's interesting I emailed her office last month asking for a status update and head nothing back.

    I think she should talk to the Illitch family again they did a wonderful restoration of the Detroit Fox Theater so they know what they are doing.

    Let's face it Jam just wants to keep the Uptown from being a competitor to his other venues.

  2. I saw this coming a mile away.

  3. I would rather see the Uptown torn down or redeveloped as a condo, but if folks keeps on insisting that the building be revived for entertainment purposes, then Live Nation should be the owner.

    Jam only purchased the building to keep out competitors like Live Nation.

  4. Ditto on the restoration of the Fox Theater in downtown Detroit.
    It is magnificent!

    Shoot Jam for suggesting a mosh pit! This shows Jam doesn't give a damn about restoring this architectural gem; all they care about money, money, money.

    I sincerely hope that Smith and the City have included restoration guidelines into this sale.

  5. The overhead costs alone would be probably very prohibitive to make the Uptown a "concert only" venue, by ripping out the seats. (Unless they plan on having concerts much more often than they do at the Riv/Aragon/Vic etc) The only valid business plan would have to include other revenue producing acts, much like the Chicago Theater. Jam's business model for Uptown is unrealistic, so everyone should see it for what it is, Jam protecting their investments of the Riv and Aragon. Further, Jam hasnt exactly been the best steward of those two locations, both of which barely maintain the structural integrity (at least to the untrained eye) to remain open. Im not saying Live Nation would be the best either, I think you'd need a Mike Illich type organization that's done a complete theater overhaul, and can keep acts coming to the theater. Otherwise the cost of restoring and keeping it open will never meet revenues.

  6. I think Oprah should buy it restore it and then give it to a trust for the city.

  7. It could be called Oprah Winfrey's Uptown Theater

    Or just O'S Uptown

  8. I love the building as much as the next person. I was devastated when the Granada was torn down, but It's time to be real about this. By today's standards, the Uptown is a temporary building. The interior ornamentation is plaster reinforced with hay. Without proper temp and moisture control, it deteriorates. The building has some beautiful lobby spaces...but the auditorium is an enormous.....barn.
    It was built when there were very few alternatives for entertainment. No one has found a profitable way to revive the theater in over 25 years. Can you say white elephant??? It's clearly time to put this issue behind us.
    Also, on evenings when both the Riv and Aragon have events, Lawrence and Broadway is a parking lot. Imagine if the Uptown was open!

  9. I mostly agree with larrynow. I would love to see the Uptown open again, but at this point it would cost so much money to fix it up and bring it up to code it's not feasible for anyone to do it, especially during a recession.

    Jam may have bought the place to keep competitors away, but they got it at at rock bottom price because no one else wanted it.

    Whatever's done, it will be the neighborhood's ultimate gut rehab. I doubt turning it into condos is the answer - we already have too many of those that are empty or in foreclosure. Chicago is broke, so don't expect public funds to help.

    Basically, to bring this majestic space back to life will require a very rich patron who loves live entertainment and is willing to sink a LOT of cash into a project.

  10. True, today's economy is not on the Uptown's side, but I strongly believe that with Alderman Smith's determination, the theater will not be torn down. From what I have heard, she is truly interested in a rehab and viable use of the space. If the Uptown was located 2 blocks down in the 46th ward, it would have been long gone by now.

    So because the economy sucks today, we should just knock it down? Pretty short-sighted.

    I can honestly say I hate TIF's and the slush fund they turn into, but I would gladly contribute my tax dollars to a restoration of a gem like the Uptown, rather than to a disasterous pet-project like Wilson Yard. The Uptown is a piece of art to be cherished by generations. Wilson Yard will be f-ed up and bulldozed in 30 years.

  11. "Nothing gold can stay, Pony Boy. Nothing gold can stay."

    Tear it down.

  12. One thing we do know for sure about whatever happens with the Uptown - it will be safe for elephants.

  13. these people that b*tch about traffic and congestion kill's called a CITY people....we live in one...move to the burbs if you want perfectly timed traffic lights and no congestion...

    restore the damn theater and let the crowds come....

  14. The mindset for saving a white elephant like the Uptown stems from the cliche narratives of ancient Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland/Busby Berkeley musicals—in which the starry-eyed, showbiz protagonists fight tooth and nail to "put on a show" against all odds.

    It's a new century, folks. Not even Mickey Rooney's dogged resolution can trump real issues like the cost of remodeling, heating, and maintaining this behemoth building, especially in an era that emphasizes "green and sustainable" structures.

  15. I know it could be turned into a gay wedding chapel

  16. LOL R - excellent idea...i could see it now...

  17. For all those who say "tear it down", what do you want to take it's place?

    That block needs a showpiece. Of some sort. We don't need more condos. (And I'm just thinking in terms of a glut of condos on the market right now.) We need business/restaurant/entertainment/retail. So if you say, "can't be saved", then tell us what should be done with the site.

    As for Jam, utterly disappointing but terribly predictable.

  18. "That block needs a showpiece. Of some sort."

    Well, it's been years since the Uptown was closed, and the area and neighborhood has managed to improve regardless.

    Plus, there are several area "showpieces": The Green Mill, the Riviera, and the Aragon are all in close proximity. The folks I seen wining and dining al fresco during the summer months in front of Fat Cat, Fiesta Mexicana, and CREW don't seem be put off by the fact that the Uptown is shuttered.

  19. One thing I was wondering is it still in good enough shape to be restored?

    I would think a lot mold/mildew and all kinds of organisms plus rodents in there.

    I would like to see it restored but for some reason it hasn't happened which makes me wonder if it's beyond being restored.

  20. It is in pretty bad shape on the inside. However, Jam has stopped the bleeding by sealing the leaky roofs. Long story to go into.

    When I was in there, I liked the idea of turing it into kind of a theatre/mall. There are lots of nooks and crannies that could be little shops. I've seen things like it overseas.

  21. Actually, I don't think Jam has done any work to take credit for yet. There was a very informative 30 min program on Channel 11 a few months back (it was a repeat from 2005 - and advertised here on UU). The credit lies with at least 2 men that have regularly acted as caretakers over the past several years. Very dedicated guys who have made small repairs and kept the place heated and clean. To my knowledge, JAM has done nothing in the short time they have owned the place - although, in their defense, they have not had it long. Looking at the Riviera though(owned by JAM)I have little faith they would ever do an all out restoration anyway. I still see the same guy cleaning on Saturdays, so glad to know JAM still allows him to maintain it.

    A lot of people who want the place ripped down should view the program. You'd be amazed and just might change your mind about going and getting the wrecking ball.

  22. It is shocking how much misinformation and rumor is being spread about the Uptown Theatre and its circumstances, especially since most of the information to dispel these rumors is available through a simple Google search.

    Just to pick a few:

    1. JAM does not own the Aragon Ballroom

    2. The Aragon Ballroom is not falling apart. The owners have been pumping large amounts of money into renovating it.

    3. The Uptown Theatre needs a lot of work, but it is not falling apart. It has been stabilized (with the help of the city), and inspections have found it to be structurally sound.

    4. It may cost a lot of money to restore the Uptown, but it would cost even more to build a similar sized (but much less attractive) venue from scratch.

    5. The Uptown is not a temporary building by today's standards. In fact, the Uptown was built far stronger than most modern buildings. I'm not being critical of modern building technology, just that most modern buildings are built for profit, rather than endurance. I would be surprised if most of the condo buildings built in the last decade are still here in 90 years.

    6. Green technology could be used in the restoration of the Uptown, and doing so is already being discussed.

    I'm missing a few, but that's good enough for now. I encourage everyone to do their own research about this building, its history, and its potential before forming an opinion about its fate or repeating a rumor. If you don't do Google, then contact Friends of the Uptown, they will have some of the most accurate and current information.

  23. jimo said...
    these people that b*tch about traffic and congestion kill's called a CITY people....we live in one...move to the burbs if you want perfectly timed traffic lights and no congestion...

    That's so strangely reminiscent of something Shiller said once...

  24. I say save it. It's a great building. We don't need another cracker box condo complex. Let's try and preserve the neighborhood history as much as possible. Every time a historic building meets up with a wrecking ball, we lose another piece of Uptown History. It's what makes us unique. My mom still talks about the times she used to dance at the Aragon. Once it's gone... it's gone.

    I sure do miss the Roller Rink on Clark.