Thursday, December 23, 2010

Down Times For The Uptown Theatre

via Chicago Talks
by Chloe Riley

With 48th Ward Ald. Mary Ann Smith about to retire, and an owner who is hesitant to talk about the theater’s financial issues, the future of the Uptown Theater, a giant at 4,300 seats, looks shaky.

Located at 4816 N. Broadway St., the Uptown was built in 1925 by architects Rapp and Rapp, who also designed the Chicago Theater and Cadillac Palace Theater. The Uptown was designated a Chicago landmark in 1991.

Jerry Mickelson, of Jam Productions Ltd., bought the theater in 2008 for $3.2 million. Mickelson owns several well-known Chicago music venues, including the Rivera, The Vic, and the Park West.

Before Mickelson, the theater had been in and out of foreclosure since 1994. Prior to that, through the late ’80s and mid-’90s, the Uptown was owned by Lou Wolf, a slumlord and convicted arsonist who was dubbed “Chicago’s worst landlord” in 1989 by Chicago Magazine.

Mickelson was contacted multiple times with questions regarding the Uptown’s funding issues, but would only comment via e-mail.

“I have been trying to fit all the pieces of the funding puzzle together to renovate the Uptown Theater and am making some progress, but it is a very long road that requires an incredible amount of due diligence,” Mickelson said. Continue Reading


  1. Could we unaminous in thinking that if ever there was a project worthy of a TIF it would be this one?

    Not just for the neigborhood of Uptown, how about in the ENTIRE city of Chicago?

    So I guess the guy in Jam productions believes to do a full restoration is would take 100 million dollars.

    At the very least lets get the Foyer/Anteroom whatever in front fixed up so that fundraisers and dinners could be held in the Theatre for god sake as was suggested?

  2. Yet another disappointment for the Uptown. I think there were really high hopes when JAM bought the place.

    John Holden is right - at least get the lobby open and used for some purpose (and the facade reconstructed). At least then people could see how gorgeous this building really is. It's unbelievable.

  3. Funny, I was thinking about TIF as well.

    I snickered a bit with the comment "theater’s size is not ideal for most investor’s business models."

  4. I've always wondered why the Uptown's owners haven't renovated the theatre's lobby for fundraisers, private events, banquets etc. as well. It would be an earnest step in the right direction, and may earn enough to at least restore the marquee, remove the boarded up windows, generate some publicity and reintroduce the Uptown to the community. As a resident and innocent bystander, it seems to me that the Riv's owners are not really interested in any substantial investment in either venue unless and before the government steps in to subsidize it. The Riviera's maintenance appears to be whatever absolute minimum it takes to keep the city's inspectors happy and the facade from crumbling onto the public below. It doesn't look too promising, and it's light years away from the approach taken with the Rialto's restoration in Joliet. Maybe there's more going on with the Uptown (and the Riviera for that matter) than is evident, but if there is, I can't imagine what benefit there would be from keeping it a secret.

  5. It's already in a TIF that was created in 2001.

  6. i agree w/the others on here, it's a shame they don't work on incrementally restoring/improving the theatre (start with the lobby).

    another thought ... even though it needs restored (and should be), why not leave the interior as-is & just update the essential parts (new seat cushions for example). let people experience it as a semi-ruin (though its far from that). bringing people. it’s not in an unusable condition as-is, it’s just not the sparkling gem that it once was.

    getting the theatre back into use would be a bigger step towards the eventual restoration than just letting it sit there going unused completely. it also can call to attention other historic buildings in similar situations & the potential for reuse vs. demolition.

    even in its current state, the uptown theatre is an awe-inspiring space & should be enjoyed.

  7. geofredo, the $100M estimate came from the guy who did the theater restoration in Cleveland--not the guy from JAM Productions.

    As far as TIF worthiness goes, I would LOVE to see the Uptown Theater be the recipient of TIF money--and that would be *far* better than the use of TIF money for Wilson Yard or for "Lake View" Station. After all, if that sort of money was used to restore and re-open the Uptown, it would bring people to the neighborhood for all sorts of productions...and they would want to spend more money in spin-offs like restaurants and bars that would naturally benefit from theater patrons coming to or leaving from productions at the Uptown. That would bring more people to sidewalks at night, and that is always a good thing. So what has been the hold-up (besides Mary Ann Smith not wanting to earmark TIF money for that work)?

  8. Too bad so much time, money and "cred" were lost on this project when a bogus "nonprofit organization" stole money from us while advertising itself as a fund-raiser for the restoration of the Uptown. Am I the only one here who got "taken" by these crooks and have therefore been skeptical of any projected renovations since?

  9. Perhaps with enough pressure, we can get Rahm and the other candidates to add the Uptown restoration to the platform for which they plan to run. I suppose if the issue gets loud enough, the City might be able to do something. I saw people on a cherry picker just this week working on the terra cotta removal on the back of the building. I was hoping some positive work might be progressing.

  10. I remember attending a wonderful fundraising party at the Uptown in the '90's.

    If ever there was a 'Tif-worthy' project, I think it is the Uptown Theatre.

    The legacy of Wilson Yards is deception, fog, and a failed model.

    History, versus Failed-History.

  11. There is a TIF there already.

    It paid for the Borders rehab, the Uptown Broadway Building rehab, Gunnison Lofts (whatever that is/was) and more.

    The city document says that funds are reserved for the future use of the Uptown Theatre.

  12. Well then lets use it (the TIF) to start some type of meaningful rehab
    on the Uptown theatre.

    I think the Uptown theatre should be a MAJOR political issue of the upcoming alderman election right behind the gang and crime issue.

  13. Fredo----I'm afraid. Very afraid. Your lack of knowledge is astounding. The purpose of the Lawrence /Broadway TIF is for the eventual restoration of the Uptown Theatre. For the record, it is in the 48th ward.

    TIF funds have already been used for the restoration of the Goldblatt's building and the Gunnison Lofts building. If you have ever patronized Fat Cat, you have been to the ground floor of the Gunnison Lofts building which is cleverly located on Gunnison, also in the 48th ward.

  14. Ok Joe,
    well thats why Im engaging in conversation here to find out why the heck the Uptown Theatre isnt being fixed up.

    So if there are funds for the restoration of the Uptown Theatre available why isnt being used then?

    Inquiring minds want to know.

    Well ok, its in the 48th ward
    isnt there an election going on for that ward too?

    Im not afraid to let my ignorance show because I want to know what the heck is going on.

  15. "cleverly located on Gunnison"

    tee hee....