Thursday, June 23, 2011

Ready For Its Close-Up?

The Reader's annual "Best of Chicago" poll is out, and Best Movie Theater That Should Be Reopened is ... you guessed it. Here's an excerpt that looks as hopeful as anything we've heard in the past decade:
"Harry Osterman, newly elected alderman for the 48th Ward, reports that he, Mayor Emanuel, and 46th Ward alderman James Cappleman are all interested in creating an entertainment district that would encompass not only a restored Uptown but the Riviera, the Aragon, the Kinetic Playground, and the now-empty Borders building south of the theater. If that provides enough of an incentive for Jam to move forward, the city might once again enjoy this architectural gem."
But you should really read the whole article here, if only for the simply stunning photo The Reader includes of the magnificent, tarnished theater lobby.

As for the beautiful marquee photo above, it was sent to us by reader Greg Edwards, using actual film, like in the olden days.  "For the photo nerds ... these were shot using a 1972 Konica C35 and on Fuji Provia 100 slide film."


  1. I don't see how this gets done without a ridiculously wealthy and generous private donor or TIF money. 40 million (probably more) is a massive number.

    Any attention is good attention though and I'm glad the idea of revitalizing that whole areas hasn't fallen off the radar yet.

  2. Great headline (after reading the article)

  3. @Alek

    The Wilson Yard TIF was prepared to give $50 million to Sedgwick in exchange for $6 million worth of park improvements. $40 million really isn't all that much, particularly if it is shared across multiple TIFs, SSAs, private donors etc.

    Here's what I would like to see: a fundraising drive in the neighborhod to raise a significant private contribution to match any public monies. That would show that real support on the part of the community, and would make people feel like they have more skin in the game.

    Does anyone know what state and Federal money might be available?

  4. People were thinking about this more than a decade ago. There's already a TIF (the Lawrence/Broadway Entertainment District TIF) that's been in place since 2000. Uptown Chicago Commission, Ald. Smith and Upcorp (now Uptown United) all collaborated on a plan to revitalize Uptown Square, with the Uptown Theater as the crown jewel.

    That's why sorting out the ownership of the theatre - which took years - and finding a buyer (JAM) were so important. Is JAM the right owner? We should find out before long. Seems like the two new aldermen, as well as the mayor, are keeping on eye on those plans. Maybe not fast-tracking it, but medium-tracking it? Time will tell. At least people are talking about it again, which hasn't happened much since the year of this report.

  5. @Tonia

    Interesting report, but I don't really see any actionable items. What's standing in the way of the physical renovations?

  6. @Toniacita

    This was such a telling paragraph-

    "The panel noted significant tensions between different elements in the community, including philosophical differences between the two wards, conflicting opinions among developers and advocates for the economically disadvantaged members of the community, and the unwillingness of some ethnic groups to work with others. There are truths and visions about which men and women of good character and conscience will differ, but at the end of the day, if all possible objections to any undertaking need to be resolved, then nothing can be accomplished."

    I think were all painfully aware of this kind of conflict, which still remains. But it does appear that alderman for both the 46th and 48th ward on on the same page this time.

    On the down side, the economic growth of the early 2000s is long gone, so without that major driver, I have to imagine funds will remain a major hurdle.

  7. Rob -- can't say for sure what's holding things up now. I can tell you in the past that things had slowed to a crawl because (1) the ownership of the theatre was impossibly tangled and no one even knew who owned it due to all the liens due, (2) the head of a group that received donations to renovate the theatre took off with the money, (3) plans to hold tours of the theatre to raise money had to be put on hold when plaster dropped from the ceiling at the building inspector's feet, and (4) Daley didn't want to renovate anything outside of the Loop to give the downtown Theatre District a leg up.

    My suspicion is that the entire new regime (Mayor Emanuel, Ald. Osterman and Ald. Cappleman) has the renovation of the Uptown on their radar screen. Certainly Ald. Smith did a fine job of caretaking and protecting it. Now it seems like the pieces are in place for something to happen.

    Fingers are crossed. I'm sure people much more knowledgeable than I am can fill in more details.

  8. @ Rob Ross

    "The Wilson Yard TIF was prepared to give $50 million to Sedgwick in exchange for $6 million worth of park improvements. $40 million really isn't all that much, particularly if it is shared across multiple TIFs, SSAs, private donors etc."

    I was doing some snooping and the often quoted 40 million sounds laughably low and that's just for the theatre itself, not the added parking structures and streetscaping that need to accompany it.

    "Larry Wilker, president of TheatreDreams, has helped restore multiple large theaters, including the Playhouse Square Theater, the “world’s largest theater restoration project,” in Cleveland, Ohio.

    Restoration on the Uptown is estimated at $40 million. Wilker said that is a gross underestimation.

    “Oh, they’re way off,” he said. “You might do a partial renovation for 40 [million] but if you’re talking about restoring it to the way it looked the day it opened, with all the modern technology, I think you’re closer to $100 million,” he said.

    "In his experience with theater renovation, Wilker said typically a organization with connections to the theater takes responsibility for raising a combination of state, city and private funds to get the theater restored.

    Wilker said the process usually happens this way because theater restoration is a tough investment sell.

    “These things are not done as a for-profit venture because they’re not economic. You can’t make back $100 million, no matter what you’re doing there,” Wilker said"

  9. I would absolutely love to see this building restored (or at least partially restored enough to be safely and effectively used) so it pains me to admit it but Alek is 100% correct. There is FAR more than 40 million dollars worth of work to be done to get the Uptown Theater reopened. 40 Million will barely cover structural repairs and infrastructure upgrades. By the time you tack on repairs to the finishes, electronic repair and modernization, code compliance for handicapped accessibility, lighting, toilet rooms, etc, we are absolutely approaching 80-100 million dollars.

    Its going to take a huge amount of private donations to ever have a hope of this thing reopening. There is simply no other way. The state and city are bankrupt and has no desire or reason to fund such repairs. Simple mathematics show the ecomonics of this are not enough to be a profitable business with an investment so large, as a result I dont expect Jam Productions or anyone else to sink tens of millions of dollars into a non-profitable business model.

    Its going to take a lightening strike of either highly successful fundraising efforts or a single extremely large philanthropic donation to get this off the ground. Even with that, its going to take other creative fund raising to really get the job done, probably licensing and naming rights. "Welcome to the Verizon Wireless Uptown Theater!"

  10. An idea.

    Restore that incredible lobby only, so it can rented for black-tie affairs and the like. Any guesstimates what that would be?

    Side benefit...that lobby restored would be a uniquely powerful location to hold a fundraiser to restore the big room.

    I think JAM is going to do the right thing, they have a history with this property.

  11. The article mentioned the Kinetic Playground, if they want to include them as part of the entertainment hub, they need to get a larger venue. Residents in that building must never sleep because the noise is so loud. I can hear it half a block away. Also the parking lot behind the Kinetic Playground is full of broken glass and garbage because so many kids eat and drink back there. I'm surprised the bar makes any money at all. I see so many kids bringing coolers of their own beverages...Maybe the Kinetic Playground could move into the Borders building? That area could use the foot traffic.

  12. What a load of crap dans last comment is.Never Ever Ever do "Kids" bring coolers into Kinetic.Im sure its Kinetic keeping them up when its open 2-3 days a week. Im bothered more by the constant firetrucks,ambulances and el noise. I walk thru the lot EVERY morning and all I see is a clean lot. Well Dan, if the Mayor and Alderman have it their way,be ready for a whole lot more "Kids" visiting our neighborhood and spending money here.

  13. A "Music District" would have to be composed of small, medium, and large venues. If it is going to be a genuine cultural destination, as opposed to just a cluster of venues, it would need a substantial contribution of the rest of the arts, theater, visual, dance,etc.

    It is too bad Andersonville got the Giordano dance company when they relocated from Evanston, there are others, will they come, what incentive can Uptown provide?

    There are professionals in the art world and they do their homework before making a move.

    Right now the neighborhood benefits financially very little from just having venues.

    They come, they park, they drink, bought ticket online, drink some more, go home.

    How does that alone improve the "quality of life" for the residents of the area around a venue?

    Artists follow artists, art is culture, business follows art because business is culture too. Investing as a community in the arts is tricky, not straight-forward and requires a lot of creative-critical thinking, and commitment if not faith from leadership.

    I hope the drive to create a music district goes beyond just clustering venues, whether they sweep up the glass in the morning or not.

    We have all of the raw ingredients to make Uptown a true cultural destination neighborhood...all except one. But I am very optimistic...more so then ever.