• Mina Bloom
    MAR 09, 2022

    Congress Theater redevelopment moves a step closer to getting $20M boost from city

    The Congress Theater, taken Feb. 24, 2020. [Mina Bloom/Block Club Chicago]

    This article was first published in Block Club Chicago.

    A plan to free up a big chunk of city funding for the long-delayed redevelopment of the Congress Theater is headed to the City Council for final approval.

    The city’s Community Development Commission approved allocating $20 million in Tax Increment Finance dollars toward the $70.4 million restoration of the historic theater at 2135 N. Milwaukee Ave., and the surrounding apartments and retail. The city board signed off on the funding Tuesday with no debate.

    Developer Baum Revision is leading the project.

    RELATED: Congress Theater Redevelopment Moving Forward — And The City May Kick In $20 Million To Make It A Reality

    Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st), who represents the area where the Congress is located and long has pushed for it Congress to be redeveloped, was effusive about Baum’s project at Tuesday’s hearing. He said it will not only bring the historic music venue back to life, but it will also provide housing and commercial space to locals at risk of being displaced from gentrifying Logan Square.

    Baum plans to give the entire Congress building a facelift and carve out 20 apartments — 14 of them affordable for people earning 40-80 percent of the area median income — as well as affordable commercial space for local nonprofits and artists, and retail and restaurant space.

    “If we’re going to make a TIF allocation of a public subsidy, it should solve public problems, it should be expressing the values of who we are as a community and where we want to be going as a community,” La Spata said. “To have an opportunity for a project where nearly 70 percent of the housing is going to be affordable is incredible … Thousands of square feet of affordable commercial space [is] a nearly unprecedented opportunity.”

    The project will also inject new life into a stretch of Milwaukee Avenue that has suffered from neglect and vacancies in recent years, La Spata said.

    The Congress Theater has sat empty since 2013, when the city shut down the 1920s venue following a string of code violations and crimes that occurred in and around the theater during shows.

    Locals were excited when developer Michael Moyer set out to refurbish the Congress just a couple of years later, but Moyer’s project never took off.

    Los Angeles-based lender and promoter AEG sued Moyer in 2020, alleging the developer defaulted on $14 million in loans. The legal trouble left the theater in the control of a court-appointed receiver.

    Baum took over the project last year, with AEG as the operator.

    Baum has experience renovating historic buildings in the area including the Green Exchange and Margies Candies buildings. It’s part of the development team renovating the Ramova Theater in Bridgeport, another 1920s theater that has sat vacant for years.

    Baum’s Congress Theater redevelopment project will be funded through a mix of equity, debt, historic tax credits, deferred development fees and the city subsidy if the City Council gives its stamp of approval, development officials said Tuesday.

    If funding is secured, construction will take about a year and a half, developers said.

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