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Added May 16 2012

Recently, I filed an ordinance authorizing the City to exercise its powers of eminent domain to buy the building. This is not a step that I take lightly. I have consulted with the Mayor’s administration, and we remain hopeful that we can preserve this critical economic engine without implementing this solution.

It is not my intent that the City enter into the theater business, nor is it my desire that the theater be turned over to a non-profit. Both options would remove this substantial property from the tax rolls, severely impacting the Portage Park Tax Increment Financing District and the Six Corners Special Service Area. Instead, if necessary, the City would buy the building and sell it to a private business ready to preserve and enhance the current use of the theater. State law allows for this type of purchase and resale within TIF districts.

I wouldn’t contemplate taking this extraordinary step if the historic Portage Theater weren’t critical to the redevelopment of Six Corners. Several restaurants and potential cultural attractions are waiting for the resolution of this issue before they come to our community. The church’s proposed use for the Portage would make it impossible for anyone to get a liquor license within 100 feet of the building. It would make it impossible for anyone to get a public place of amusement license within 250 feet without the church’s permission. Because the Portage Theater building is so large, these zones would extend to the south side of Irving Park Road, in addition to Milwaukee Avenue near the theater.
The proposed use would gouge a huge hole in Six Corners where there would be no new restaurants, and where any proposed theater or entertainment venue would require the church’s permission. It would stifle development at a time when Six Corners is ready to take off.

I continue to remain ready to help Chicago Tabernacle with alternative sites.

  • I am still hoping for a three Floyds in our neck of the woods, but if this issue last for a while, it won't even be a possibility. Thank you for your efforts in making 6 corners what I personally hope it will be.

  • Thank you Ald. Arena for doggedly pursuing this issue and helping to preserve The Portage!

  • This is a very good plan B.

  • Many thanks to Alderman Arena for your continued efforts, and for keeping us aware of new developments.

    Assuming the June 15th ZBA meeting is still 'on' (I'm guessing it is), is there a schedule out yet, to help figure out what time to be there and how much time to spend there?

    Please post suggestions to let us know anything else the community can do, individually or as a group, to keep the momentum going to save the Portage Theater.

  • Wow. A big step. Thank you Alderman, and thanks in advance to Rahm & anyone else who has sign off on it.

  • I admire and appreciate how Alderman Arena keeps all the "pieces" of this situation clearly in view & shares the details with us. I am not in your ward, Alderman Arena, and would like to hear from the Alderman from my ward in the same spirit of sharing and moving ahead in a reasonable, careful way striving for improvements that benefit the communities. Thanks.

  • yes I'd like to have my favorite burger at 6 corners someday soon!!!

  • Josh. .

    I wonder if Portillo's would be a great business for six corners.
    They have an excellent tasting burger (for fast food).

  • Josh. .

    OOPS....wrong thread, sorry.

  • Rock-Ola Portage Park Homeowner

    Ald. Arena, THANK YOU!

  • Inactive user

    Thank you Alderperson Arena. I am ever hopeful that 6 corners will be a vibrant shopping area again.
    Ps. How about a good used bookstore for a business in 6 corners?

  • John Garrido Gladstone Park resident, Attorney, Police Officer

    Nice work Alderman and good idea. If you're taking suggestions, here is mine. I presented a similar idea awhile back but it involved setting up a foundation.

    Here is the idea again:

    • First we set up a foundation; we can call it the Portage Theater Foundation.
    • We then use TIF funds to buy the property.
    • We then turn the property over to the foundation for $1.

    This sets up a foundation with no multi-million dollar loan to repay; this allows the foundation to offer the retail space at a discounted rent to attract a dance studio, music store, acting school, art school, etc; businesses that would attract families to the area that would center on the theater. All the revenue generated would go toward property maintenance, renovations and taxes. Any surplus could be used for scholarships for local schools for the arts.

    I Know there is a concern about the tax rolls, so you can put the property in a 501(c)(2):

    (2) Corporations organized for the exclusive purpose of holding title to property, collecting income therefrom, and turning over the entire amount thereof, less expenses (i.e. taxes), to an organization which itself is exempt under this section.

    Now the property stays on the tax rolls and the foundation doesn't have a big loan to pay-off.

    Just a thought.

  • Inactive user

    Thank you Ald Arena, glad to have you in our ward. Now if you could clean up the gangs and drugs on The 4900-5000 on Byron that would be appreciated, especially since there are police/fireman that own those problem buildings and do nothing about it since they don't live there, just rent them out. The Irving hotel is infamous for drug dealers.

  • Irish Pirate Littleton/Artist/Uptown/Chicago

    This sounds brilliant!

    Just as the Uptown theater is key to revitalizing Lawrence and Broadway the same goees for the Portage and 6 corners.

    There are plenty of good reasons to preserve our cultural treasures, we can all list off at least a few....

  • Irish Pirate Littleton/Artist/Uptown/Chicago

    @ John Garrido

    Excellent comment and well put.

  • Great work Alderman Arena ! ! Great plan John Garrido !!

    We should work on a plan like JG's !! Sounds like a great solution and driver for the area !! go go go

  • Something tells me very few people (including myself) have a grasp of the issues. The next ZBA meeting is June 15th, less than 30 days away. If the vote is not in our favor, we are in deep trouble. The sale to the church can happen. As a matter of fact it could happen today, nothing is stopping the sale. What has put the sale on the back burner for the church is the special use. The possibility of the city stepping in is another fly in the ointment for the church.

    I have said it before, Mr Garridos idea has points, it doesn't have time. I am sure Alderman Arena is not working in a vacuum. We can see he has the city powers and residents behind him.

    FYI I found this also. Has some interesting points.

  • John Garrido Gladstone Park resident, Attorney, Police Officer

    Please Gerard, I don't want to turn this into a debate.

    All I'm trying to point out is the property will NOT be property tax exempt. By selling it to another private organization with a huge loan to repay, you run the risk of being in the same place at anytime in the future if the property does not generate enough revenue to make ends meet.

    I'm simply suggesting this as an alternative to give the theater to the neighborhood forever without the debt of a multi million dollar loan to repay.

    All revenue generated can go back into the theater and the community.

    Here are the facts.

    The timeline is the same. Purchasing the property with TIF money and turning it over to a foundation is not any slower than purchasing the property with TIF money and selling it to private owners.

    Just because the property is turned over to a not for profit, doesn't mean it is automatically property tax exempt; it all hinges on use.

    The use I described above does NOT qualify for Property Tax Exempt status.
    Who qualifies for a property tax exemption?

    Your organization must
    •be an exclusively beneficent and charitable, religious, educational, or governmental organization, AND
    •own the property that is used exclusively for charitable, religious, educational, or governmental purposes and not leased or used for profit, to qualify for a property tax exemption.

    Although your organization may have received a Certificate of Incorporation, sales tax exemption or status as a not-for-profit corporation, this does not automatically entitle you to a property tax exemption…

  • Irish Pirate Littleton/Artist/Uptown/Chicago

    John Garrido is right on the mark.

    If his suggestion went forward it would be an asset to the community, the kind of thing that atteacts tax paying residents and additional businesses. The arts are a good stimulus for business.

    Garrido's plan would be a net gain for the area even if it was off the tax rolls.

    It would save a historic and beautiful building to be utilized by the community at large. If attracting the arts, artists and craft related business to 6 corners is a priority JG's plan would be a game-changer simply put.

    I say go for it!

  • Inactive user

    I don't get the "we'll end up in the same place" argument. The building is not being sold because of the poor economy, but because the owner wants to retire. So there is no reason to assume that a private owner will not be able to make its mortgage payments anymore than the current owner could not.

  • Mike D in Portage Park resident on Berteau Ave.

    If a church goes into that building,you're gonna have more protesters than the NATO Summit! Why? Because I'm gonna start it!

  • @ John G, John, no debate intended, just looking at the facts.

    Okay, what are some of us missing here. Did we read what the alderman said just above?

    "It is not my intent that the City enter into the theater business, nor is it my desire that the theater be turned over to a non-profit. Both options would remove this substantial property from the tax rolls, severely impacting the Portage Park Tax Increment Financing District and the Six Corners Special Service Area. Instead, if necessary, the City would buy the building and sell it to a private business ready to preserve and enhance the current use of the theater. State law allows for this type of purchase and resale within TIF districts."

    Now, we know there is a second offer on the building from the people who manage the theater. If you read the part above "and sell it to a private business ready to preserve..." Read between the lines. Nothing else needed.

  • @ Littleton Arts. I see no parallel between the Uptown and the portage. Uptown has been closed for over thirty years, not much of a draw, is it.

    On the other hand I think the Uptown shopping district is a bit more vibrant than Six Corners and this is without a theater. So you should watch your comparisons.

  • @Gerard, the Uptown Theater is closed, but the Riviera Theater and Aragon Ballroom are both open and quite popular. There are several good restaurants in the area that benefit from the theaters (Fat Cat, Green Mill, Crew, Caravan, Marigold, etc...). I would be pleased with even half that selection in Six Corners.

  • Irish Pirate Littleton/Artist/Uptown/Chicago

    @ Gerard

    I wouldn't compare the Uptown and the Portage too closely. Only to say they are both historical theraters critical to revitalizing an intersection at the heart of a neighborhood.

    Beyond that every historical property is a unique scenario.

    As far as Uptown having a vibrant shopping district.....why do you say that? Target is doing pretty good a few blocks down but Lawrence and Broadway? Since Borders closed its been queiter for sure. Still have the Green Mill tho and some other fine drinkin' establishments. Its a mixed bag.

    Six-corners has a lot of potential. What JG suggested in effect would be a cultural anchor that would attract some desireable buisnesses and vibrancy to the intersection. It would attract people to your hood and keep them around longer.

    Its not the only scheme that would work but a damn good one in my opinion.

  • Missy Old Irving Park resident held hostage by a mutt

    Great video on Chicago for NATO - you don't even get 1 minute into the 9 minutes video and they flash the Marquee for the Green Mill. Mighty fine establishment.

  • Dirk Portage Park

    @Littleton Arts. JG's suggestion of the Portage being a cultural anchor isn't new. This community has been fighting to keep this a cultural anchor all along. And regarding financials, there's been a version of this floating around for some time. A good proposal, JG has been the only one to articulate it in depth on EveryBlock.

  • @ Aaron - I am greatly aware of what Uptown has, that is my point and you are correct we should hope we have more.

    @ Littleton - I still do not see your comparison on the Uptown and the Portage. Although the Uptown exists as a building, that is it, just a building. so how can that be involved? As for the rest, as Aaron states above, Uptown business is head and shoulders above Six Corners. From Montrose to Foster it is a vibrant district with many good business anchors. Borders was just one of many. Lets not forget Argyle.

    Now, I am done talking about Uptown. I will go back to Six Corners.

  • nonetoday

    @Dirk. regarding financials, what's the other version?

  • Irish Pirate Littleton/Artist/Uptown/Chicago

    Ok ok....Uptown theater is different. Its nice to read flattering comments about Uptown for a change.

    My comparison was a very limited one for sure. However it seems what to do about a historic theater in the heart of a neighborhood is a recurring theme.

    Each scenario is different so you have to find your own way. Another example would be the Remova in Bridgeport, very different but still. Like the Portage its fate remains to be determined.

    The Renova, Uptown, and Portage have a chance because people are focused and care about what happens. When the opposite is true we get outcomes like the once great Nortown off Devon, now an empty lot.

    Or like the Granada, torn down and sold for scrap. A structure with the same name was built on that site and has the soul of a suburban or Soviet office building.

    So I am optimistic about the Portage, its in good condition, the Alderman and the community are engaged so it looks good.

    One last non-6 corners fact...The Uptown is on the upswing too with $63M slated for the renovation. Gotta like that!

    When I was at the Chicago Cultural Plan 2012 meeting at Copernicus Ctr in March the Portage came up more then once, obviously it is important to your community. They passed out some buttons and I still have mine.....

    Save the Portage!

  • yes , save the Portage

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