Uptown Theatre

4816 N. Broadway,
Chicago, IL 60640

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Comfortably Cool
Comfortably Cool on September 23, 2018 at 8:21 am

“The Case Against An Uptown Theatre Restoration” can be read here

Comfortably Cool
Comfortably Cool on September 10, 2018 at 1:58 pm

TV news coverage of the restoration project and its impact on the neighborhood can be viewed here

LouRugani on July 20, 2018 at 10:31 pm

Restoring The Dream: The gilded interior of Chicago’s Uptown Theatre remains mostly intact, ready for a $75 restoration project that will be the centerpiece of a neighborhood renewal years in the making. Jam Productions bought the building more than 10 years ago and, in partnership with a local developer and the city of Chicago, is on the verge of bringing the landmark back to life.

Jam Productions’ Jerry Mickelson and Arny Granat could be within months of realizing a decades-long dream: breaking ground on a $75 million restoration of Chicago’s ornate, landmark Uptown Theatre, which they purchased 10 years ago for a reported $3.2 million.

They knew it would take a massive injection of financing to bring the building, closed since 1981, back to its gilded, ca. 1925, Spanish Revival glory. And Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel knew he had an as-yet unfulfilled 2011 campaign pledge to create an entertainment district in the Uptown neighborhood.

Mickelson and Emanuel jointly announced June 29 they’ve found a partner in Farpoint Development and a patchwork of funding that, pending city council and regulatory approvals, should enable restoration to begin in fall on a 5,800-capacity Uptown Theatre.

A new partnership entity will be formed as a joint venture between Jam Productions and Farpoint, which is one of the city’s biggest commercial real estate developers. In addition to the Uptown restoration, a comprehensive streetscape plan will help bring together the vision for an entertainment district that will also include the 2,300-capacity Riviera Theatre, also operated by Jam, 4,378-cap Aragon Ballroom, booked by Live Nation, and Green Mill Jazz Club that seats about 100.

The $6 million streetscape project includes improvements to surrounding streets, with a new pedestrian plaza, sculpture and public stage all expected to be completed this summer.

But it’s the Uptown Theatre that is the unquestionable jewel in the city’s crown, and the object of Mickelson’s deep affection as not only a concert promoter but a Chicagoan. The Uptown long ago was granted “landmark” status – from façade to stagehouse – which likely saved it from the wrecking ball fate of so many other movie palaces of its era. “Jam did all the concerts there from Oct. 31, 1975 with The Tubes through Dec. 19 1981 with the J. Geils Band,” Mickelson proudly says. “At that time, the theatre was owned by a small family, not theatre operators, and they weren’t putting any money into the venue. When I walked into the theater on that cold December day, we had to purchase the oil to get the furnaces going to heat the building because they couldn’t afford it. The bathrooms were barely functioning, so I told the owner he had to close it. And he did and gave it back to the people he bought it from. “But the only damage was in the winter of 1982 when some roof pipes burst because the owners didn’t put the heat on. But other than some small, minor plaster damage, everything’s there. It’s not one of those old, decaying, decrepit theaters. It’s a landmark building, inside and out,” Mickelson says.

He might have come to regret telling those owners they had to close it. Twenty five years later, the ownership was subject to a battle for control between Jam, Live Nation, AEG and Madison Square Garden Co. at various times since at least 2006, when AEG and Live Nation last kicked the tires at the old building. Two years later, Live Nation appeared on the brink of making a deal to lease the venue from the city of Chicago until a final bid was scuttled by a dispute over who actually owned the property.

As it turned out, Jam Productions and Joseph Freed & Associates LLC owned a second mortgage on the Uptown property. The holder of the first mortgage, David Husman of investment firm Equibase, refused their offer of $1.3 million to pay off the mortgage. “That doesn’t stop us from doing anything other than what we’ve been trying to do and are in court over, which is trying to pay off the mortgage,” an impassioned Mickelson told Pollstar at the time. “We paid off the first mortgage, but they sent us our money back. We don’t believe that’s legal and that’s what we’re fighting over.”

But a complex scenario was made simple by a court-ordered sale in July 2008. Jam was the sole bidder, and bought the Uptown for $3.2 million. At about the same time, the worst recession in memory struck, making financing for a rehab project all but impossible. “It’s been a long journey over the past 10 years but I can see the finish line is right ahead of us,” Mickelson tells Pollstar. “It’s not easy to restore a theater like this without being a city or municipality, just doing it privately is difficult. But we will get it done.”

Not all of the financing is in place. According to Mickelson, about $49 million of the $75 million is secured – but “we’ll get the rest,” he says.

As for the Uptown itself, plans call for interior improvements including new elevators and concession stations; mechanical, electrical, plumbing and “life safety” systems, and restored decorative finishes, New seats and a reconfigured first floor of the three-story building will reduce the old theatre’s seated capacity from about 4,400 to 4,200 – though some floor seats will be removable, allowing for a total capacity of 5,800.

Exterior work will repair the building’s masonry and terra cotta and improve marquees and related signage, among other improvements, according to a statement from Emanuel’s office.

“The Uptown Theater has been a staple of the Uptown neighborhood’s past, and will be a strong asset for the community’s future,” Emanuel said. “The restored theater will be the centerpiece of the new, revitalized Uptown entertainment district, giving residents and visitors another way to experience world-class culture and entertainment in one of the City’s most storied neighborhoods.”

Mickelson also envisions the restored theater as a catalyst for lifting up Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, and compares its potential impact on Chicago’s North Side to that of the Fox Theatre in Oakland, Calif. “It’s an economic engine that starts everything else. After the Fox [in Oakland] opened, and the Paramount was already opened, that created some nice synergy that allowed the Uptown part of Oakland to come alive as well,” Mickelson said. “This is more than just about concerts. It’s creating jobs, it’s creating new businesses.”

It’s also about creating education and job opportunities for area youth and, to that end, Mickelson’s vision includes collaborations with organizations like After School Matters, a program of the Chicago public schools, and the nearby Peoples’ Music School that provides free music education to 600 kids. “We are going to provide them the opportunity to be part of the Uptown Theatre, starting from the restoration phase all the way through opening and when we’re presenting events,” Mickelson explained. “I decided to make a program that benefits students and the education they can get that they normally would not have access to. They’re going to be part of this and we’re going to let them use the theatres for fundraisers and rehearsals, things like that.”

Redevelopment agreement details will be finalized this summer and presented this fall to the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, the Community Development Commission and the Chicago City Council for review and approval. Restoration work would start later this year and be completed in 2020.

“Given its past, size and potential impact on the City’s cultural landscape, the Uptown will be one of the most significant restoration projects in the city’s history,” said Department of Planning and Development Commissioner David Reifman. (Pollstar, by Deborah Speer)

Comfortably Cool
Comfortably Cool on July 7, 2018 at 6:23 am

Recent news article explaining “Why the Uptown Theatre Restoration Is a Big Deal” can be viewed here

BobbyS on July 5, 2018 at 8:20 pm

I bet Chris Jones was thinking of the Aragon Ballroom which is atmospheric when he wrote the article… I didn’t realize Live Nation owns the Aragon when I looked it up. This is wonderful exciting news for the beautiful Uptown! Bravo Jam!!

JAlex on July 5, 2018 at 6:40 pm

The Uptown is not an atmospheric, even partially.

DaveM on July 5, 2018 at 12:59 pm

From the Chris Jones article: “There were floating "clouds”, tiny twinkling lights in the ceiling…“ Every photo I’ve seen makes it look like Uptown ceiling contained a lit cove. I don’t think it was a partial atmospheric like the Gateway. Am I missing something?

LouRugani on June 28, 2018 at 8:41 pm

Uptown Theatre will be restored: $75 million plan unveiled for grand palace on North Side. (Chris Jones, Contact Reporter, Chicago Tribune)

After 35 years of stuttering starts, empty promises, a court-ordered sale and oft-reckless neglect, the 4,381-seat, 46,000-square-foot Uptown Theatre — once the gilded crown jewel of the Balaban & Katz theater chain, and among the most opulent and gorgeous movie palaces ever built in America — is finally to be restored to its 1925 glory.

In other words, what long has seemed impossible to dogged, devoted preservationists, nostalgists and the tireless volunteer group known as the Friends of the Uptown is finally happening on Chicago’s North Side. And an eye-popping $75 million has been pieced together and set aside for the restoration of a dangerously decayed and decrepit theater that was boarded up after a J. Geils Band concert on Dec. 19, 1981, leaving aging Chicagoans only with their memories of once seeing Bruce Springsteen, Bob Marley, Prince or the Grateful Dead inside its historic bones.

This is not just another plan for the 4816 N. Broadway flagship of the Uptown neighborhood, insists Mayor Rahm Emanuel. This time it’s for real. Assuming the plan passes the City Council and other regulatory hurdles, the restoration and redevelopment project is slated to begin this fall. Within two years, the boards should be off the windows, the venue open for business and a curious public careening once again down the grand lobby staircase.

“This is the fulfillment of a promise,” said Emanuel in an interview Thursday. “When I was still mayor-elect, I talked about creating an entertainment district in Uptown. Our investments in culture are one of our best drivers of economic growth and job creation in our neighborhoods.”

The new Uptown will be a joint and equal venture between the Chicago-based promoter Jam Productions (which gained ownership of the landmarked Uptown for $3.2 million in 2008) and Farpoint Development. A new partnership entity will be formed.

Relatively new to the Uptown party, Farpoint Development is led by Scott Goodman, who co-founded Sterling Bay and helped build that firm into one of Chicago’s biggest and best-known commercial real estate developers, with projects including McDonald’s headquarters’ move to the former site of Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Studios and Google’s Midwest headquarters in a former cold-storage warehouse. Goodman and three other longtime Sterling Bay executives left the company in 2016 to start Farpoint.

“The Uptown is an amazing asset in an amazing neighborhood,” Goodman said. “This was the rare opportunity to do something really cool.”

Goodman said the architect for the project has yet to be selected.

Jam’s specialty is concert promotion, but the plan is for the Uptown to feature a variety of live events.

“Concerts. Comedy. Dance. Special events. A whole multitude of things,” said Arny Granat, the co-founder and co-owner, with Jerry Mickelson, of Jam Productions. “This is a game changer for the city. It’s not just about concerts, it’s about the economic development that now will occur in the Uptown neighborhood”

Granat also said that, for some events, main-floor seats will be removed, allowing for an audience capacity as high as 5,800. Even with all-seated events, the Uptown’s size eclipses all other theaters in the city, including the 3,901-seat Auditorium Theatre and the 3,600-seat Chicago Theatre, both of which are about to experience some formidable new competition.

The mayor’s office said the piecemeal financing for the Uptown Theatre comes from an array of public and private sources: $14 million in financing through the State of Illinois’ Property Assessed Clean Energy Act; $13 million in tax-increment financing; $10 million in Build Illinois bond funding; $8.7 million in federal tax credits; and $3.7 million in the City of Chicago’s Adopt-a-Landmark funds. Jam and Farpoint are kicking in the remaining $26 million in a yet-to-be-determined mix of debt and equity. The restoration scheme also includes $6 million in streetscape improvements to portions of North Broadway, and Lawrence and Wilson avenues and Argyle Street, including a new pedestrian plaza and public stage, located just south of Lawrence and Broadway.

The byzantine road to restoration — and the campaigns to avoid the wrecking ball — have been as melodramatic as one of the movies the Uptown showcased in the 1920s.

Back in 2002, politicians and arts supporters, including Ivar Albert Goodman, held a news conference announcing an impending restoration. But the nonprofit group calling itself the Uptown Theatre and Center for the Arts did not have the money to acquire the building. And Goodman’s $1 million donation quickly was spent with nothing concrete to show. In a civil complaint, the Illinois attorney general’s office alleged the money had been spent on purchases at luxury hotels, restaurants and clothing stores.

“This theater,” said then-Ald. Mary Ann Smith, 48th, to the Tribune, “tends to attract people with stars in their eyes.”

Indeed it did. All kinds of people with all kinds of fantasies.

But as early as 2000, a report by the Urban Land Institute of Washington, D.C., had laid out the essential, irrefutable argument for the Uptown: “Future generations will not forgive those who do not attend to this obligation.”

For Chicago politicians, the Uptown has been a major quandary for decades. Restoration was jaw-droppingly expensive and thus beyond the reach of most private owners, especially since success in the highly competitive entertainment business was far from assured. But what mayor or alderman would want to be associated for life with the demolition of such a treasured and unique beauty?

Designed by the famed team of C.W. and Geo. L. Rapp (known as Rapp and Rapp) and touted on opening as containing “an acre of seats in a magic city” behind its Spanish Baroque facade, the huge six-story lobbies and extra-wide staircases of the Uptown could get 4,300 people out the doors, and another 4,300 inside, all within 16 minutes. In its first five years of operation in the 1920s, more than 20 million Chicagoans went through its portals into a fantastical world apart, one that Rapp and Rapp had wanted to resemble such creations as the Palace of Versailles.

There were floating “clouds,” tiny twinkling lights in the ceiling and even a perfuming system under the seats.

It was a far cry from Al Capone’s Chicago.

Had the Uptown Theatre been in the Loop, it likely would have been restored long ago, alongside the busy, historic theaters now owned or operated by Broadway in Chicago and Madison Square Garden Entertainment. But the Uptown’s massive size — too big for many concerts and most Broadway musicals — and its location in a neighborhood with significant economic challenges presented the dilemma of how to attract suburban and tourist audiences to an address that’s about 8 miles from the corner of State and Madison streets. Especially given the relative lack of parking and the large number of competing venues in the city.

By 2002, the alarmed Friends of the Uptown group was calling reporters with stories of falling plaster and pooling rainwater. Some in the group suspected that the endangered theater was being intentionally allowed to rot and soon would be condemned for good (or, their minds, bad). Others were pushing for the city to acquire the building through eminent domain. By the summer of 2008, there had been a court-ordered foreclosure sale and competing bids, leading to Jam Productions taking control of the building through a spinoff company, UTA II, controlled by Mickelson and Granat.

Jam’s winning bid was widely seen at the time as a defensive move to counter the incursions into the city by such rivals as Live Nation and MSG Entertainment. But taking control and reopening were two very different things. The Uptown could not just be reopened to the public: At the time, Jam argued that no restoration would be possible without public money, which was not then forthcoming. And thus, although Jam invested in and stabilized the Uptown, and averted the building’s worst problems, the theater remained on the endangered lists.

Watch the video for Regina Spektor’s “Black and White.” A few reporters, documentarians and artists found their way inside. In Chicago’s 2012 Cultural Plan, the Uptown Theatre got a hopeful mention. And in 2017, a music video was made by Regina Spektor inside the ghostly but atmospheric building, revealing to a new, younger generation what was hidden behind the barriers to entry.

But those who have fought for — and reported on — the theater have grown old while the Uptown has languished, its keepers fearing every severe storm.

So what changed? The construction boom in the city has certainly been a factor, as has the revival of urban entertainment venues and the urban economic momentum in general, often coming at the expense of the suburbs.

Farpoint is among the developers looking to capitalize on the nationwide urbanization trend. Its largest initiative is the proposed redevelopment of the 49-acre former Michael Reese Hospital site and other land south of McCormick Place into residential and commercial buildings. The project, called the Burnham Lakefront, was one of five Chicago sites that Amazon visited in March as the e-commerce giant scouted sites for its planned second headquarters.

This isn’t Farpoint’s first foray into cultural development: Goodman recently was involved with an unsuccessful attempt to build a new home for the Northlight Theatre in downtown Evanston. But that was potential new construction with vociferous local opposition. The Uptown is a fulfillment of a neighborhood’s dream.

“This is not unlike asking kids if they want another Christmas, or Chicagoans if they want another World Championship,” said Andy Pierce, the co-founder of the Friends of the Uptown, an organization with a 20-year history of campaigns and agitation, and now with results to show. “You just don’t meet anyone who doesn’t want the Uptown saved.”

Tribune reporter Ryan Ori contributed to this story.

Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.

BobbyS on June 18, 2018 at 11:09 pm

Since the city agreed for TIF funds released for the Congress theater re-opening not that far away from the Uptown, I think it is almost impossible for the Uptown to come back to life now.To quote what Rhett Butler might say “The City Doesn’t Give A Damn”!

Trolleyguy on April 3, 2018 at 3:04 pm

James D. I totally agree with you.

BobbyS on April 3, 2018 at 2:57 pm

You did great Lou. Thanks for posting. I imagine the next three years are very critical for the Uptown. Hope it makes it!

LouRugani on April 3, 2018 at 2:31 pm

Thank you for your suggestion, JamesD, but we’ve lost too much rare information over the years because of links that went inactive without warning.

JamesD on April 3, 2018 at 1:29 pm

Maybe next time post a link to the article instead of copying a wall of text.

LouRugani on April 2, 2018 at 5:37 pm

At the intersection of Lawrence, Racine and Broadway in Uptown, the massive, once-grand Uptown Theatre, a shuttered movie palace that has awaited restoration for nearly 40 years, is slowly deteriorating. Its reopening—an expensive proposition that would require public and private funds—is key to the neighborhood’s vitality and could make it a premier destination for live entertainment. Mayor Rahm Emanuel agreed.​ Shortly after his first election victory, in 2011, Emanuel spoke publicly, on WXRT and elsewhere, of wanting to create an Uptown music district anchored by the Riviera Theatre, the Aragon Ballroom, the Green Mill lounge and the Uptown. His Chicago Infrastructure Trust, a nonprofit he founded to create​ public-private infrastructure projects for the city, made the Uptown one of its priority projects. And that’s the last anyone heard about it. Until now. Documents recently obtained by Crain’s show that in 2015, a deal to make the theater a multipurpose entertainment complex was brokered by CIT but eventually fell apart. According to internal CIT documents, the organization arranged a purchasing agreement in January 2015 to buy the Uptown from owner Jam Productions for $5.6 million and turn the theater into a nonprofit, making it easier to secure city, state and federal funding. The $120 million restoration would uphold its historic elements but transform it into a multipurpose entertainment complex offering concerts, movies, dining and more. With tenants identified and a financing model in place, it was the closest the Uptown, once one of the largest movie palaces in the world, had ever come to a genuine resurrection. The deal’s closing, however, was dependent on CIT board approval and financing. That became impossible when that summer, Emanuel replaced the entire CIT staff and the plan was sacked. “I went through a state of depression. I was very disappointed,” says Ald. James Cappleman, 46th, who has advocated for the Uptown’s reopening since taking office in 2011. Preservationists say that because of its decrepitude, something needs to happen fast to save the theater from permanent ruin. “If this isn’t resolved soon, this building will continue to deteriorate,” says Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago. A reopened Uptown would, at 4,500 seats, have the largest theater capacity north of downtown (the Auditorium in the Loop has nearly 4,000). Mark Kelly, commissioner of the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events, shares Emanuel’s vision that the Uptown would solidify the intersection of Lawrence, Racine and Broadway as a destination for live entertainment. “What would be most desirable is we get a mix of these awesome performance venues at a very high level to accommodate a lot of people,” Kelly says. “Then it’s a real entertainment district.” So far, Cappleman has been heading an effort to beautify the area with the expectation that if you build it, they will come. A $6 million streetscape project kicked off in August with new sidewalks, lighting, crosswalks and a pedestrian plaza in front of the Riviera, all set for completion next summer. The second phase of the street renovations has started along Broadway; a $203 million renovation of the Wilson el station is complete. In 2019 the city will start a five-year project to rebuild the nearby Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn and Bryn Mawr Red Line stations and adjacent support structures so they’ll feature what riders now see at Wilson—wider platforms, better lighting—plus a new track and new bridges and viaducts. Next to the Lawrence stop, steps from the Uptown, the city is studying the potential for an upscale hotel, says Deputy Planning Commissioner Eleanor Gorski. Cappleman considers the Uptown’s comeback his personal passion. “We’re doing this, not just for the Uptown community, but for the nation. It is going to attract people from all over the world,” he says. Cappleman says he has been working with Emanuel and Uptown Theatre co-owner Jerry Mickelson for years to create a viable path to get the doors open, which includes pushing for a business plan to court investors. A mix of private and public money is the only way it will happen, Cappleman says. “It’s going to be expensive, but it is doable.” A COMEBACK LIKE KINGS? The 92-year-old theater’s saga involves multiple owners, court battles, malfeasance, political infighting and more. Designed by Rapp & Rapp, its size and many flourishes—a grand staircase and lobby, 140-foot ceiling, 70-foot-wide stage, lounges, vestibules, balconies and even a nursery—made it thrilling. The theater transported people from their everyday lives through movies, a live orchestra, vaudeville shows and, tailored for sizzling Chicago summers, air conditioning. The costs of maintaining such grandeur, however, were a burden. “We soon found out that was a really expensive idea to maintain,” says Preservation Chicago’s Miller. The neglect dates to the 1970s, when the Uptown was used primarily for closed-circuit boxing matches and rock concerts by acts including the Grateful Dead and Bruce Springsteen. Accelerating its demise was co-owner Lou Wolf, a notorious Chicago slumlord and felon who purchased the theater in 1980 and shuttered it the following year. Unoccupied and uncared for for more than three decades, the building suffered water damage after the heat was turned off. In 1982, 6 inches of ice covered the grand stairway and 4 feet of water rose in the basement. Broken windows, animal infestation, vandalism and plaster-killing summer humidity followed, along with hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid property taxes. But despite its unlucky history, reviving the Uptown is possible. The Kings Theatre in New York offers up a model. The Kings was another architectural fever dream of Rapp & Rapp. Opening in 1929, it entertained Brooklynites along Flatbush Avenue for decades until it, too, fell into decline, closing its doors in 1977. In late 2011, Neil Heyman found 3-foot piles of fallen plaster; water leeched into the walls; mold; ornamental pieces and bronze handrails plundered by vandals; rusted steel support elements; and a large section of the roof blown away courtesy of Superstorm Sandy. “When people put eyes on it, they all said, ‘This is an incomprehensible task to overcome,’ ” says Heyman, vice president of Gilbane Building in New York, which provided construction management services. But what made the Kings' rebirth feasible was political will. In 2008, the New York City Economic Development Corp. and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz requested proposals for the site, and in 2010 the city selected Houston-based theater developer Ace Theatrical Group to take charge of the restoration and then operate it under a 55-year lease. The $95 million needed to get the job done came from the state, city and private stakeholders. Accounting for $50 million of the total, the city of New York was the largest investor in the Kings because it saw the theater as the linchpin to rebuild Brooklyn. “It took the city years to get the right developer with the right vision and the right economic program in place to make this all work, but it did,” Heyman says. The Kings opened in 2015. It is now the third-largest theater in the New York City area and hosts 200 to 250 live performances a year. The Kings helped revive Flatbush as a destination with major retailers like Nike and Gap opening outlets nearby and, as the New York Times has reported, a seven-story, 69-room boutique hotel set to open soon. SHOW UPTOWN THE MONEY. OR NOT. But Chicago is not New York. For one, state funding is zero. The Illinois Legislature passed a bill in 2015 allocating a $10 million grant for the Uptown restoration, but that money went away under Gov. Bruce Rauner. Second, the Uptown is under private ownership, unlike the Kings, which New York City purchased in 1983 after it became a tax-delinquent property. The city of Chicago had the same opportunity with the Uptown at that time. It did allocate more than $1.4 million in tax-increment financing to stabilize the building in 2008, which included removing, tagging and storing the building’s terra cotta for its protection. Which brings us to Mickelson and Chicago-based Jam Productions, one of the nation’s largest concert promoters. Through UTA II, a separate company, Mickelson and partner Arny Granat purchased the Uptown in 2008 for $3.2 million at a court-ordered foreclosure sale. (Neither Mickelson nor Granat would comment for this story.) Two years later, the Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit think tank in Washington, released a report saying the Uptown would be the “crown jewel” to a potential entertainment district. Behind closed doors, CIT vigorously pursued Emanuel’s wish to bring back the Uptown. According to internal documents, a two-year planning process​ involved more than $1 million in pro bono work from dozens of leading architecture, real estate and legal firms. The result was an ambitious plan that called for a major film chain as a tenant that would present world premieres, Imax films and specialty programming for children in what the documents describe as “the world’s largest movie theater.” Jam was chosen to exclusively book concerts, and an unspecified restaurant group was to offer premium food service. The plan also called for simulcasts of sporting events from around the world on the big screen. Documents show CIT’s historic restoration part of the plan earned preliminary support from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, the Chicago Landmarks Commission and the National Park Service. The documents also show CIT sold the project as a public-private partnership that would drive traffic to Uptown and create more than 600 jobs. Buying the property from Jam and turning it into a nonprofit would make it a public works project and eligible for public money, namely a $10 million state grant and $20 million in TIF funds. CIT estimated that, after operating expenses, the Uptown would generate $4.1 million for the city in its first year. To get the ball rolling, CIT asked for an immediate $500,000 upfront and then $3 million to secure tenant leases and produce schematic drawings. The organization had secured interest from Knoxville, Tenn.-based Regal Cinemas, Austin, Texas-based Alamo Draft House and other chains. Documents called for leases to go out the third quarter of 2015 and to be signed by late that year. Construction was set to start in 2017. Using the Kings as a model, the plan started to look feasible. Cappleman says he was ready to make an announcement in August 2014. “I was very, very excited about it. It was a dream come true,” he says. But unlike in Brooklyn, the plan died on arrival. Emanuel asked CIT CEO Stephen Beitler to resign in July 2015, along with the staff who worked on the project. They were replaced with a staff headed by Leslie Darling, a city lawyer. Under Darling, CIT changed its mission. Darling said its new goal was to reduce reliance on city funding and replace it with state, federal and philanthropic grants, which deviated from Emanuel’s original plan to have corporate investments fuel projects. The mayor was unwilling to free up money for the Uptown out of fear it would come back to haunt him if the plan failed, according to a source familiar with the project who asked to remain anonymous. Emanuel had already taken heat for using TIF money to acquire land for a hotel and a DePaul University basketball arena in the South Loop amid criticism the public money was not being used for schools and neighborhoods. Walking away from the plan “was political risk aversion,” says the source. Emanuel spokesman Grant Klinzman says the proposal “didn’t work or even fit into CIT’s mission” because the trust’s vision “has always been to work on public infrastructure. The development of a private property was not contemplated as part of CIT’s mission. This was an exploratory project that ultimately did not pan out for the CIT.” A source at City Hall who does not want to be named says the project failed because CIT didn’t name a tenant. “The key financing element was finding a major movie exhibitor who would sign a lease, and then you could finance against that lease. But it turned out (CIT) couldn’t find a movie exhibitor who was willing.” But another person familiar with the CIT project disputes that account. “The notion that this wasn’t in line with the vision and mission of the trust is false on its merits. The whole point of the (CIT) was to pursue transformative infrastructure projects using public and private partnerships.” He adds that long-term leases were not yet signed because they were dependent on the mayor’s approval of the plan. Cappleman concedes that the amount of public money required “was a big, tough ask. I couldn’t argue that was not the case. Given our budget crisis, it would ask a lot of my colleagues to support me while there are a lot of demanding issues in their wards,” he says. WILL THE CURTAIN EVER RISE? Klinzman says opening the Uptown “is still a priority for the city.” Mickelson is pursuing other development partners, says Gorski, the city’s deputy planning commissioner. Gorski says the city has not required Mickelson to submit a timetable, but she says “he is in very close discussions” with a partner. Cappleman says Mickelson turned in a business plan​ in April 2016. It, too, will depend on TIF funding, but it won’t be as high as the $20 million requested in the CIT plan. “This one is scaled back quite a bit in terms of scope,” Cappleman says. It awaits approval by the city finance committee. In the meantime, there are hazards in keeping the building intact, though in 2016 the Uptown Square District, which includes the theater, was given landmark status, ensuring that none of the buildings within it can be demolished. The CIT documents describe the Uptown as “a blight and safety hazard” and says that as of 2015, Mickelson owed more than “$3 million in liens to the city and has no viable plan."​ In 2014, six years after UTA II purchased the Uptown, the company turned off the building’s heat in the thick of winter, which caused a 30-foot-tall, 3-foot-wide icicle to grow in the basement, according to the Chicago Tribune. Mickelson told the Tribune the water was turned off except in one bathroom on the main floor. He​ disputed the size of the icicle, which he said was only 5 inches. His attorney, current Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson, 11th, says UTA II shut off the heat because it was in the midst of converting the system from oil to natural gas. Next year will be the 10th that the Uptown has been in new hands and the 37th it has remained dark. Cappleman acknowledges that "there have been a lot of false promises given to the public” over the years. But he says that one day the mighty Uptown Theatre will rise. “It is not a guarantee. It’s going to take a lot of hard work, but we’re going to make it happen.”

Comfortably Cool
Comfortably Cool on April 2, 2018 at 7:26 am

Curiously, the listing’s “Overview” neglects to mention the legendary Aragon Ballroom, which is still operating and often attracted more patronage than the nearby Uptown Theatre. John Eberson was involved in the architecture of the atmospheric space, which has “doubled” for a movie palace in movies and TV shows. Details and photos of the Aragon can be found here

RickB on December 11, 2017 at 9:28 am

The future of the Uptown: as murky as ever. Crain’s Chicago Business story here.

WilliamMcQuade on June 7, 2017 at 10:08 am

Live in NYC but have been in it a few times. You in Chicago should know how fragile they are. You lost the Southtown,Tivoli,Nortown,Granada and most of the loop theaters. Lesson 1. Do not put your faith in politicians as they will screw you every time. Secondly,they can be reused as The Kings And Brooklyn Paramount are. It would be an act of civic vandalism if this came down. Get civic minded people together to save it. Good luck

WilliamMcQuade on March 24, 2017 at 12:44 pm

Lou. I live in NY. No one ever thought the Paramount or Roxy would come down What about the scores of theaters torn down in Chicago? If someone throws enough money around it will be gone in the blink of an eye sad to say

DavidZornig on March 22, 2017 at 8:35 pm

Chance to tour the Uptown without taking photos for $250. Or $100 for Ward residents.


LouRugani on February 10, 2017 at 5:35 pm

There’s a political problem that has been the main cause of inaction on the UPTOWN. The UPTOWN is privately controlled by an entity formed by the partners behind Jam Productions but no private operator wants to lay out the millions necessary for restoration; they’re looking for public funds. There’s a history of public investment in Chicago, but it’s politically difficult right now for public entities to invest that money because of other priorities, as simple as that. But then there’s the relatively small capacity of the UPTOWN compared with Wrigley Field, and the newer issue of performers getting ever higher cuts from touring and needing a lot of seats. You’d be left with stand-up comics and nostalgia acts, neither of which are ideal for the space.

For decades, dedicated UPTOWN preservationists have argued the theatre needs to be at the heart of a new entertainment district involving retail, restaurants and the other venues. A sound argument, but such a district did develop around the Wrigley ballpark a mile or so to the south. One could merge into the other, especially since Wrigleyville is hosting more and more live entertainment.

Either way, nobody will ever dare to knock the UPTOWN Theatre down. (Chris Jones, CHICAGO TRIBUNE)

DavidZornig on February 2, 2017 at 12:39 pm

Regina Spektor’s new music video that was shot in the Uptown. Video embedded in the below article.


BobbyS on April 10, 2016 at 1:27 pm

The doors of the Rialto would not open without tax money. City council gives the theatre $600,000 quarterly. No idea how much the state gives yearly. Buts it’s plenty I bet. The events booked are one nighters with shows that travel the nation from city to city. Yes they do alot of weddings, but expenses are high. Probably the same for the Genesse theater in Waukegan, IL which changed hands many times since it was restored. Can you imagine how much the Uptown would have to make to fill all those seats and to make a profit and pay all of the bills & taxes to the city of Chicago. These palaces were built with the idea of filling seats three or four times daily!

LuisV on April 7, 2016 at 4:34 am

I think the Kings is doing well. They just celebrated their first year!

BobbyS on April 6, 2016 at 9:37 pm

Without money coming in on a regular basis, these places cannot exist…all the movies and music acts mentioned above. Just heard the Rialto Theatre in Joliet is closing this month. The city is withholding their share and of course the state still owes them a grant from last year. Two events planned in April demanded their money in advance. Vendors from previous shows have not be paid in months. I wonder how the King’s in NY is doing and if they are filling up the seats?