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Well-protected by insurance, Second City is on the mend after fire

It could have been a whole lot worse. There were no casualties. But less than a week after a three-alarm fire destroyed part of the Piper’s Alley complex that is home to the Second City’s three theaters, offices and classrooms, the comedy company’s chief executive officer and executive producer is sounding upbeat and unconcerned about the overall financial impact.

“We have a great insurance company, the Hartford, and the whole community has been amazingly generous and helpful,” said Andrew Alexander, who was at his Los Angeles home last Wednesday, “watching the fire on TV and freaking out.”

“The exact financial impact can’t be determined yet. But in any given week we sell about $180,000 worth of tickets to our three spaces — the mainstage, the e.t.c. space and the Up comedy stage — and they have all been out of commission, and probably won’t be back up for another two or three weeks. We lost about another $60,000 a week in revenue for food and beverages. But our audience has been so great, and rather than refunds many have said they just want to return when we’re back in operation.”

The Second City’s Training Center, which had a fully enrolled eight-week session under way — and requires the use of 20 to 25 classrooms — has continued, with the Annoyance Theatre, Stage 773, the Chicago History Museum and the Fourth Presbyterian Church providing temporary space. The large administrative staff (about 90 people) is working out of sublet offices at 1 N. Dearborn, thanks to a connection made by a business partner of Alexander’s son, as well as neighboring restaurants, and the Starbucks at the corner of Wells Street and North Avenue.

“We had to scramble the first week, but everyone in the community has been so generous,” said Alexander. “As for our corporate activities, which account for about 25 percent of our business, it’s hard to quantify. Our corporate services department is up and running, and much of that can easily be done off-site.”

The total cost of repairs at the Old Town complex is, Alexander said, “a moving target at the moment.”

“The building is being aired out now, and the smell of smoke is really not bad thanks to some great machines. The carpeting and some drywall is being taken out. Our planned buildout of the third floor [originally set to be completed in mid-December] will be delayed by a few weeks, and we have architects in there now. The other entities involved — the [Adobo Grill] restaurant [where the fire started] and our landlord — have their own insurance companies.”

Meanwhile, before things can be back up and running there must be inspections by the Fire Department and the city’s Building Department and Health Department.

“The mayor’s office has been very helpful to us in all matters,” said Alexander. “Our actors and staff are still getting paid. All in all, the whole experience has been an amazing testament to this community.”

As for the top priority once the theaters reopen: “Our first mainstage show will be a benefit for the firemen. We had 155 of them fighting this fire. And we’ll be raising funds for their Gold Badge Society.”