Kanye West to bankroll Regal Theater repairs, owner says — but clock is ticking

SHARE Kanye West to bankroll Regal Theater repairs, owner says — but clock is ticking
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Kanye West and his son Saint throw out a ceremonial first pitch before the game between the Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Cubs on Sunday at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

The Avalon Regal Theater in South Shore is gearing up for a comeback with help from rapper-turned-investor Kanye West — but how quickly it reopens is still up in the air.

Owner Jerald Gary and his attorney appeared in Building Court at the Daley Center on Wednesday to inform the city of West’s recent involvement in efforts to reopen the 91-year-old historic movie palace.

Gary acknowledged much needs to be done to partially open the theater in time for a planned event in less than three weeks, but he said he believed it could be done.

“This is Kanye West, and this is what he does,” Gary said. “What’s a theater without drama?”

Two years ago, citing safety concerns, the city ordered the building vacated.

Gary wants the order partially lifted in time for the Chicago Architecture Center’s “Open House Chicago” on Oct. 13-14.

A mural decorates the outside of the Avalon Regal Theater in South Shore. The current owner of the shuttered theater is trying to raise money to reopen. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

A mural decorates the outside of the Avalon Regal Theater in South Shore. The current owner of the shuttered theater is trying to raise money to reopen. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

Gary said he still doesn’t have the money in hand needed to bring the building up to code — estimated at $150,000 on the low-end — but added that West is committed to fund the renovations, fast.

“[West] has committed to fund the necessary repairs for the city to grant partial occupancy in time for [‘Open House Chicago’],” Gary told Circuit Judge Lisa Ann Marino.

Representatives for West could not be reached for comment.

The main lobby at the Avalon Regal Theater. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

The main lobby at the Avalon Regal Theater. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

The lawyer for the Building Department present at Wednesday’s hearing warned Gary he still had a long way to go — and very little time.

The repair list includes: multiple roof leaks — which, according to the lawyer, “have started growing trees”; cracks in the southeast wall; and flooding in the basement. Gary also needs to restore the building’s electricity and gas service.

“This is a lot to do in the next couple of weeks,” the city’s lawyer said.

Marino ordered a full building inspection in the coming weeks and set the next court date for Oct. 10, two days before “Open House Chicago.”

“Best of luck,” Marino told Gary.

After the hearing, Gary said he understands the city’s measured skepticism over the short timeline for the repairs.But he remains confident the work will get done.

Some cosmetic work is needed, such as this peeling paint in the balcony, but owner Jerald Gary says the structure of the Avalon Regal Theatre is sound. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

Some cosmetic work is needed, such as this peeling paint in the balcony, but owner Jerald Gary says the structure of the Avalon Regal Theatre is sound. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

Eric Rogers, manager of the Chicago Architecture Center’s Open House, informed the Sun-Times via email on Wednesday the Avalon will not be in the event’s printed guide this year as they are being finalized this week.

“But we are rooting for it,” Rogers said.

If the city determines the theater can be safely opened to the public on Oct. 10, Rogers said it will be added to the Open House’s website.

According to Rogers, the Avalon attracted nearly 3,000 visitors during Open House weekend in 2016, the last year the theater was part of the program.

Carlos Ballesteros is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.

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