City proposes $20 million backing for Congress Theater renovation

The redevelopment of the Logan Square landmark calls for a $70.4 million project that includes new housing alongside a live music venue.

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A rendering of the planned renovation of the Congress Theater, 2135 N. Milwaukee Ave.

A rendering of the planned renovation of the Congress Theater, 2135 N. Milwaukee Ave.


City officials have negotiated a $20 million subsidy for a developer’s renovation of the landmark Congress Theater in Logan Square.

The city funds would support a proposed $70.4 million redevelopment of the 96-year-old former movie house at 2135 N. Milwaukee Ave. It has been closed since 2013.

The developer, Baum Revision, wants to refurbish the 2,900-seat auditorium for live music and performances. It also would have 20 residential units in the building that contains the theater, with 14 of those homes marketed as affordable under city ordinance.

Terms of the development deal were summarized in a Department of Planning and Development report. The city’s Community Development Commission is scheduled to vote on the deal Tuesday. If approved, it would go to the City Council for final action.

Chicago-based Baum Revision has won recognition for several preservation-oriented developments, including the renovation of the old Cooper Lamp factory, 2545 W. Diversey Ave., into a center for eco-friendly businesses. Managing Principal David Baum could not be reached for comment. He’s also involved in renovating the old Ramova Theatre in Bridgeport.

The city subsidy would come from tax-increment financing, representing property taxes set aside to support public works and redevelopment. The money would be drawn from what the city calls the Fullerton/Milwaukee TIF district that covers the stretch along Milwaukee from Fullerton to Belmont avenues, plus part of Armitage Avenue.

The Congress Theater, in the 2100 block of North Milwaukee Avenue, has been shuttered since 2013.

The Congress Theater, shown in 2009, has been shuttered since 2013.

Sun-Times file photo

“Without the TIF funds, this project could not be financed and would not generate an acceptable level of return on investment,” according to the planning department’s report. It said the project would lead to 125 new jobs.

Milwaukee Avenue has seen substantial investments in multi-family housing. The city’s report noted the activity in supporting the theater renovation. “These factors ensure the project will add to the vitality and regeneration of the neighborhood while providing a new source of entertainment for the community and revenue for the city,” it said.

The project is within the 1st Ward of Ald. Daniel La Spata, who said Baum Revision has worked on a design that has broad community support. He said he will work to convince alderpersons the TIF help is justified. “This could be an incredibly catalytic project in the best sense for the community,” he said.

Baum is working with Anschutz Entertainment Group, which would operate the theater, and Chicago-based Woodhouse Tinucci Architects.

He would take over the Congress from Michael Moyer, who offered a development plan that ended with financial trouble. Moyer wanted to build 72 new apartments next door, and that element has been scrapped.

The redevelopment agreement specifies that $12.8 million of the project’s cost would be to acquire the property. It allows for restaurant and retail space on frontage along Milwaukee and Rockwell avenues.

The Congress became a Chicago landmark in 2002 on the strength of its Classical Revival and Italian Renaissance designs.

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