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Producer’s dream of a South Shore film studio gets city OK

The Chicago Plan Commission backs a $60 million proposal that could anchor a new entertainment district.

A rendering of part of the South Side studio complex proposed by Regal Mile Ventures.
A rendering of part of the South Side studio complex proposed by Regal Mile Ventures.
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A proposal for a $60 million film studio in South Shore backed by TV producer Derek Dudley, whose credits include the Showtime series “The Chi,” got a thumbs-up Thursday from a city planning agency.

The Chicago Plan Commission unanimously backed zoning for the complex on 7 acres at 7731 S. South Chicago Ave. With investors that include James Reynolds Jr., chairman of Chicago-based Loop Capital Markets, Dudley said the project could anchor a South Side entertainment district that would include the nearby Avalon Regal Theater.

“I grew up on the South Side. This has been a dream of mine for several years,” Dudley told the plan commission. “I was fortunate to get into the entertainment business, which afforded me great opportunities” that include a chance to give back to the community, he said.

Dudley said the project would be “monumental in terms of being able to expand the film industry business and make Chicago the Hollywood of the Midwest.”

The commission’s vote was one of several it took to green-light major projects. Its packed agenda included approval of more than 400 housing units on the former site of the ABLA Homes public housing project at Roosevelt Road and Racine Avenue.

The film studio would take over an empty, triangular parcel near the Chicago Skyway. Years ago, it was the site of a Kmart.

Through his company, Regal Mile Ventures, Dudley hopes to start construction later this year. It passed an important hurdle with the plan commission vote and the project now heads to the City Council for approval.

“The community is totally excited about this project,” said Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), who brought it to several community meetings. City officials said the process led to several improvements in the plan, such as more trees and landscaping and the addition of a public plaza.

They said the complex could support around 300 production jobs when it’s in full use.

Zoning documents show Dudley has the support of an owner of the property, Kmart, now part of a spinoff from Sears Holdings. The city owns a portion of the land, and on Tuesday the Community Development Commission agreed to sell it to Regal Mile for $31,000.

New York Comic Con 2018 - Day 1
Derek Dudley
Getty Images

Dudley, who works closely with the rapper and actor Common, hopes to profit from increasing demand for production space, driven by streaming services in search of original programming. In Chicago, film production is dominated by the Cinespace studios, which have been expanded and currently host Dudley’s “The Chi.”

A website for Dudley’s development cites Netflix, Disney and Amazon as having interest in doing more production work in Chicago.

The website also highlights a potential revival of the Avalon Regal, also recently called the New Regal, at 1641 E. 79th St. With an auditorium of 2,250 seats, the theater has been little used for years. The 1927 building is a city landmark and in its heyday was a busy stage for African American performers.

Dudley could not be reached for details about that aspect of the plan.

Regal owner Jerald Gary said in 2019 that rapper Kanye West pledged $1 million to help reopen the theater. It’s not known if the contribution came through.

Other items the commission endorsed, sending them to the City Council, included:

—Related Midwest’s plan to expand mixed-income housing at the ABLA site. It calls for three new buildings and several renovated buildings, with a blend of market-rate and reduced-rent units, and others for the Chicago Housing Authority tenants. It calls for 222 new and 184 rehabbed apartments, with estimated completion in spring 2023.

—A $145 million RIU Hotel at 150 E. Ontario St., currently an empty lot. It would contain 388 rooms.

—Two new residential buildings, 19 and 6 stories, at 3636 N. Lake Shore Drive, a rare open site near the lakefront, from developer Jonathan Holtzman. The project was approved despite criticism of the architecture.

—Two projects in the Fulton Market area. They are a 34-story residential building, 20% of them classified as affordable, at 1215 W. Fulton Market, and an 11-story office building at 917 W. Fulton Market.