Historic Uptown Theatre to be restored with $75 million renovation

ByJessica D'Onofrio and Megan Hickey WLS logo
Friday, June 29, 2018
Historic Uptown Theatre to be restored with $75 million renovation
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Chicago's landmark Uptown Theatre is being restored and will be reopened for the first time in over three decades.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago's landmark Uptown Theatre is being restored and will be reopened for the first time in over three decades.

The 93-year-old building was once the crown jewel of the legendary Balaban & Katz theater chain.

A $75 million project will bring the grand palace back to its former glory with its six-story lobby and massive staircase.

Artists from Bruce Springsteen to Prince and the Grateful Dead performed at the Uptown before the theater closed its doors in 1981.

Preservationists have been working tirelessly for years to see it restored and now the city is swooping in to bring this opulent and stunning theater back to life.

Community members, city leaders and district police are hopeful that the $75 million Uptown Theatre restoration project announced Friday will help curb crime by bringing economic revitalization to the North Side neighborhood.

Jerry Michelson says he fell in love with the Uptown Theatre the moment he walked into the lobby in 1975. He purchased the building in 2008 and says the enormous project will bring more than just world-class entertainment to the long shuttered landmark building.

"I think we'll see things change around here and change for the better, not for the worst," Michelson said before Friday's announcement.

Michelson joined Mayor Rahm Emanuel and 46th Ward Alderman James Cappleman to announce the joint venture between concert promoter Jam and real estate developer Farpoint to restore and reopen the Spanish Revival-style building, which dates back to 1925.

The redevelopment agreement still needs to go through a review and approval process. Restoration work would start later this year and be completed in 2020.

Uptown residents are pinching themselves as the city announces that the historic theater will be renovated to be used for a performances and special events.

"I've always wondered what the possibilities were with the venue and I think it's gonna be so great to have more people come in for entertainment," said Uptown resident Katie Self.

"We've been waiting for this a longtime. I've lived here since 2000 and we've heard this many times that the Uptown is going to be restored. I hope this is for real. It should change the whole neighborhood," said Uptown resident Joe Lindman.

The theatre has been vacant for more than 35 years and the city hopes the $75 million project will transform the landmark building into the crown jewel of the area's entertainment district with the Aragon Ballroom and the Riviera just down the street.

"The time is right. We've had a lot of investments around the theater, new businesses coming in, new Wilson CTA station, so the time is really right," said Martin Sorge, executive director of Uptown United & Business Partners, The Chamber for Uptown.

In addition to the Uptown Theatre project, a $6 million upgrade to portions of Broadway, Lawrence, Wilson and Argyle with a new pedestrian plaza, sculpture and public stage is nearly complete. Residents hope the plans will bring about more change in an area sometimes struggling with crime.

"Now and then there are shootings and that's another concern in the neighborhood, but I hope this will help," said Uptown resident Victor Trejo.

Residents who live and work in the area hope it can do more than bring economic opportunities to the area. They hope it can bring safety.

Antelle Horton was there the day that a Starbucks, less than 500 feet from the Uptown Theatre, was the scene of a triple shooting in November. A 28-year-old man was killed and a 12-year-old boy was one of the wounded.

"I just heard a loud, 'pow pow,'" Horton said.

Calls for service in Uptown, which straddles the 19th and 20th police districts, are up 35 percent, but 20th District Commander Sean Loughran tells me overall crime is actually down.

"It means people are more aware of their surroundings, more involved and more confident in responses of the police," Commander Loughran said.

Both he and 19th District Commander Marc Buslik acknowledged that the Starbucks shooting rattled residents, but noted that statistically, violent crime is down from last year.

"The Starbucks murder was such an anomaly. I don't think it reflects the general crime in the area at all," Commander Buslik said.

They're hopeful that transforming the landmark theatre building into the crown jewel of the area's entertainment district will mean economic revitalization, and a drop in crime.

Alderman James Cappleman of the 46th Ward made another point.

"It's going to bring more job opportunities and if you want to decrease crime, bring on job opportunities," said Alderman Cappleman.

And residents who have lived here for decades, have their finger crossed.

The plans still have to pass the City Council, but the mayor is one of the driving forces behind this. The project is slated to begin this fall and take about two years to complete.