What I thought would be a mild Edgewater residents’ meeting got a little brittle last Wednesday.

Edgewater Development Council and Edgewater residents met to vote on the historic rehab of the Uptown Theater and its use as an entertainment facility.

Uptown Theater

Uptown Theater

A representative of the developer was in attendance, and Jim Wiggins (spelling?) expressed outrage that Alderman Mary Ann Smith wouldn’t meet with him.  He wouldn’t respond, however, to her chief of staff’s response that the developer has reneged on a promise to deposit $ 5MM in escrow for the building’s facade restoration.  According to Doug Frasier, this deposit was part of the agreement to purchase the theater.  Ald Smith can’t trust a developer to appropriately use government money when the first promise made to the people, the $5MM deposit, has been broken already. How can we trust our tax money to a developer who won’t put up a measly $ 5MM in escrow on top of the $5MM acquisition cost (? -quoted in the meeting) ?

Despite not addressing this issue, Mr.Wiggens announced that Booth-Hansen is the architect of record, that the rehab will require $ 30-$50 MM, and that they have no drawings to present at this time.  He said that the only way for this project to be profitable to the developer is to remove the historic seating and allow for flexible/movable seats, providing for 5,000 audience members.

The residents and board of EDC expressed concern about plans for parking.  This rehab will create an outstanding entertainment district, as the Aragon, Riviera, and Green Mill already draw a significant crowd.  Doug Frasier estimated the need for 1500-2000 (and as many as 3000) additional parking spaces, and he conceded that the neighborhood would have some “growing pains” as the theater is developed, and then parking options are considered.

In the end, I was one of the residents who voted in favor of the plan.  There truly wasn’t much to debate — I would love the theater to be restored to its original grandeur and used as a first rate entertainment facility.  For ten years, this goal has been discussed.  I only hope it’s not ten more years before it becomes a reality.

The Uptown Theater is a landmark in Chicago.  An example of Spanish Baroque Architecture, it was popular in the 20’s, and with 4500 seats, it was second in the US behind Radio City Music Hall.  The architects also designed the Chicago Theatre, today a beautifully restored historic landmark on State Street.

Related Links

Booth-Hansen Projects

Uptown Theater District

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