I have so many great musical memories and special rememberances of events that happened at the Uptown Theater and I’ve written a few pieces about the theater before, but here is the latest update from Chris Jones in todays Trib:
The guardians and custodians of the treasure are nervous. They have cause. They have been betrayed many times before. In June, 2018, the City of Chicago announced a $75 million plan to restore the Uptown Theatre, an incomparable 1925 movie palace and resplendent anchor of the Uptown neighborhood on Chicago’s North Side. That November, Chicago’s Community Development Commission was told that construction was expected to begin at 4816 N. Broadway the following summer. The summer of 2019 has come and gone. No work has begun. And the preservationist volunteers who famously fight for the Uptown and constantly communicate with each other (and the news media) have been wondering what, or what not, transpires. The delay, says Jerry Mickelson of Jam Productions, who owns the Uptown and is in the driving seat of the renovation, along with his partner Scott Goodman of Farpoint Development, involves the financing of the project. The Uptown deal was done in a piecemeal way: public funding included $14 million in financing through the State of Illinois’ Property Assessed Clean Energy Act; $13 million in tax-increment financing; $10 million in Build Illinois bond funding; $8.7 million in federal tax credits; and $3.7 million in the City of Chicago’s Adopt-aLandmark funds. Those funds are allocated and approved. The issue is the remaining $26 million needed to finish the job, which were supposed to be a mixture of loans and investments. At the time of the announcement, that money was not yet in place. It’s still not in place. In a nutshell, that is the hold up. But coming, says Mickelson. For sure. “The investors are kicking the tires and doing their due diligence,” Mickelson said, saying that he expected the financing process to be completed in the first quarter of next year, allowing the plasterers, painters and decorators to descend on the Uptown next spring. That new timetable, assuming it pans out, most likely would have the Uptown reopening to the public in early 2022. A rendering of what the restored Uptown Theatre will look like when it reopens to the public, now projected to be in 2022. (Lamar Johnson Collaborative) Mickelson also said that he has created a non-profit entity, The Uptown Theatre Foundation, that would potentially act as a steward of the building and that also could receive philanthropic donations from foundations and individuals who wanted to help restore the building, although Mickelson would run the programming, as originally conceived. Pursuing that idea, he said, also has added time, but in service of the long-term health of the renovated building. Delays are not, of course, uncommon in major renovation projects. And Mickelson, who parted ways with his old Jam Productions partner Arny Granat last June, after a 45-year professional relationship, is clearly incentivized to get the renovation moving, given that he currently has to carry the costs of a building that presently makes no revenue. You also could take the view that the passage of less than eight months between the city council formally passing the city’s contributions to the funding of the Uptown (which took place March 13) and the present moment does not indicate a crisis, merely the wheels of progress grinding more slowly than nervous advocates would prefer. On the other hand, construction costs rarely decrease as time passes. And deterioration is a worry with any historic building of this size, especially as another potentially frigid Chicago winter approaches, although Mickelson has expended significant money to stabilize the Uptown, now generally regarded as protected and secure. Still, it now seems that the June 2018 announcement was premature, although that was due to the enthusiasm of a previous Chicago mayor, Rahm Emanuel, who made the Uptown Entertainment District a priority of his administration. Emanuel’s administration wanted to make the Uptown renovation part of that mayor’s legacy, as it fully deserved to be. Now, there’s a new administration in City Hall, and they have had many other, more pressing problems on their plate. “It’s a complex and costly project that has taken decades to materialize,” said Peter Strazzabosco, deputy commissioner in the Chicago Department of Planning and Development, in an email. “The department is continuing to work with the developer on a finalized redevelopment plan that will restore the building and revitalize the Uptown entertainment district as soon as possible, hopefully starting in coming months.” But sometimes these massive, tricky projects need a push from the top to get done, someone who imposes a deadline, has an eye on the finish line and makes sure all interested parties are riding the same horse over the line. There is less incentive, perhaps, when the credit goes to a previous administration. But the Uptown Theatre is essential to it neighborhood and to its city. It’s time to get the construction workers on the job. I know a few people who will only relax, and forego the antacids at their bedside, when they see an army of plasterers headed to work.