Chicago, like just any city in the country, works in cycles. While the populations of the city have ebbed and flowed from one area to the next with the advents of transportation and technology, the theaters that citizens attended for movies, shows and concerts haven’t changed all that much. Sure, smaller bars and modest venues have come and gone, but even in 2018, if you’re not headed to the United Center for a big show, chances are you’ll find yourself amongst history. In the next couple years that could change.
Heading out for a Lollapalooza after show or simple Saturday night concert, it’s not odd to find yourself in the Aragon Ballroom, built in 1926, the Riviera Theater built in 1917, The Vic built in 1912, Park West opened in 1916. Even the “newer” venues here are putting on the years, The Metro opened in 1981 and House of Blues has been around since 1992. That’s all to say that the city values its aging theaters, and with plenty of competition already a few more look to add to the scene in the next couple of years. What’s at stake is an entire industry, with more large venues opening or re-opening, the value of the bar venue stands in question. As well, it’s worth noting the change on the surrounding areas that would occur with the addition of a Lincoln Yards in a previously industrial/commercial corridor, or the Congress returning to a Logan Square that looks much differently. We took a quick glance at a few of the bigger project on the horizon and what it’ll mean for the city, the music scene and the areas they pop up once again.
The Uptown Theater
Long standing as the largest seated indoor music venue in town this side of the United Center, The Uptown Theater has laid in ruin for more than 30 years due to a heating issue in the late 80s. Since then, the foyer that has been called “more grand than Radio City Music Hall” has sat vacant, boarded up with a massive icicle forming each winter in its basement. Most music fans in the city are familiar with the structure even if they aren’t aware of it. The massive former movie theater towers over the corner of Lawrence and Broadway, sandwiched between the Riviera and the Aragon Ballroom. The location boasts over 4,300 seats covering over 46,000 square feet of ornate decorations that call to mind a time before cinderblocks and cookie cutter aesthetics. Having been closed since 1981, there’s no telling what the state of the space that once played host to the likes of James Brown, Prince, The Ramones and many more will be in. Despite that, it was announced last month that $75 million would be put aside for the renovation with an expected reopening date of 2020. The addition will surely make an already bustling corner in Uptown even more so.
Ah, the good old Congress. Anyone over the age of 24 likely has fond memories of the overzealous security guards, falling plaster and general decrepitness of the space, which closed for good in 2013 after a series of issues. Since then, former owner Eddie Carranza sold the 3,500 seat venue in 2014 to Michael Moyer who had previously revamped the Cadillac Theater downtown into an important part of the theater and musical scene there for $65 million. Since then, a couple of journalists have been invited to walk the space and there’s real work being done on the Milwaukee Ave location all summer long. If things hold tight, Moyer should be able to hit his target of opening the concert hall by next year. This also presents an interesting move for the neighborhood. In 2013, when the Congress closed it’s doors, the Logan Square that surrounded it was vastly different. It will be interesting to see how a remnant of the early days of the area will gel with the transition of Logan Square as a whole. If anything, Moyer seems to be the guy to oversee that.
Alright, this one was saved for last because it’s the most jarring of the situations still in production. Announced earlier this summer by concert promotion company Live Nation, the space calls for basically a complete overhaul of the area near Goose Island and the bank of the Chicago river to the west. The venture is a joint one between Sterling Bay, the developer most responsible for turning Chicago into a glass-lined suburb, and Live Nation, the promoter that chokes fans with fees. With those two playing nice together, what could go wrong? It seems everything to be honest. Chicago is a place that repurposes its world-class theaters like the two above, and The Vic, and the Riviera, and the Aragon, and the list keeps going. This is an unnecessary jack-move aimed at continuing the outpour of over-speculated opulence from downtown to the neighborhoods to the north and west. Initial plans, which have yet to be approved by Alderman Brian Hopkins, 2nd, calls for three to five venues to be a part of the 70-acre proposal. It also calls for the demolition of buildings like The Hideout, a mainstay in the city’s homegrown scene. It definitely falls in line with plans that have come across lately, but this is just an absolute cash grab from the powers that be that will likely have a devastating effect not just on the projects above, but the rest of the city’s bountiful and generations-old theaters still standing and already operating.