City revokes liquor license at Congress Theater; Congress’ owner buys management company at Portage Theater

The recent revocation of the liquor license at the Congress Theater, 2135 N. Milwaukee Ave., comes at the same time that the Congress’ owner has at least temporarily taken control of the management company for the Portage Theater, 4050 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Eddie Carranza, who last year bought the Portage Theater building, recently purchased the management corporation which holds the liquor and public place of amusement licenses at the Portage. Carranza has 30 days to file for a transfer of those licenses.

In his weekly newsletter, Alderman John Arena (45th) wrote: “Because of Carranza’s history (at the Congress), I have opposed him receiving a liquor license at the Portage until he can prove that he can be a responsible venue owner and liquor license holder. That opposition continues.

“Carranza’s attorney has notified my office and the liquor commissioner that he does not intend to keep controlling interest of the corporation for long. He is looking for a buyer who will manage the theater.”

Arena’s chief of staff Owen Brugh said that it is his understanding that longtime Portage manager Dennis Wolkowicz will continue to operate the theater “until as long as it takes” for a new operator to be found and for the licenses to be properly transferred. The theater offers a mix of live entertainment and classic movies.

“For the city issue such licenses, the city must vet and approve anyone who owns more than 5 percent of the interest in the corporation. The city also must approve any ownership interest transfer of more than 5 percent,” Arena said.

City Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection spokeswoman Jennifer Lipford said that those seeking a transfer of a liquor license must go through a process that is similar to applications for a first-time license at an establishment.

Carranza, who has faced several building code violations at the Congress, received more bad news on May 24 when the city revoked his liquor license at the Congress. He immediately filed an appeal with the License Appeals Commission, and the Congress is allowed to serve liquor during the appeals process.

In his ruling, city hearing officer Robert Nolan upheld two of the five charges which were brought against the Congress.  Nolan ruled that the theater failed to notify police of a fight which occurred on April 13, 2012, and that the theater had become a nuisance because within a year five incidents involving illegal narcotics or controlled substances had occurred on the premises.

Under city code, Carranza would be unable to obtain a new liquor license in the city once he were to exhaust all of his appeals, but he can apply for a liquor license at the Portage or anywhere else during the appeals process.

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