Portage Theater set to re-open in June
by BRIAN NADIG
The historic Portage Theater, 4050 N. Milwaukee Ave., is scheduled to re-open Father’s Day weekend, a year after the building’s owner closed the venue to find a new operator.
Portage building owner Eddie Carranza reportedly has turned over operation of the Portage to Charlie Burns of the Xblu marketing company. Carranza also owns the Congress Theater, 2135 N. Milwaukee Ave., and has been trying to sell the Congress after it was shut down due to liquor license and building code violations.
Last year Carranza purchased the Portage’s management company, but there was doubt whether the city would allow that the theater’s licenses to be transferred to him because of his problems at the Congress. Alderman John Arena (45th) had said that he would oppose the transfer of the Portage’s liquor and public place of amusement licenses to Carranza until he demonstrated that he could run the theater responsibly.
There are no licensing issues which would delay the opening of the Portage, according to the city Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection. “All their licenses are valid. They could open tomorrow,” said department spokeswoman Mika Stambaugh.
The licenses are held by Finest Management LLC, whose president and secretary is Burns, according to the department. A change of corporate officers on the theater’s liquor, amusement and food licenses was recently filed.
Arena issued the following statement on May 21: “The Commissioner of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection allowed Portage Theater Management Inc. to renew the expired liquor and public place of amusement licenses. The company was then sold to the new owner and operator, Charlie Burns, owner of Finest Management LLC.
“We’re working to make sure that Mr. Burns is aware of the expectations of the community, both in the type of programming that they will support and the type of behavior they expect from him and his patrons. We are cautiously optimistic.
“We look forward to the Portage Theater’s contribution to the resurgence of Six Corners. With new businesses and restaurants opening at a steady clip, that resurgence is already underway. A properly managed Portage Theater has the potential to propel that resurgence even further.”
Assisting Burns with the programming at the Portage is its former theater manager Dennis Wolkowicz. “I am happy to help. I want to see the theater open again,” said Wolkowicz.
The shows being scheduled for the Portage should be well-received by the community, Wolkowicz said.
The Portage plans to open with a series of shows Saturday, June 14, which is the first day of the annual “Six Corners BBQ Fest” that is held on Milwaukee Avenue in front of the theater. A free comedy show will be held at 4 p.m., followed by a free silent movie presentation with live organ music at 6 p.m., and a Doors tribute band will hit the stage at 9 p.m., with tickets ranging from $10 to $15.
About 20 events, including several rock tribute concerts and classic movie presentations, are scheduled for the Portage this summer.
The Portage, which was built in 1920, has about 1,300 seats. In addition to the Portage building, Carranza owns several other properties in the block.
Former Portage Theater manager Dennis Wolkowicz speaks during an event at the Portage in 2012.
Wolkowicz is helping the theater’s new operator to book shows at the Portage.