Church plans move to BelparkTheater
by BRIAN NADIG
The Chicago Tabernacle of the Assemblies of God, which in 2012 dropped plans to buy the Portage Theater, is seeking a special use which would allow it to establish a 725-seat church in the Belpark Theater, 3215-33 N. Cicero Ave.
Alderman Ariel Reboyras (30th) said that Tabernacle has addressed the community’s concerns about the restoration project and that he supports the proposal.
"They’re going to spend millions of dollars in the theater," Reboyras said. "It is impressive, and I can’t wait to see it. The idea is not only to have a church but a community center that will be open to the public."
At a community meeting, some residents expressed a desire that the building not be used exclusively as a church, Reboyras said. Some of the of the building’s storefronts would remain, and church officials have agreed to make the facility available for community events, he said.
The site has a parking lot, and plans are being made to covert a nearby one-story building in the 4800 block of West Belmont Avenue into a 100-space parking garage for the church, Reboyras said. The church also offers a shuttle service for its members, he said.
Tabernacle acquired the 90-year-old Belpark Theater building earlier this year. Originally a movie house, the theater has been home to a banquet facility and a bingo hall in recent years.
Tabernacle officials have said that the church’s congregation has outgrown its current home in a 90-year-old church at 4201 N. Troy St. and that a theater setting would be appropriate for the church because it regularly presents musicals. Tabernacle began its search for a new home 8 years ago.
The church had entered a contract to purchase the 94-year-old Portage Theater, 4050 N. Milwaukee Ave., but it withdrew from the deal at the urging of Alderman John Arena (45th), who wanted to keep the theater open.
Arena said at the time that while the church would bring the "same 800 people" to the Six Corners shopping district each week, a multi-use entertainment venue attracts a wider audience. He said that a church also would prevent the opening of new restaurants in the area because a city ordinance prohibits the issuance of new liquor licenses to businesses within 100 feet of a house of worship.
The Zoning Board of Appeals is scheduled to hold a hearing on the special use request during the 2 p.m. session of its meeting on Friday, June 20, in the Council Chamber at City Hall, 121 N. LaSalle St. The C2-1 zoning of the site requires a special use for a church.
Also on the zoning board’s agenda is a request for a variation that would reduce the front-yard setback from 35.58 feet to 23.05 feet and the front-yard setback from 37.62 feet to 24.1 feet to allow construction of an open-sided front porch and a second-story addition to a home at 6233 N. Forest Glen Ave. A construction permit for a partial second-story addition at the house was issued last year, and a permit for a porch is pending.
A spokesman for Alderman Margaret Laurino (39th) said that the alderman’s office has not received objections to the proposal. The zoning board will hear the matter during its 9 a.m. session.