Opposition expressed to sale of alcohol at theater




by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI

The majority of residents who spoke at a community meeting on March 29 said that they oppose a proposal to serve alcohol at the Patio Theater because of concerns about parking and the history of the owner of the theater.

Problems have occurred at other theaters owned by Patio owner Eddie Carranza.

More than 200 people attended the meeting at the theater, 6008 W. Irving Park Road. The meeting was held by Alderman Nicholas Sposato (38th) with the theater’s management company, the Portage Theater Group. The group operates the Portage Theater, 4050 N. Milwaukee Ave., where liquor is served.

Portage Theater Group operator Charlie Burns said that he would like to bring a mix of programming to the 89-year-old theater to show independent movies and family classics and to hold stand-up comedy shows, lectures and performance arts events as well as provide a venue for fund-raising and corporate events.

"We’re bridging what was here when the building was built in 1927 and into the future," Burns said. "Whatever we can do to make that happen through events, programming and support from the community, it will be a hit for the next hundred years. We want to keep this theater viable for generations to come."

Burns said that he wants to bring "appropriate" programming to the theater.

"A lot of people have concerns about what type of programming are we going to do," Burns said. Well a lot of what the theater is, and the fact is that it’s . . . a beautiful theater, so we plan on keeping it as is, so the seats will remain the same with exceptions to refurbishment."

"We already refurbished the balcony seats in preparation for the future," Burns said. "It is a smaller stage so the options are limited, but we would like to think of the Patio Theater as a small Chicago Theater in that we will have smaller and more intimate shows."

Burns said that safety is important. "Like with any other marketing, the programming will change a little bit, but these are the types of programs and entertainment that we want here," he said. ‘We also want to keep the type of music here that will not create any safety concerns to this neighborhood, nor will it create issues to the longevity of this theater.

"The other theaters that we’ve run are different situations. This one is a little more elegant and a beautiful theater, so we want to keep it intact."

Burns said that he would employ a security force to monitor both the inside and the outside of the theater.

Craze Promotions and Media chief executive officer Chris Bauman, who is an investor and the programming coordinator, said that ancillary revenue streams are what keep theaters such as the Patio alive.

"Those ancillary revenues streams are alcohol sales, pop and anything else you can sell at an event because that’s really where they margin comes in to keep the lights on," Bauman said. He said that he recently helped to bring the "Tween Stars Live" Disney and Nickelodeon show to the Patio.

"We are confident that we can overcome the challenge of parking," Burns said. "We have contacted different lots in the neighborhood that are willing to work with us, and what that will do is offset all of the parking that will take place for events."

"This is one of the gems of this community, so it is in our interest for this to be a success," Saint Pascal Parish pastor Paul Seaman said during the public comment section of the meeting. "I think that the Patio is a real gem that we have here. I’m speaking as the pastor of Saint Pascal, and I’m not taking a position on the liquor license one way or the other.

"We have two parking lots at Saint Pascal, and I haven’t heard from anyone at the Patio for so long, so we have no formal agreement with anyone in terms of using our parking lot and the kind of events that will be here. That’s important because we have a school."

"A few months ago there were some posters put up on the lamp posts outside of our school, and the woman featured on the poster did not look like a scientist or a scholar, and I think it’s important we make sure that the kind of events that happen here are clean and good for the community," Seaman said.

"The relationship with Eddie Carranza is that he is the owner of the Patio Theater and one week ago he was still the owner of the Portage Theater," Burns said. "I own my own company that manages pretty much everything within the organization like safety complaints, building inspections, and ultimately I am the one who has to deal with aldermen, safety concerns, police and things of that nature. It is my job as a business owner to keep the events safe and going forward."

"If they violate their plan of operations, it is up to the police and the alderman to go to the liquor commission and say these guys are bad guys and they are violating their plan of operations and start the process to revoke their license," Sposato said.

"Our neighbors went out this weekend and canvassed this neighborhood to get people notified about what’s going on here," a resident said. "If this liquor license goes through, we will have to continue coming out and calling the police and complaining, and it will be our responsibility to make sure that these guys are honoring what they say they will."

"Talk is really great, but when the Portage changed hands, one of the things that we were told was that there were going to be kid shows and magic shows and family entertainment, and last summer, aside from the shooting down the block from a bad guys show, we had a male strip show ‘Magic Men’ that was oversold," a resident said. "Pay attention to the behavior and actions of the past."

Quay Tao, the owner of Community Tavern, 4038 N. Milwaukee Ave., said that he supports issuing the liquor license. Tao also owns the Portage restaurant, 3938 N. Central Ave, which closed.

"I have a pretty vested interest in what’s going on," Tao said. Both our restaurants have a liquor license. Without that license I doubt that we would be in business, so I do support them getting a liquor license . . . I sincerely want everyone to give them a chance.

Former Six Corners Association executive director Ed Bannon said that he does not support issuing the license.

"I worked with the Six Corners Association when Charlie and Eddie bought the Portage Theater building and Charlie was managing the theater, and we’ve heard talk about having lectures and comedians and all these great things, and none of this ever materialized," Bannon said. We don’t know what we are getting here if we see the track record at the Portage. I hope that they will do what they say they will do, but I don’t see the history of that happening.

"I think this is a wake-up call for the community to support the theater here, but I don’t think this is the right operator to have a liquor license at this time."

Joe Basilone, the owner of the Perkolator Coffee Shop, 6032 W. Irving Park Road, said that he supports issuing the liquor license.

"Alcohol is one of those things that is just necessary these days," Basilone said. "It just is. It might be sad, but it is the truth. You are not supporting a building of this magnitude on pop and popcorn. Our business would be a lot more successful if we sold liquor, too."
However, other residents said that they were not supportive of the liquor license.

"I have attended Mr. Carranza’s events at the Congress Theater in my younger days, and there have been stabbings, there’s drugs all the time at these events," a woman said. "Congress smelled of marijuana all the time. Fights have broken out. I don’t want this in the neighborhood."

"My opinion is what the people want, and I think the people spoke and it was more like 80/20 against," Sposato said. "We still have stuff to work out. It could work if they abide by the rules and you get good operator here. People brought up good ideas here. I have mixed feelings about this."

Sposato said after the meeting that he will not support the application, but that the decision was up to the liquor commissioner.

Sposato said in an e-mail that he forwarded 73 opposition letters and 11 support letters to the liquor commissioner, as well as his personal opposition to the plans.

Sposato said that in the next 2 months, the commissioner will review the application and the objections or support that he has received and can approve or deny the application if the license creates a "deleterious impact" on the health, safety or welfare of the community.

If the license is denied, the applicant has 20 days to submit a proposed plan of operation detailing the steps take to mitigate any issues the license may cause.

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