Portage Theater expected to close in mid-February; no new operator has been announced
by BRIAN NADIG
The Portage Theater, 4050 N. Milwaukee Ave., is expected to close in mid-February and no new plans have been announced at this time for the 97-year-old entertainment venue.
“We’re heartbroken,” said theater manager Charlie Burns. “We were getting a name for ourselves, and a lot of people were coming here. Even Chance the Rapper (stopped by a festival at the Portage).” Comedian Doug Stanhope performed at the theater in November and acts such as the Insane Clown Posse and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony have performed there in recent years.
Burns said that the closing would allow him to put more resources into the other theaters that he operates. The Portage Theater is part of the Portage Theater Management Group, which also runs the Patio Theater at 6008 W. Irving Park Road and the Olympic Theater at 6134 W. Cermak Road in Cicero.
The 1,070-seat Patio has become known for hosting the premieres of independent films, and a variety of organizations and business have been leasing the theater for private functions, Burns said. More comedy and live performance shows also are planned at the Patio, he said. Paul Rodriguez and the Latin Kings of Comedy recently held a show at the Patio.
There also are efforts being made to create work-living spaces for artists at the Patio and Olympic theaters, which are located in larger buildings that include apartments. The artists would then have access to the theater for their shows.
In a statement, the management group said that it plans to be making renovations at its other theaters and will “kick off artists/theater/film industry incubator programs that develop and foster emerging artists and technicians into small businesses that benefit the community.”
The management group has been operating the Portage since 2014, and in 2016 it entered into a lease agreement with Barnett Capital, which purchased the theater from Eddie Carranza, who also once owned the Congress Theater, 2135 N. Milwaukee Ave. In recent months, Barnett has renovated the building’s apartments above the theater and brought in new tenants to its storefronts, including the Fischman Public House and Bottle Shop and the Distinct Bath and Body.
In June, the building’s owner filed an eviction lawsuit against the theater management company over a dispute that theater officials have described as a “technicality” in the wording of the lease.
As part of a settlement agreement, the management group has agreed to a buyout of its lease, and there also is an option for the purchase of the corporation that holds the liquor and public place of amusement licenses for the Portage. That option reportedly has not been exercised.
Alderman John Arena’s chief of staff Owen Brugh said that the alderman is hopeful that any new operator of the theater would bring in quality programming which would enhance the continued revitalization efforts of the Six Corners shopping district. He said that he is unaware of a new operator being lined up at this time.
The size of the Portage, which was designated a city landmark in 2013, could be a good selling point to a prospective operator, Brugh said. Its 1,300-person capacity is somewhat unusual for the city, where the capacity tends to be either less than 1,000 or more than 2,000 people, he said.
In the past 20 years, the Portage has closed several times. In the late 2000s efforts were made to start bringing live shows to the Portage due to several failed attempts to operate it strictly as a movie theater.
There also were two failed attempts to convert the Portage into a church.