Congress Theater remains open for now

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The Congress Theater will live to see another day after a Cook County judge ruled April 24 to allow the theater to remain open and sell tickets.

Before then, the theater faced a long list of violations that threatened to close the 87-year-old venue.  The City of Chicago called for an immediate shut down of the venue April 12 and listed 26 code violations that were “dangerous and hazardous.”

Chicago Cook County Circuit Judge James McGing ruled that theater can stay open, but only can allow occupancy on the first floor. McGing also ruled that the venue’s balcony will be closed until proper lighting and a backup generator are installed.

The Congress Theater has been around since 1926 and has hosted some of the biggest acts in various music genres. Congress has hosted rap legends like Nas, rock groups like Paramore and even electronic artists like Deadmau5. It was named a Chicago landmark July 10, 2002. Recently, however, the old condition of the building and government intervention could shut down one of Chicago’s most historic entertainment venues.

Some of the problems that have plagued the Congress Theater range from faulty electrical outlets to fire hazards. When city inspectors checked the venue Monday, city attorney Judy Frydland said that the “most serious violations” were in compliance, DNAInfo Chicago reported.  The theater’s second and third level will remain closed until they secure back up lighting.

Theater owner Eddie Carranza, who purchased the building in 2004, has had to make serious adjustments since the problems started piling up in November. Located in Logan Square, the venue has added increased security to prevent fights as well as fire guards in case of a fire.

Certain students said that they would be glad if the theater closed.  Nick Cvijovic, a DePaul junior and regular concertgoer, said that the venue was dirty and the sound quality was constantly terrible.

“Every time I’ve been there, it’s been pretty run-down,” said Cvijovic. “The place is falling apart – the bathrooms are disgusting. Basic amenities that you would want in a concert venue weren’t there.  I’ve been going there for 10 years now and I’ll be pretty happy (if they shut down).”

For musicians, playing at the venue was a hassle as well. DePaul sophomore Brett Buttle played at the Congress during high school as part of a concert highlighting local bands. Buttle said that dealing with management was difficult.

“When we got there (to play), they didn’t have anywhere to put our equipment,” said Buttle. “We had nowhere to go with our equipment and we weren’t playing for hours. If somebody else was managing it, they’d have a really kicka– venue.”

Still, Buttle and Cvijovic said that if it is going to stay open, they hope changes come to the venue. DePaul senior Marina Cho said that she hopes the venue actually stays open.

“A lot of my favorite shows have been at Congress,” said Cho. “I have a lot of good memories there and I hope it doesn’t get shut down.”

The theater’s liquor license could also be in trouble. According to DNAInfo, several incidents in April and May 2012 resulted in a concertgoer getting assaulted by a security guard and also another theater employee suspected of dealing drugs. Criminal charges were not filed, but the Liquor Control Commission ordered multiple meetings that could result in Congress’ liquor license being taken away.

So far, Carranza and his lawyers have had three meetings scheduled. Carranza also has had to attend public nuisance community meetings, making sure the venue hasn’t disturbed community members.

The venue’s most serious incident occurred on New Year’s Eve 2011. An 18-year-old from Highland Park was sexually assaulted outside the Congress Theater by six men. The teen, who was denied entry to the Congress after forgetting her ID was attacked when wandering the neighborhood.

It raises the question of whether the venue is safe or not. Recently, Fryland told WBEZ 91.5’s Jim DeRogatis that she believes the Congress is making the right steps to stay open.

“I hate to say that a place is safe or not safe because anything can happen anytime anywhere,” said Fryland. “What I mean to say is there are no building code violations that are dangerous at this time that would warrant closure.”

The next meeting regarding inspections is scheduled for Thursday, May 9.