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Public nuisance hearing scheduled for Congress Theater

April 16, 2012|By Mick Swasko, RedEye

A scuffle that led police to close a portion of Milwaukee Avenue near the Congress Theater on Friday occurred just days before the theater and city officials are scheduled to discuss changes that officials want the venue to make.

Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1st) said the incident was the latest in a growing list of problems the establishment is causing in a neighborhood he represents.

The fight—which erupted during a concert featuring Chicago rapper Chief Keef and other performers—brought dozens of officers to the venue around 9:45 p.m and resulted in no arrests, according to police.

"They need to start behaving like the world class theater they say there are," Moreno said Monday, citing drug use, noise complaints, neighborhood disturbances and underage drinking as issues he says the theater must address. "This is not something that happened overnight."

Moreno said the hearing is not an attempt to shutter the 86-year-old theater, but to address what he says are problems he has tried to get the establishment to address for months. He said informal meetings with Congress owner Eddie Carranza about crowd control and other issues have not produced consistent results. The venue now faces a public nuisance hearing, which is the first step toward the revocation of a liquor license for a business. The hearing is set for Tuesday.

Carranza did not respond to a request for comment Monday, but he did post a statement on a neighborhood forum that was addressed to Logan Square residents. In it, he said the crowd in the theater was under 30 percent of the building's capacity and that security had events under control. He alleged that community patrol members hired by Moreno called police.

"This is mad behavior and it needs to stop," he stated in the letter. "This has gone too far."

Moreno denied that he or the two volunteers he hired had anything to do with the heightened police presence. He acknowledged, however, that he received a letter from police making him aware of Chief Keef's appearance—the 16-year-old rapper is on house arrest for a weapons charge and was allowed by a judge to play—which he shared with constituents.

Meaghan Garvey, 25, of Logan Square was at the concert and lives a few blocks from the venue. She said she did see three or four fights break out during the show, but they were broken up by event staff.

"It didn't seem to be particularly serious," she said. Garvey said drunk patrons around the club are a "mild annoyance" in the community, but does not feel threatened by how close she lives to the theater. | @mickswasko

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