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The clash over Congress Theater

  • Neighbors of the Congress Theater expressed concerns over recent incidents there at a City Hall hearing April 17.
Neighbors of the Congress Theater expressed concerns over recent incidents… (Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune )
April 18, 2012|By Mick Swasko | RedEye

A city attorney on Tuesday told representatives of the Congress Theater in Logan Square they need to improve security, work to soundproof the venue and make other changes in the first of at least two more hearings on the venue.

Congress attorney Homero Tristan spoke on behalf of the venue, which has been at the center of a long debate between neighbors who say it has caused problems in the area and others who say it has been unfairly targeted. He said the venue has installed additional lighting and surveillance cameras at the venue.

The City Hall hearing included Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1st), members of the community, police and representatives from the city's Business Affairs and Consumer Protection department. Though Moreno and theater representatives have held informal meetings on the issues, the nuisance hearing is an official step taken in the process, which eventually can lead to fines, license revocation or temporary closure. Moreno stressed that's not something he wants to see.

"The goal is to help the Congress to become a better theater, not to shut them down," he said at the hearing.

Neighbors around the Milwaukee Avenue theater expressed concerns they have, ranging from rowdy intoxicated crowds, litter and noise issues that come from inside the venue. Others, however, stood up to speak in support of the theater, saying other nightclubs in the area create similar problems.

"It seems like it's turning into a witch hunt," said Simon Lamb, who lives in the Congress building. "If you don't like it, maybe it's time to move."

But Johnny Elias, who has lived about a block away from the theater for 35 years, said the theater has given a "half-hearted" response to members of the community that have raised concerns.

"When the neighbors speak up, there seems to be this backlash," he said, adding that noise, garbage and drunk minors have been a problem in the past.

More than 120 calls for service have been made from the area around the theater in the past 14 months, police said. Those have resulted in 36 reports including theft, battery, and drug possession. A high-profile sexual assault also occured near the theater on New Years Eve last year and led to charges against three teenagers.

A second hearing will occur in June to review the progress the theater has made.

mswasko@tribune.com | @mickswasko

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