Though the room only holds 50, extra chairs were added to accommodate over 60 people who came out the Business and Consumer Protection (BACP) chambers of City Hall earlier today to attend the first Deleterious Impact/Public Nuisance hearing pertaining to The Congress Theater, 2135 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Facilitated by an Assistant City Commissioner, Barbara Gressel, the gathering began at 11:30AM and ended at 1:45PM. At the conclusion of the uninterrupted session, Gressel noted that these first hearings “usually last one hour” and thanked the group. “I’ve had rooms filled before with people not as polite and cordial as you’ve all been [to each other],” she said.
Both 1st Ward Ald. Proco Joe Moreno, who’d put the venue into the deleterious impact process, and Homero Tristan, counsel for the Congress Theater, requested no media coverage. Gressel made it clear at the start that the hearing is a ‘confidential mediation’ for the purpose of hearing neighbor’s complaints and not a public forum, thus excluding it from the Open Meetings Act. Gressel assured attendees, “We’re not trying to close businesses, but address problems and mediate them. We believe we can have a win-win solution, and we usually get it too.”
The Pipeline is honoring the request of all three parties, however, if readers are curious, and in keeping to generalities rather than specifics, the main issues brought to the table by 14th District Police Commander Linda Flores, Ald. Moreno, and neighbors living within close proximity to the venue, involved communication, sound levels (particularly from bass equipment used in electronic DJ shows) and security.
Afterward, neighbor Nina Centeno, who lives within a half block of the venue, said that she was happy with the mediation. “The proof is in the pudding. Congress will have to take care of safety and security and neighbor concerns. I don’t want them to close, either, but they have problems with unruly crowds, young shows. The root of this issue seems like it boils down to communication,” she shared.
“I thought the meeting went okay. It was about resolving issues. [Gressel is] very objective. She’s trying to help the community and help Eddie [Carranza] run a better business. If this is what it takes, this is what it takes. Hopefully there will be a better outcome for everyone,” said Frank Silva, a Congress Theater bartender.
Paul Levin, executive director of the Logan Square Chamber of Commerce, who’d chatted with the pipeline on the matter last month (and is pictured in a file photo at the Farmers Market), said he was pleased too. “I was hoping that the issues would be presented in a neutral way and [Gressel] succeeded in doing that.”
Ronda Locke, the alderman’s Director of Communication, shared with The Pipeline that she thought it was “a productive, good meeting.”
Promoters Joe Vongkaysone, Rhys, and John Doe, who’d organized this past Friday’s Meek Mill show at The Congress were present too, and while it looked like Doe had wanted to speak during the mediation, there was no further time in the already long meeting for attendee input (speakers were allotted 1 minute and Gressel did an excellent job of facilitating those comments.) Rhys got a chance to express in the mediation that he’d felt the show was going smoothly until the large police presence disturbed the concert. Commander Flores was quick to reply to Rhys that the number of officers were justified, and discussed an altercation in front of the theater at approx. 10PM that had involved a threat to an officer and resulted in the large number of police.
After the mediation, Vongkaysone told this reporter that Chief Keef, the 16-year-old rapper with the GPS monitoring bracelet pending trial who’d served as the impetus for the alderman to send out a warning before the show, had left the theater by 10:30PM directly after his performance, per terms established by a judge. Vongkaysone, who is also involved with clubs and is familiar with the typical complaints, said that he perceived the main issues for The Congress to be its sound levels and security personnel, the latter of which drew criticism from Commander Flores. (An additional matter, pertaining to off duty Chicago Police Officers working at concert venues is being investigated by the internal police).
Joe Kopera, a longtime volunteer court advocate for 14th and 1st Districts, and who distributed the below statement to attendees, as well as to Gressel, (who was accepting emails and photos from anyone that wanted to share them), said, “I still think it’s a witch hunt, nothing more, nothing less. I am upset with the alderman and the police commander who were out of line [on Friday]. They were also questioning Congress’s security and I think they should have that questioning for the alderman’s untrained security workers.” Later, on the GGNA message board where news of the hearing began, Kopera shared his response to the mediation.
Less than two months ago, Kopera was honored with a street in his name by Ald. Moreno. As reported this past Sunday, Kopera resigned from his volunteer court advocate position, citing Friday’s events in his resignation and a lack of passion after witnessing what he felt was an over reaction by police and the alderman.
Once put into the deleterious impact process, a licensee must attend a minimum of three hearings, approx. 45 days apart from each other. The Congress management were given a series of action items to work on over the next 45 days, all of which will be evaluated and assessed at the next gathering, slated for Tuesday June 19th at 11AM.
Statement of Joe Kopera – Congress Theater Incident 4/14/2012
1. I do not and did not support the booking of the Chief Keef act into the Congress Theater. I did watch the video posted as well as other videos of his act. I did not appreciate the words in the lyrics being sent to my email account. How many times do I need to say I watched the videos?
2. I do recognize that the Congress Theater just like so many other venues does have issues and that they are trying to work for solutions that best serve the community.
3. I believe the Chief Keef issue was nothing more than a smoke screen for the police action at the Congress Theater this past Friday 4/14/2012. I believe it was Pre-planned to happen the way it went down.
4. I don’t know if the police action originated in the First Ward, the 14th Police District, Police Headquarters or somewhere else.
5. Previously the Congress Theater had hired a few security people from the first ward organization to work security at the venue. It is my understanding that these first ward security people refused to work with or carry the communication equipment supplied by the Congress Theater security force. It’s also my understanding that these first ward people hired to work were untrained in the security field.
6. Prior to the event at the Congress Theater the 14th district supplied information to Alderman Joe Moreno’s office and as a result of the information the alderman sent out an email to the community indicating that he had decided he would hire and pay out of his pocket his own first ward people to patrol as additional security for this event. Once again these people he hired are not trained security people I believed that he should have hired outside trained security people and not his own workers.
7. My understanding in this item is that it could not be confirmed and should not be taken as fact. It is my understanding that there was an altercation inside the club and that the trained Congress security force took control of the situation and attempted to remove the offender and upon seeing this, the first ward security working outside decided to call in the Alderman and the Chicago Police Department. It’s also my understanding that this type of altercation can and do occur at many other venues across this city.
8. It my understanding that no shots were fired and no weapons were involved yet over 20 Chicago Police officers arrived on the scene along with the 14th district police commander Linda Flores and the Alderman Joe Moreno and that the Congress Theater was put on a lockdown, patrons were not allowed to enter and that a fire department inspection team was called in to inspect the Congress Theater. The venue was reported to be less than 30% occupied. Milwaukee Ave was blocked off at Francis Place on the north and at Maplewood on the south. This lasted between one and two hours before the venue was allowed to let in
paying patrons. It looked more like a hostage scene than a call to police to assist with an altercation. I may be wrong but it was also my understanding that this police action resulted in no arrest being made.
9. Abusive and disrespectful exchanges occurred with a local news reporter on the scene who was labeled a low level blogger. There were claims that the alderman was abusive and also claims posted on facebook by one of the alderman’s security people that the security team of the Congress Theater was abusive to their patrons. (This exchanged is attached to only some copies of this statement)
10. As a result of this shameful police action I had to re-examine my commitment as a volunteer CAPS court advocate and as the court advocate co-chair to the 14th district DAC (District Advisory Committee). I sent an email resignation to Commander Flores and thanked her for allowing me to volunteer as a court advocate for the last five to seven years. She accepted my resignation.
As a resident of 51 years who does live within 500 feet of the Congress I believe that they are committed to the community. Over the years they have attended CAPS meetings on a regular basis, donated to community groups including GGNA (Greater Goethe Neighborhood Association), FOG (Friends of Goethe) as well as other local community organizations. The last two years they have hosted the winter version of “The Logan Square Farmers Market.”
While I disagree with the methods used by first ward Aldermen Joe Moreno and his rush to bring this issue to closure I do respect him and his passion to better the community.
Joseph A Kopera