Over 60 people packed the Business Affairs and Consumer Protection chambers of City Hall for the Congress Theater’s third Deleterious Impact/Public Nuisance Hearing. The gathering lasted 90 minutes and included participation from members of the Logan Square community, the Greater Goethe Neighborhood Association (GGNA), the 14th District Police, 1st Ward Alderman ‘Proco’ Joe Moreno, the theater’s owner, Eddie Carranza, and his legal team.
Assistant City Commissioner Barbara Gressel kicked things off by reminding everyone that the meeting is a mediation and thereby excluded from the Open Meetings Act, thus no recording or photography would be permitted.
Sgt. Giambrone of the ‘Wicker Park Detail’- a group of officers assigned to patrolling bars and venues on weekends- shared that over the past two months there have been 22 calls for service related to the theater (2135 N. Milwaukee Ave.), with 16 of those occurring during the month of August. Giambrone attributed the heavy calls in August to a spike of seven calls received on August 10th/11th.
The calls corresponded with a news report that Gressel referenced about a “riot” incident between 2 and 3 a.m. at a McDonald’s up the street from the theater. Giambrone clarified that there had been one arrest at Armitage and Milwaukee for battery on the morning of the 11th, and that individuals in the parking lot had been reluctant to engage with police upon arrival.
Of the news source referenced by Gressel, Moreno said, “I wouldn’t consider that to be a news article. To say a riot is extreme.”
The alderman added that he believes the Congress is making good progress but also has a ways to go. “I don’t just talk to Homero [Tristan] and Eddie [Carranza] every three months, we’re talking once a week. I want to stress my goal has always been to make the Congress better, not to make it go away,” Moreno said.
The discussion transitioned to the neighbors and focused on a discrepancy between the number of advance purchased tickets for the Friday August 10th event and the actual turnout, which was estimated to be over a few thousand patrons. The Congress’s communications liasion, who was thanked by members of the GGNA for keeping neighbors of the theater on the listserv informed of concerts (it had been an action item from the first hearing), explained that with social media and sites like Facebook, it is possible for news of a show to spread last minute and for many more tickets to be purchased at the door. Later in the meeting, Ronda Locke, the 1st Ward’s Director of Community Outreach, suggested that the theater let its neighbors know via an email if a crowd has grown bigger than expected.
Various neighbors who live in the immediate vicinity of the theater expressed that they feel “things are getting better, thank you,” as one attendee said, addressing Carranza directly. She citied a marked improvement in noise levels and litter. Perhaps illustrating the different types of crowds shows attract, one neighbor said he broke up a near dance party on his lawn at 1:45 a.m. on the early morning of the 11th, and then went on to talk about a Foster the People all-ages show he attended at the venue. “You could have had people from Mayberry policing it and they wouldn’t of found anything wrong,” he said.
A neighbor named Jeff said he was very impressed by the visible security and quick intervention from a member of the Congress security team, who’d stopped the usage of a bullhorn type megaphone within seconds of him requesting it to be ceased. “I’ve also had far less issues with noise. I’m happy with the direction that they have been going,” he told Gressel.
Since the last hearing, Carranza had followed up on the action item of hiring a professional security company. The owners of BluCorp Consultants were present and indicated that they are working on an interior security audit to determine if there are sufficient cameras, as well as developing an exterior security plan.
Gressel assigned the following action items for Carranza and his team to tackle or continue working on before the next hearing: 1) Continuation of zero tolerance for underage drinking 2) Continued Bassett Training for all alcohol servers 3) Continue to keep doors closed to minimize noise 4) Maintain communication with police 5) Continue to work with the alderman’s office on access to parking lots for Congress patrons 6) Continue to maintain a 911 call log for all intoxicated patrons 7) Continue taking care of litter 8) Continue identifying those under 21 with special indelible marker markings 9) and lastly, Consider a business model permitting only patrons aged 21+.
At the conclusion of the gathering, Gressel addressed attendees.”This is the third meeting and we’re still filling the room. This shows me that there’s a lot of concern from the community and a lot of support for the venue. By city ordinance, we have to set three meetings. If things improve, the next meeting could be our last meeting,” she said.
The Congress Theater’s 4th Deleterious Impact/Public Nuisance hearing will take place on Wed. Oct. 31st at 10 a.m.
After the meeting, The Pipeline spoke with Carranza who said, “We think we’re doing a great job and meeting all of their requirements. We’re going to keep working hard and hopefully the next meeting will be the last one.”
The Pipeline ran into Locke in the building’s lobby. Locke shared that, like Gressel, she too feels that the Congress is headed in the right direction, but that, “I don’t think this progress would have been made if this [putting Congress into the deleterious impact/PN hearing process] had not been done.”