By Patrick Butler
The Chicago City Council recently approved a plan to resurrect the historic, long vacant Ramova Theater as part of a $22.9 million entertainment and dining complex. Developer One Revival Chicago LLC is planning a theater, restaurant, and brewpub in three buildings on the 3500 block of South Halsted Street.
During a recent City Council meeting, Mayor Lori Lightfoot called the approval “an exciting step forward for the Bridgeport community and the entire cultural life of our city.” The Ramova Theater once again will become “the beating heart of Bridgeport as it helps fuel the local economy and write a new chapter of the history of the South Side,” she noted.
The developers expect the project to take several months.
The 90-year-old historic buildings “will receive $6.64 million in tax increment financing to be provided on the project’s completion,” said Ald. Patrick Thompson (11th), who has worked to revive the Ramova for several years. The theatre closed to the public in April 1985 when it showed its last movie, Police Academy 2.
The City bought the Ramova building in 2001 for $285,000 and is turning over the property and the adjacent lot (valued at $765,000) to developer One Revival Chicago LLC at a cost of $1, Thompson said. The developer, in turn, will repay $100,000 in interest to the City over the first three years, with the City forgiving the principal and remaining interest after ten years, provided One Revival meets all annual compliance requirements.
The project also will include a new 5,000 square foot brewery and 4,000 square foot restaurant in an adjoining building, creating 80 permanent and about 111 temporary construction jobs, Thompson said.
Kevin Hickey, founder of the Duck Inn, a local eatery at 2701 N. Eleanor St. will lead the restaurant turnaround.
The 91-year-old single-screen theater, designed by then-prominent architect Meyer O. Nathan, features a Spanish revival style and resembles a starlit courtyard. The Ramova opened with a showing of The Desert Song and in 1940 hosted the Chicago premiere of Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator,an unflattering satire of Adolf Hitler; some historians believe movie executives may have been screened the film in the Ramova’s neighborhood location instead of downtown because the controversial leader still had American supporters in Chicago in the months before the United States’ entry into World War II.
Thompson noted that, during his last visit to the Ramova in the late 1970s, he saw Grease.
Those leading neighborhood efforts to save the local landmark include Maureen Sullivan, whose Save the Ramova organization started an online petition drive, and Ald. James Balcer, Thompson’s predecessor. Preservation Chicago also joined the battle.
Drag racing problems
In other local news, drag racing and rumbles have become enough of a concern in usually quiet Bridgeport that police are stepping up focus on areas such as Racine Avenue between 35th and 39th Streets and Morgan between 35th and 37th, according to Thompson.
“It’s an issue that’s getting special attention from the police, and not for the first time,” Thompson added, noting the City considered a traffic study last year to see if such areas need traffic lights, but nothing has happened yet. The City also installed cameras along Racine between 37th and 38th Streets and deployed additional officers to the area at night, he said.
Thompson added the neighborhood became particularly noisy when a number of revelers may have been celebrating Cinco de Mayo and Polish Constitution Day into the wee hours.
Officials in other neighborhoods also are seeing more reports of increased drag racing. A North Side resident said he witnessed drag racing in the area around Wright City College several evenings in early May.
For Thompson, log on to www.ward11.org or call (773) 254-6677. To inform police about drag racing, call (312) 747-8227.