The reimagining of the Ramova Theater at 35th and Halsted Streets is progressing, though the facility being retooled as a multi-faceted entertainment venue will open a few months later than expected and at a higher cost.
The developer, construction head, and local alderwoman attributed the delay and price hike to the back end of the pandemic and some unanticipated challenges in retooling the 1929 building. They expressed confidence the project will achieve commercial success and a win for the Bridgeport neighborhood.
Project developer Tyler Nevius has pushed back Ramova rehab completion from the end of 2022 to late spring 2023 and said the cost has increased from $28 million to just more than $30 million.
“We’re plugging away,” Nevius said. “Nothing will change from the original plans, and we have the same project team.”
As part of the project, Nevius brought in Kevin Hickey, owner and chef of the Duck Inn, to develop restaurant and beverage components.
Expenses have increased because of expected supply costs and unexpected construction findings, Nevius said. Surprises included weak trusses found in the original theater that Nevius determined would not hold the rigging for audiovisual equipment essential to turning the theater into a musical performance auditorium. The team also discovered a lack of appropriate footing depths under the main building.
“It’s a challenging project to make a modern music venue with an adjoining ‘50s-style diner restaurant and associated beverage tasting room from a building dating back to the 1920s,” said Andy Totten, vice president and project executive at McHugh Construction, who noted crews are excavating, installing concrete, making molds of the original theater reliefs, applying other masonry, and installing glass over the entryway.
The development sits in a tax-increment financing (TIF) district. Because of the increased project cost, the City will increase the original $6.5 million TIF support by at least $2 million, said 11th Ward Alderwoman Nicole Lee, who noted the City still was working out the final agreement. The original agreement included the developer paying at least $100,000 interest over the first three years, with the City forgiving principal and remaining interest after ten years if the developer meets compliance requirements.
“The City’s share of the overall project with the increased budget remains the same as originally agreed to,” she said.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot named Lee alderwoman in the spring after Alderman Patrick D. Thompson resigned following his conviction for tax fraud. She credited the developers and her own general knowledge with quickly getting up to speed on the project.
“Tyler and his team reached out pretty early to offer a tour,” Lee said. “It was interesting to get a look under the I beams to understand what was happening with the construction and the financing. Ald. Thompson worked pretty hard to get this started. This is really something.”
The Ramova renovation will revitalize further a neighborhood already experiencing commercial growth along Halsted Street, she said.
“My general sense is there is still a lot of room to build,” Lee said. “We are at the beginning of a new map. What will the 11th Ward look like in the future?”
The theater showed its last filmin 1985. The City bought the vacant property for $285,000 in 2001 so the theatre would not be razed. In 2020, the City sold the property to Nevius, who in turn brought in Hickey and McHugh Construction. The current project includes the theater and an adjoining vacant building that had housed the Ramova Grill.
To contact Lee, call the 11th Ward office at (773) 254-6677.