The first half of 2012 brought a storm of controversy to Logan Square's musical landmark. With the Congress Theater poised for a substantial renovation, the only question is whether or not Chicago's live music treasure is up to the challenge.
The Congress Theater Entertainment Center-a name that encompasses the 4,000-plus capacity theater itself along with adjacent apartments and retail spaces-announced its forthcoming renovations and partnership with Chicago-based branding company Doejo late last month.
In March, 1st Ward Alderman Joe Moreno and Congress' owner Eddie Castanza engaged in what became a public disagreement. Moreno eventually scheduled a Deleterious Impact/Public Nuisance Hearing at City Hall citing issues with the venue's maintenance and security.
Though news of the Entertainment Center's planned expansion follows this controversy, it's a project that's been in motion since Castanza took over ownership in 2005 and it appears the alderman and Castanza are now working together to bring the 86-year-old venue back up to par.
"This is the last independently owned historic venue in the city and that was something that he wanted to hold on to," explained Doejo social media director Kelsey Kreiling. That independent spirit will carry over into the Congress' expansion.
New retail spaces within the center will include a "farmers market-inspired" grocery, a cafe, restaurant with upscale pub fare as well as gallery space for local artists. Each of these new outlets will be independently owned and operated. Painting and other minor renovations to the theater itself are already underway. According to Doejo, Castanza will also be addressing the soundproofing issues so as to win back the favor of nearby neighbors.
The Congress Theater has housed a diverse number of acts throughout its many years of operation. This year alone shows at the Congress have included Jewish R&B songwriter Matisyahu and reunited Swedish hardcore act Refused. In recent years, the venue has become a particularly popular venue for electronic and DJ-focused performances, hosting big name artists like Bassnectar and Skrillex.
Castanza, Doejo and Alderman Moreno-noted for being one of the city's most supportive alderman of the local music scene-hope that the renovations and expansion will improve not just the center itself but the surrounding neighboring for both residents and visitors.
"Eddie and the alderman are looking to expand that historic entertainment center to be more of a cultural hub," said Kreiling of the collaboration's expectations.
Currently Flat White, the combined cafe and grocer, is under construction and is expected to open in the fall.