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Deal lets Congress Theater stay open for now, but not sell tickets

Exterior  view Congress Theater.    |  Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

Exterior view of the Congress Theater. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: May 20, 2013 7:48PM

The Congress Theater will stay open despite city-required repairs — but owners on Thursday were ordered to halt the sale of tickets for shows this weekend.

Attorneys reached a compromise Thursday morning on conditions that would keep the historic theater at 2135 N. Milwaukee open until a Monday re-inspection and a Tuesday court hearing.

“Basically what this is, judge, is a compromise,” city attorney Judy Frydland told Judge James McGing in a Daley Center courtroom. “We’re not shutting them down. They haven’t sold all of their tickets to their capacity. We’re just asking them to stop where they are and deal with what we have.”

The court order went into effect at noon, but by afternoon, tickets for Friday and Saturday’s shows read “sold out” on the venue’s website.

City Department of Law spokesman Roderick Drew, however, said the shows are not sold out and that Congress owners are abiding by the order.

“We were assured that ticket sales for the other shows were terminated this morning,” Drew said in an e-mail. “...This language [sold out] is a function of the website’s programming and represented the quickest way to ensure the immediate cessation of sales.”

Earlier, both sides agreed to reduce occupancy on the theater’s first floor from 4,500 to 3000, and each event must be staffed with two fire guards, who will help with overcrowding and guide concertgoers in case of a fire, Frydland said.

The compromise comes a day after the city filed an emergency motion that could have forced the theater’s owner, Erineo “Eddie” Carranza to shutter the theater. The lengthy motion detailed 26 violations, including a faulty electrical system, bare electrical cable wires strewn throughout the basement and defective lights.

The most dangerous of violations involved the theater’s ventilation system, which city inspectors called “inoperable.” The ventilation system above the stage, which was specifically designed to vent flames and smoke in case of a fire, is disabled, inspectors found.

“This condition poses an extremely dangerous hazard as the flames and smoke will back draft into the occupied auditorium putting all patrons at risk,” the inspection found.

But the theater has made some improvements since the April 3 inspection. Fire extinguishers and carbon monoxide detectors have been added, and crews have worked through the night to repair electrical issues, Frydland told the judge.

It’s just the latest bump in the road for Carranza, who’s also involved in deleterious impact and public nuisance hearings with the city that could also result in the revocation of licenses. He’ll face the Chicago Liquor Commission for a hearing April 30, which could leave him without a liquor license.

Frydland said Carranza has been responsive to city requests: “I think he understands how serious this is now,” Frydland said. “...It’s nothing personal, it’s nothing political. It’s totally public safety and totally directed by the fire department and buildings department. There is no outside force. This is the city being concerned over public safety.”

Demetris Kare, an attorney for the Congress, declined to comment on the agreement. Carranza was not present in court and could not be reached for comment.

Concertgoers are on call for what may happen next. Kyle Doan has tickets for rapper Machine Gun Kelly’s show on April 28. He lives near Terra Haute, Ind. — about three hours away from Chicago — and is keeping an eye on city developments.

“I’m taking a train and staying the night at a hotel there, but I don’t want to purchase my train tickets and hotel until I find out what’s going on,” Doan, 22, said.

The theater was scheduled to host country star Easton Corbin on Thursday but postponed the concert due to flooding.

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