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Owner of Congress reportedly bidding for Portage Theater

Portage Theater 4050 N. Milwaukee. FILE PHOTO by Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Portage Theater, 4050 N. Milwaukee. FILE PHOTO by Rich Hein/Sun-Times

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Facts about the Portage Theater

♦ Original name: Portage Park Theatre

♦ Location: 4050 N. Milwaukee

♦ Opened: 1920

♦ Architects: Lindley P. Rowe in association with Fridstein & Co. Fridstein’s work includes Belden-Stratford and Shoreland Hotel in Chicago, plus the Congress Theater and other old-time movie houses.

♦ Architectural styles: Classical Revival, Art Moderne

Source: City of Chicago, landmarks division

Updated: October 1, 2012 5:57PM

The fate of the 92-year-old Portage Theater on the Northwest Side remains in limbo more than a month after a church withdrew a controversial offer to buy the property.

Neighbors rallied to support the theater and thwart the church’s plans to use it for services. The Portage, at 4050 N. Milwaukee, shows classic and historic films and hosts other arts programs, and neighbors want the cultural emphasis to continue.

Talks to sell the property to the theater’s managers have bogged down and another potential buyer could stir local concerns. People involved with the Portage said the owner of the Congress Theater at 2135 N. Milwaukee has submitted an offer.

The Congress, a landmark old movie palace used for live concerts, has been criticized by concertgoers for its neglected condition. It’s also drawn complaints about noise and underage drinking.

Others credit its owner, Erineo “Eddie” Carranza, with finding a market for independent and underground music acts and using a building that could have deteriorated.

Ald. John Arena, whose 45th Ward includes the Portage, said he’s discussed the building with representatives of the Congress. He said their interest could be positive for the Portage and his neighborhood.

“I don’t automatically assume that what happens at one venue will happen at the other,” Arena said. He said the potential buyers “have exhibited a lot of respect for the programming of the current operators.”

Portage manager Dennis Wolkowicz said he and business partner Dave Dziedzic have a lease to operate the theater until 2015. But he said he’s disappointed because the owners reneged on a deal to sell it to the operators for $2.5 million.

Wolkowicz said Dziedzic submitted an offer that matched what the church was willing to pay. The Chicago Tabernacle withdrew its offer July 19 in the face of community opposition.

The next day, Wolkowicz said, the owners reported that “they’ve gotten somebody else in the picture” offering $2.7 million. Asked if the offer was from Carranza, he replied, “That’s more than probable.”

Dziedzic said, “We had come to an agreement, everything short of putting it on paper.” He said he remains interested in striking a deal but “we can’t overpay for the asset.”

An owner of the Portage, Realtor Harry Perl, denied there was any agreement with Dziedzic. “He couldn’t come up with a price that was satisfactory and we didn’t like the financing terms that he was requesting,” Perl said.

He declined to discuss any contact with the Congress’ owner and said the Portage is still for sale. The building includes 34 apartments and several storefronts.

Carranza and his attorney could not be reached.

The potential sale to the church caused city officials to open the process for declaring the Portage an official landmark. A report the city issued in April said it deserved the designation as an example of grand and lavish movie “palaces” once common in Chicago neighborhoods.

Arena said he hopes landmark protection will become final later this year. “It would help solidify that building’s presence in the area,” he said.

Perl said he was surprised by the neighborhood opposition to the church’s acquisition but found it understandable. The Portage is a focal point of the Six Corners shopping district.

Residents argued that the church would have detracted from surrounding businesses. City rules ban liquor licenses within 100 feet of a church.

“It would have staggered the street,” Perl said. Records show he owns the building with Robert Levin.

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