Bridgeport’s Ramova Theater project resumes after pandemic hiatus
For anyone who enjoys old Chicago cinemas or performance venues, those ornate venues meant to transport patrons from years gone by to a romantic place away, I have some great news and – well – I won’t call it bad news, but it’s still disappointing. .
For the good news: Despite the pandemic, which has knocked down any performing arts business’s props or forced crowds to congregate, one developer is not discouraged in his plans to restore Bridgeport’s Ramova Theater at 3518 S. Halsted St.
The Ramova deal is one of those dream projects that seemingly stood no chance in the face of economic imperatives imposed by a pathogen that silenced some companies, helped others, and generally led investors into risky ventures. to say “Whoa”.
But Tyler Nevius said he was always ready and able to continue at Ramova, despite having to put his plans on hold for a year.
“I think out of respect and to be totally fair to our lenders and the rest, we had to wait and see what things looked like on the other end,” he said.
Now, with more vaccines in distribution and public gathering places slowly reopening, Nevius said the outlook looked better.
He said the pandemic taught him a lesson as a developer.
“The quality of the team is essential. You need a group that is product – and service above all, in addition to being resilient, ”he said.
Turning the Ramova into a community center as a performing arts center, with a brewery and a reinvention of the old Ramova Grill, has always been a “cause-driven project”. The delay of our scourge only reinforces this mission, he said.
The project has the necessary authorizations from the city, including an agreement for funding of up to $ 6.64 million in tax increases. Nevius said he now plans to start work in late spring or early summer and complete the project at the end of 2022.
He also said he had not lost any support for the project. He refuses to name most. Nevius said the Ramova has performers whose names are well known here to inquire about support one way or another, but he will not drop any names just yet.
“If you look at the entire city of Chicago, it has an incredibly rich creative history. So there are people who are very excited about it, ”he said. Nevius is a senior finance executive in the entertainment business, so he has some useful contacts.
One of the partners joining Nevius is David Baum, Managing Director of Baum Revision, a development company that stems from his long-standing work in brokerage of leases for retail space. Baum has won numerous honors for building renovations including the Green Exchange at 2545 W. Diversey Ave., the former Cooper Lamp factory remodeled as an eco-friendly office building anchored by Coyote Logistics.
Kevin Hickey, eminent chef and owner of Michelin rated restaurant The Duck Inn, remains with Nevius as a partner.
Neighbors will welcome any progress at Ramova, which has been empty and decaying for about 35 years. The cinema was built in 1929 by architect Myer O. Nathan. He is considered a twin of the Music Box Theater on the north side. Getting the Ramova back in shape would give Bridgeport a commercial foothold and do a bit for South Side pride.
While the smaller music box has been carefully preserved, the Ramova has been overlooked. The city took control and paid for emergency works in 2001 after water damage threatened to destroy the interior beyond salvation. Many who grew up in Bridgeport remember its entrance hall in the style of a Spanish courtyard and the fake stars in the ceiling of the auditorium.
Nevius’ $ 22.9 million plan calls for dividing the 1,800-seat auditorium into two performance spaces. The balcony can be converted into a space for acts attracting around 200 people. He also stressed the desire to organize events for schools and community groups.
Now to the disappointment. It appears the pandemic has stifled a complex deal to restore the Uptown Theater at 4816 N. Broadway, Rapp & Rapp’s iconic site that has been closed since 1981.
Jerry Mickelson, director of Jam Productions, tried to put together the fiscal elements to restore it. In 2018, then-mayor Rahm Emanuel said Farpoint Development had partnered with Mickelson to bring together the equity, loans, tax credits and incentives needed for an estimated $ 75 million project. dollars.
Sources said Farpoint is no longer involved as private money for Uptown could not be found. The company is focused on the development of the former property of the Michael Reese Hospital. Farpoint’s founding director Scott Goodman declined to comment. Mickelson could not be reached.
With 4,300 seats, Uptown is huge. Its promoters long ago called it “an acre of seats in a magical city”. For decades it has been too big to fill. He can’t be knocked down, but he needs a reason to stand.