WIN: Ramova Theater Restoration Plan Receives City Council Approval and TIF Support

The Ramova Theater, 3518 S. Halsted Street, Meyer O. Nathan, Built 1929. Photo Credit: John McCarthy / Cinema Treasures

The Ramova Theater, 3518 S. Halsted Street, Meyer O. Nathan, Built 1929. Historic Photo Credit: Cinema Treasure

The Ramova Theater, 3518 S. Halsted Street, Meyer O. Nathan, Built 1929. Photo Credit: Cinema Treasures

“Bridgeport’s long-vacant Ramova Theater will be rehabilitated as part of a $22.9 million entertainment and dining complex through a financial plan approved by City Council today, April 24, 2020.

“Closed to the public since 1985, the 90-year-old, City-owned structure will be restored by Our Revival Chicago LLC as the centerpiece of a three-building theater, restaurant, and brewpub complex on the 3500 block of South Halsted Street, hosting concerts and other live events for up to 1,600 patrons.

“’This is an exciting step forward for the Bridgeport community and the entire cultural life of our city,’ Mayor Lori Lightfoot said. ‘The Ramova Theater will once again become the beating heart of Bridgeport as it helps fuel its local economy and write a new chapter in the history of the South Side.’

“City assistance for the project will include a $6.64 million Tax Increment Financing (TIF) loan that will be provided at project completion. The developer will repay $100,000 in interest over the first three years, with the principal and remaining interest to be forgiven at the conclusion of the 10-year-term, provided all annual compliance requirements are met. The City-owned theater building and adjacent lot, valued at $765,000, will also be provided for $1 to support the project.

“Built in 1928, the single-screen theater building was designed by architect Mayer O. Nathan in the Spanish Revival style with atmospheric details that resembled a courtyard under the stars. In 1940, it hosted the Chicago premier of Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator.” The final movie screening took place in 1985, “Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment.”

“The City took ownership of the vacant property in 2001 with long-term goals to support its redevelopment as an economic anchor for the community.

“‘Bridgeport residents have been eager to see the Ramova restored for decades,” Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th) said. ‘This is a true public-private partnership that will bring entertainment, jobs and investment to a critical stretch of the Halsted commercial corridor.’

“The redevelopment project will also include a new 5,000-square-foot brewery and 4,000-square-foot restaurant in adjacent buildings. The project will create 80 permanent and approximately 110 temporary construction jobs. The TIF assistance will be provided following project completion and be subject to ongoing occupancy, employment, and other requirements for at least 10 years.” (City of Chicago Press Release, April 24, 2020)

“I went to the Ramova when I was 4 years old to see Bambi, and was hooked ever since then,” Sullivan said. The Ramova played an outsize role in Sullivan’s upbringing in Bridgeport, as it did for many others she grew up with.

“As teenagers that’s what we did,” she said. “We hung around [the Ramova] pretty much all day, and hung out with our peers and people we had never met before from different places.”

“In 2005, Sullivan started organizing the Save the Ramova campaign to make sure the theater didn’t get torn down – and maybe even one day restored.

“We got in touch with Preservation Chicago and we started working with them on a petition, and shortly thereafter we had about 4,000 signatures and a lot of stories about what it meant to people around here,” she said.

“For the next 15 years there was a lot of talk, but not much action. That is, until late 2019, when a New York developer named Tyler Nevius arrived in Bridgeport with an ambitious plan to redevelop the space. Nevius – who works in the entertainment industry – plans to transform the decrepit old theater into a performance hub, which could host upwards of 100 shows a year.

“Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson, 11th Ward, who represents most of Bridgeport, says the plan has so far been met with overwhelming support. “We had about 300 or so people at a meeting for the Ramova, and I’ve never been involved in a meeting where it was unanimous – everybody in the office was excited,” he said.

“But the theater is in rough shape, and the project is expected to cost close to $23 million – $6.6 million will come from Tax Increment Financing, or TIF, and another million from the state of Illinois. The city of Chicago is selling the property to Nevius for just $1. The rest will come from private investors and loans.

“Thompson says the substantial amount of public money going to the project is well worth it; the theater will incentivize development along this stretch of Halsted Street. ‘It’ll absolutely be a tremendous engine for revitalization and redevelopment down here,’ he said.

“After years of advocating for restoration, Sullivan says she’s cautiously optimistic the project will go forward – and absolutely thrilled at its potential. ‘A building like this is something we can’t build again, and once it’s gone we’ve lost it forever. I’d really like to grow the neighborhood but I’d also like to preserve our history, and have those touchstones for us to remember where we came from,’ she said.” (WTTW, 1/28/2020)

Preservation Chicago is thrilled that the Ramova Theater will finally be restored and reopened. The Ramova Theater was a Chicago 7 Most Endangered 2012 along with a number of other neighborhood theaters. Preservation Chicago has been advocating for years to find a user for the Ramova in partnership with the Save the Ramova campaign lead by Maureen Sullivan, a dedicated Bridgeport neighbor and community leader. We were even involved with the preservation and relocation of the Ramova Grill interior fixtures, a beloved neighborhood restaurant located next to the theater, to Benton House in 2012. Perhaps it’s time for its return to Halsted and 35th Street as part of this comprehensive Ramova Theater renovation?

Preservation Chicago remains in close contact with stakeholders in an effort to help the final Ramova Theater redevelopment be as successful as possible. We fully support this development and the use of TIF funds to make it possible. This is precisely the type of neighborhood-oriented reinvestment that Chicago needs to help make all neighborhoods vibrant places to live, work and explore.

Watch the full story at WTTW Chicago Tonight

A Look Inside Bridgeport’s Ramova Theatre Ahead of Proposed Renovation, Quinn Myers, WTTW Chicago Tonight, 1/28/20

Plan to revive Bridgeport’s Ramova Theater recalls days when ‘It was like walking into another world’, Elaine Chen, Chicago Tribune, 11/21/19

Plans For $23 Million Revival Of Bridgeport’s Ramova Theatre Revealed — And Neighbors Are Thrilled; In addition to the theater, the Duck Inn’s Kevin Hickey will bring back the Ramova Grill and include throwback favorites like chili and tamales, Ariel Cheung, Block Club Chicago, 11/20/19

Bridgeport’s Ramova Theatre in line for $22.9 million redevelopment; With city help, the project would convert the 90-year-old movie house into a live entertainment center. David Roeder, Chicago Sun-Times, 11/20/19

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