The halted renovation of Logan Square's vacant Congress Theater could resume with a new developer at the helm. At an online meeting hosted by Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st) Monday evening, Baum Revision presented plans to take over the venue from court-ordered receivership after previous developer Michael Moyer defaulted on the multimillion-dollar renovation.

Built as a movie palace in 1926 by design firm Fridstein & Co., the structure at 2135 N. Milwaukee Avenue features a mix of Classical Revival and Italian Renaissance-style architecture. The Congress Theater became a designated a Chicago Landmark in 2002 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2017. The building has been closed to the public since 2013.

Baum Revision aims to comply fully with the site's existing Planned Development, which was approved by the city in 2018. Designed by Woodhouse Tinucci Architects, the plan calls for modernizing the historic performance venue, renovating the building's 14 existing apartments into affordable housing, and bringing between 35 and 50 hotel rooms to the structure's upper floors.  

Woodhouse Tinucci Architects/Baum Revision

"The plans are largely done and I give a lot of credit to the former [developer]," said David Baum, whose company is behind a number of prominent Chicago adaptive reuse projects including the Green Exchange, Workshop 4200, and the renovation of the Margies Candies building. "Unfortunately it didn't work out. He did a lot of good work, and we're picking it up from there."

As with the prior redevelopment plan, AEG Presents will operate the live music venue at the Congress Theater. The company is the second-largest concert promoter in the world and hosted some 14,000 shows at its pre-pandemic peak in 2019, but does not currently have a venue in Chicago.

"This opportunity with the Congress is both the right location and the right-sized venue that will be best suited for the concert industry well into the future," said AEG's Shawn Trell. "It's a rarity to get a venue with this kind of history and [architectural] bones. It obviously needs work and that's what Baum Revision brings to the table."

Woodhouse Tinucci Architects

One component from the previous plan that is absent from Baum's proposal is a seven-story, 72-unit apartment building approved for the northwest corner of Milwaukee Avenue and Rockwell Street. Although it is part of the Congress Theater's Planned Development (PD), that property is not under receivership and therefore is not included in what the new developer is purchasing. "[The lot across the street] is not part of what we are planning," Baum said. 

As far as timing is concerned, Baum is currently conducting due diligence and working to line up approvals and financing. The developer hopes to begin work by the end of the year and anticipates an 18- to 24-month construction period. "I'd like to think it's 18 months but historic construction often brings a lot of challenges, but this could open in the summer of 2023, it could be the fall," Baum said. "It's also possible that we could complete the retail storefronts and affordable housing earlier than that."

One thing the city will need to tweak is its 2018 tax increment financing (TIF) agreement since the $9.65 million deal was never finalized by the prior developer, explained zoning attorney Rolando Acosta. "Effectively everything as far as city approvals is either in place or near its final form." 

Woodhouse Tinucci Architects