Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Condos could replace old theater
September 12, 2006

BY DAVID ROEDER Business Reporter
Chicago Sun-Times

The Nortown Theater, a once-grand movie house of the Far North Side that has turned into an eyesore, would be torn down and replaced by condominiums under a plan submitted to city officials.

Amrit Patel, who owns several Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin Robbins locations, wants to replace the theater at 6320 N. Western with a 70-unit, six-story building. It also would contain two small theaters to show films for Pakistani and Indian audiences.

The old theater is south of the Devon Avenue business strip, a congested center of commerce for those two ethnic groups.

Patel said that since buying the theater a couple years ago, he has spent $600,000 on various plans. He intended to preserve the building, "but the numbers just didn't work. It would cost so much more to do that."

The Nortown hasn't shown a film since 1990. It was built in 1931 as a single auditorium seating more than 2,000 people. It later was partitioned into three theaters.

Most of Chicago's old-time movie houses are gone, and trouble is never far from the rest. The Three Penny Cinema at 2424 N. Lincoln has closed in a dispute with the city over amusement taxes, and the owner of the Esquire theater, 58 E. Oak, wants to demolish it and build boutique stores.

The Nortown had a nautical theme, with sea horses and mermaids in the decor. Patel said a Pakistani community group that used to own it removed some of the architectural features. He said he'd try to incorporate into the new building some of what remains.

The huge Nortown sign was taken down years ago. In the 1990s, the building was home to a group called Rest for the Weary Ministries, but since then it has been boarded up.

Alderman backs idea

Patel said he has bank financing in place and is ready to start work as soon as permits are issued. He has requested a zoning change and expects a hearing Oct. 19 before the Chicago Plan Commission.

The project is within the 50th Ward represented by Ald. Bernard Stone, who called it a significant improvement for the business strip. Stone said the old theater had been neglected for too long to be saved.

In zoning matters, support from the local alderman usually determines how the planning department and ultimately the City Council handles a proposed change.

Patel hired the Chicago firm VOA Associates Inc. to design the brick-skinned replacement building. The site would include space for stores along Western and about 67 parking spaces. Condo prices will range from $150,000 to more than $300,000, Patel said.