By John Byrne
5:12 PM CDT, April 20, 2012
A church group still hopes to be able to set up shop in the historic Portage Theater on the Northwest Side despite city attempts to landmark the property and opposition to the plan by aldermen, a lawyer for the religious organization said Friday.
Testifying at a meeting of the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals, attorney James Banks said leaders at the Chicago Tabernacle church think the city’s preliminary landmark status for the property on Milwaukee Avenue just north of the Six Corners shopping district won’t prevent them from moving in.
Ald. John Arena, 45th, opposes the church’s plan to buy the theater and argued that landmarking the Portage Theater property would make it unusable for Chicago Tabernacle. If the Commission on Chicago Landmarks finalizes landmark status for the 92-year-old movie house, the designation would make it more difficult for the church to make changes to the building.
Banks responded that he “would disagree respectfully with the alderman that it would make the building unusable, because very possibly it is still usable by the church, even being landmarked.”
The zoning appeals board deferred ruling on whether to give Chicago Tabernacle a special use to operate as a house of worship at the site.
Officials from the church, which currently resides in Albany Park, could not be reached for comment.
Several dozen people attended the hearing to voice support for the building remaining a theater. Brian Lambrecht of Addison said the silent movies and other special feature films shown at the Portage are one of the few things that bring him into Chicago, where he then shops at stores at Six Corners.
Lambrecht, wearing a hat he bought at a Six Corners shop, said he proposed to his wife on stage at the Portage during the silent film festival, after conspiring with one of the theater’s operators to project his proposal on the big screen a la the dialogue in a silent movie. “You can’t do that at the Imax. you can’t do that at a Marcus Theatre,” Lambrecht said. “That was a great special moment for me and a lot of people in my life.”Arena said Chicago Tabernacle’s relocation could have a chilling affect on attempts to revitalize Six Corners because restaurants would have a hard time getting liquor licenses in the vicinity of a church. The theater operators have put together a bid to buy the property that matches the church bid, Arena said.
Ald. Tim Cullerton, 38th, also attended the hearing, and said there are other properties in the neighborhood that would be better suited for the church.
Also Friday, the Zoning Board of Appeals recommended approval of a plan by the Windy City Rollers women’s roller derby league to build a practice track in a building in Pilsen.
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