Redevelopment plan calls for $22.9 million investment in Ramova Theater for live entertainment, dining venue
December 6, 2019

Plans to create a major entertainment venue out of the Ramova Theatre and adjoining grill received a positive reception from most of the approximately 200 Bridgeport residents at a recent community meeting.

By Patrick Butler

The first of what Ald. Patrick Thompson (11th) promises will be a series of community meetings on plans to create a major entertainment venue out of the long-shuttered Ramova Theatre and adjoining grill received a positive reception from most of the approximately 200 Bridgeport residents at a Nov. 19 meeting at Nativity of Our Lord Church, 652 W. 37th St.

Tyler Nevius, the project’s developer, who grew up in Wicker Park and became a New York City-based financial director for Endeavor, the entertainment agency headed by Ari Emanuel, brother of former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, explained the project.

Nevius said he plans to settle in Bridgeport permanently, because “for us, this isn’t about a commercial or financial investment, but something for a bigger cause and purpose.”

Another major player in the project is Kevin Hickey, an owner of the Duck Inn restaurant, 2701 S. Eleanor St.

As alderman, Thompson helped put together the deals between Nevius and City officials.

Nevius said he founded the company Our Revival Chicago to focus on renovating the Ramova Theatre and next door grill. He expects the project will start this spring and probably take several months. When completed, the renovated Ramova will present live entertainment such as plays and concerts two or three nights a week, with shows ending by 11 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on weekends, Nevius promised.

Thompson said the plans could go before the Community Development Commission as early as Tuesday, Dec. 10. If the project gets a green light, the City Plan Commission needs to review it; a favorable response there means the next and last stop is going to the full City Council for a final vote.

Opening in 2021

Nevius hopes to break ground early next year. He expects the $22.9 million reconstruction of both properties would take 16 months, with an opening date in summer or fall 2021.

He said all parts of the Ramova—theatre, parking lot, and refreshment areas—would open on the same day.

Nevius noted he and the Ramova staff would schedule their own events with a full time programmer, instead of the usual practice of turning to a national scheduling company.

Hickey, who is involved in the dining part of the project, promised neighbors that the reborn Ramova Grill would feature the same chili, tamales, and sodas they enjoyed as kids.

While most neighbors hailed the plans, some raised concern that increased traffic and people trying to park would cause congestion on neighborhood side streets.

Not to worry, said Thompson, noting the parking lot on the corner of Halsted and 35th Streets will accommodate 50 self-parked cars. He also has contacted nearby schools about renting their lots to handle traffic overflow; by leasing the lots during hours they typically are vacant, the schools could raise needed money for education. Plans call for enlarging the theatre’s seating from 1,500 to 1,800.

Thompson added the Ramova and the City would sign a community benefits agreement to be developed with neighborhood input.

According to the Department of Planning and Development, the City paid $285,000 for the theatre in 2001 and so far has spent about $364,000 on maintenance such as roof repairs in the 18 years since taking over the property.

TIF subsidy

Nevius said the City sold the theatre and a side lot to his company for $1, in return for Nevius’s pledge to maintain control of the Ramova for at least ten years. Nevius said his company also buying several properties near the theatre with the help of a $6.64 million TIF subsidy, which City officials feel is necessary not only to revitalize the property but because it will create 110 construction and 80 permanent jobs. Should Nevius or his company fail to meet its obligation to maintain control for ten years, Nevius or his company must return the TIF money to the City.

Among those cheering the announcement at the Nov. 19 meeting that the Ramova finally was ready to show its plans was Maureen Sullivan, a real estate agent who helped organize the Save the Ramova Theater campaign with her late husband.

“The area is ripe for this,” said Sullivan, who admitted she’s “cautiously optimistic” and hopeful as supporters such as Hickey joined the preservation effort.

The Ramova opened with a showing of The Desert Song in 1929 on the same day the Music Box Theatre debuted on the North Side, and the Ramova closed in April 1985 with Police Academy 2.

Thompson said he last visited the Ramova to see Grease back in the late 1970s.

In 1940, film icon Charlie Chaplin hosted the Chicago premiere of his movie The Great Dictator, an unflattering satire of Germany’s Adolf Hitler, at the Ramova.

To contact Thompson’s office, call (773) 254-6677. For Nevius, call Endeavor at (212) 586-5100.