While numerous attempts had been made over the years to restore the historic Uptown Theatre, none came to fruition until Jam Productions purchased the building in 2008 for $3.2 million. The historic character of the Uptown Theater was a major motivating factor for buyer Jerry Mickelson, co-owner of Jam Productions. “It’s one of the nicest ever designed, ever built in this country. They’ll never do it again. It’s so grand, so ornate, so large… It’s so unique in today’s world,” said Mickelson. The high cost of restoring this massive and severely neglected building, however, meant that restoration could not begin right away.
In 2018, it was announced that Mickelson and Farpoint Development had partnered, as the costly rehabilitation project required a large public-private partnership to pull together the necessary pieces for renovations. The project’s budget is $75 million, with about $16 million coming from City of Chicago funds. Financing this massive project is also possible due to the building’s multiple landmarks statuses, which entitle the project to numerous historic tax incentives. In November 2018, the Chicago Community Development Commission signed off on $13 million in tax increment financing (TIF) for the project. The city will also reportedly provide $14 million in property assessed clean energy financing and $3 million through the Chicago’s Adopt-a-Landmark program. Landmarks Illinois’ ongoing commitment to campaigning for the federal historic tax credit program and the creation of a state historic tax credit program in Illinois is critical to the success of the Uptown rehabilitation, which could not move forward without such incentives.
Work at the Uptown Theatre is slated to begin in summer 2019, with a completion date during 2021. The renovated theater is planned as a centerpiece of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s long-promised revitalized Uptown music district, which will also include the Aragon Ballroom, the Riviera Theatre, the Green Mill jazz lounge and the Uptown Underground cabaret. “We’ve never had the right team, momentum and resources to make this happen, but now you have a combination of owner, developer, mayor, planning commissioner, and alderman working together to save the Uptown,” said Andy Pierce, a volunteer with the Friends of the Uptown Theatre group. “This is a different level of commitment.”
In November 2018, Landmarks Illinois teamed up with Jam Productions and Farpoint Development to host a unique event for our Real Estate & Building Industries Council members and supporters: a rare tour inside the Uptown Theater on the eve of the renovation. At the event, Mickelson, co-owner of Jam Productions, explained to guests that the rehabilitation would update infrastructure and fix the facades, but retain as closely as possible the original aesthetics of the historic theater. “It was built as one of the best theaters in this country, and why change it? There’s no reason to,” Mickelson said.
(June 2018 press conference, announcing rehabilitation project of theater. Credit: Landmarks Illinois)