Congress Theater revamp costs rise to $88M, council pushes project hearing

Baum Revision is requesting $27M in TIF funding

Baum Realty's David Baum with Congress Theater at 2136 North Milwaukee Avenue
Baum Realty's David Baum with Congress Theater at 2136 North Milwaukee Avenue (Baum Realty Group, Google Maps, Getty)

David Baum’s plans to renovate Chicago’s decrepit Congress Theater that has been closed for a decade have hit a snag amid tough hospitality workers union negotiations.

Baum’s firm Baum Revision, a developer known for restoring historic buildings, is requesting $27 million in tax-increment financing from the city to cover the rising cost of construction, Block Club Chicago reported.

“It’s been a bit of a game of whack-a-mole. Every time we think we’ve figured it out, pricing goes up,” Baum, one of the firm’s three principals along with Mark Waligora and Scott Goldman, told the outlet. “Construction pricing has not been going in the right direction, interest rates continue to go up, getting loans is more difficult and general costs — energy or anything else — have been going up.”

Baum’s plan to fully restore the 2,900-seat century-old concert hall at 2136 North Milwaukee Avenue hasn’t changed, he said, but the estimated cost of the renovation has shot up to $88 million, from last year’s $70.4 million estimate.

In addition to the theater restoration, plans consist of turning the property into 5,400 square feet of retail and restaurant space on Milwaukee Avenue and Rockwell Street as well as 16 apartments — 14 of which will be affordable — and office and work space on the second and third floors.

Last year, Chicago’s Community Development Commission approved the allocation of $20 million in TIF money for the project, but the proposal never made it to the City Council. It was on its way to be discussed in January with the support of Mayor Lori Lightfoot, but Ald. Daniel La Spata said city officials took it off the agenda at the last minute and kept it off the February agenda as well.

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The hang-up comes from local labor union UNITE HERE Local 1 and theater operator AEG Presents insisting on the city requiring a “good jobs commitment” from Baum.

“UNITE HERE Local 1 opposes the use of TIF or any public subsidy for the Congress Theater redevelopment because there is no commitment from AEG that all hospitality jobs created by the redevelopment will be good jobs,” union spokesperson Elliott Mallen told the outlet in an email.


 — Victoria Pruitt 

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