The following article appeared in the News-Star following Alderman Joe Moore’s community meeting last week. If you have questions regarding the proposed development, or wish to share your opinion on the proposal with Alderman Moore, please contact Michael Land at the 49th Ward Service Office.
Morse restaurant/theater plan well-received
November 8, 2006
By LORRAINE SWANSON Staff Writer
Developers were pleasantly surprised by 49th ward residents’ enthusiastic response to their plans for a commercial development along a desolate strip of Morse Avenue during a community meeting at the United Church of Rogers Park on Nov. 1.
Ald. Joe Moore’s (49th) community meetings have garnered a reputation for putting developers on the hot seat in front of residents, even when zoning changes are not needed.
Plans for the proposed Century Public House and Morse Theater include a 100-seat restaurant and 300-seat theater on the site of the former Cobbler’s Mall at 1328 W. Morse Ave.
The project is headed up by long-time, Rogers Park residents Andy and Devin McGhee, and their partner Bill Kerpan, of Grayslake.
The McGhees plan to offer acoustic entertainment including jazz, gospel, folk and Americana music in the theater. The restaurant will offer hearty Midwest fare, with an historic menu reminiscent of restaurants at the turn of the 20th century.
“There will be no raucous rock shows. This is a seated concert venue,” Andy McGhee told the packed meeting
While residents are anxious to have quality entertainment in their own backyard, they weren’t ready to let the McGhees go before addressing their concerns about parking for 100 or more cars on evenings that offer entertainment. Code requirements are very low for parking because of the restuarant and theater’s proximity to the Morse L Station.
“No one is more concerned about parking than me. Without parking, we’re dead,” McGhee said.
“We don’t know how many people will drive, walk or take the L, but we will resolve it before we open. But I urge any of you to walk down Morse tonight and ask yourselves if it can stay this way forever, or we can anchor this street,” McGhee, said referring to the street’s many shuttered storefronts.
Matthew Bowker, owner of The Morseland at 1218 W. Morse Ave., and the newly elected president of the Morse Avenue Special Service Area, said that SSA representatives are identifying areas close to the venue that can rent out parking, including nearby churches and schools.
“I’m excited to have a project like this on the block,” Bowker said.
“It’s good business practice to provide different services for the neighborhood. The SSA is backing the project and is working to enable multiple businesses to access parking,” Bowker added.
The McGhees have invested millions into their project and are receiving no public tax money. Plans are to restore the building with environmentally-sensitive building materials that originally opened as a Nickelodeon vaudeville theater in 1912. Throughout the years, it has been used as a movie theater, synagogue and combination shoe repair and haberdashery shop. The building has stood empty since the early 1970s.
Restoration efforts are being led by Andersonville-architect Tom Green, who specializes in historic building preservation. Green will attempt to restore the building’s original terra cotta facade. The McGhees have also contracted Audience Logistics to handle promotions. Former WBEZ and Old Town School of Folk Music programmer Rona Hoffberg will handle bookings.
McGhee said the musical venue and restaurant is targeting an over-35 demographic, “People who have jobs and kids, but love music and have to be at their jobs the next morning at 7:45.”
“It goes up to anyone who still has a pulse but hears Miles Davis and is 25 again. Our customers are more about what they do and what their responsibilities are,” McGhee added.
The theater will offer a variety of entertainment, such as vintage and independent films on weekday evenings, and musical entertainment on the weekends. Children’s programming will fill in weekend afternoons.
Evening entertainment is designed to let out by 10 p.m. weekends, and 11 p.m. or midnight on weekends, on rare occasions where two shows are booked Friday and Saturday evenings. The restaurant will operate from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m., seven days a week. The McGhees are requesting entertainment and liquor licenses with food service.
The McGhees hope to open The Century Public House and Morse Theater in February or March 2008.
“We’re trying to build an institution in Chicago that will last for a long, long time,” McGhee said.
McGhee had nothing but high praise for Moore, who has been criticized in the past for being slow to revitalize the Morse Avenue and Howard Street commercial areas.
“Joe has been most gracious and very helpful. He understands that we’re going to help the community and that this will be good for the street. He’s been very proactive on this project,” McGhee said.
Moore said the Century Public House and Morse Theater project is emblematic of developing Morse Avenue as an arts and entertainment district.
“Clearly the street is not a huge, busy thoroughfare, so the idea of getting top-of-the-line retail establishments on Morse is probably not realistic,” Moore said.
“Having these kinds of entertainment venues and the smaller businesses that feed off them is something I see for the future of Morse Avenue. We pride ourselves in this neighborhood of not trying to be like anyone else. Duke’s, the Heartland, the Heartland Theater and Lifeline Theater – what you see is a burgeoning arts and entertainment district,” Moore added.
Moore said he is not adverse to building a parking facility on Morse Avenue.
“As we get more businesses a parking garage might occur. Certainly it something I would look at very favorably by any private developer who would come in and develop an attractive parking facility,” Moore said.