The New Regal Theater, an official historic and cultural landmark in Chicago’s Southshore neighborhood, is now entering its final phases of renovation, bringing the famed venue close to a grand reopening
The New Regal Theater, an official historic and cultural landmark in Chicago’s Southshore neighborhood, is now entering its final phases of renovation, bringing the famed venue close to a grand reopening.
Community Capital Investment Partners (CCIP) rescued the theater from bankruptcy in 2014 and the company is now finalizing its renovation plans. Among them, the theater’s plumbing and electrical will be upgraded, along with its audio and visual capabilities. Also, portions of the building’s near-100 year old terra cotta exterior will be replaced.
CCIP’s president, 30-year-old Chicago native Jerald Gary, has begun planning the venue’s first round of programming. A series of kickoff events, including concerts and community-enriching activities, are being set for the remainder of 2015. An opening date for a fully scheduled New Regal Theater is Q4 of 2016.
Gary said the goal of the venture is twofold: To return the New Regal Theater to its former glory as a beacon for performing arts on Chicago’s Southside and to create a much-needed catalyst for development in the struggling Southshore community. The theater’s rebirth could jumpstart the neighborhood’s economy, bringing tourism and jobs to the area.
“Growing up just blocks away from the theater, I saw first-hand how the community suffered from the negative economic impact that occurred when the theater shuttered its doors,” he explained. “My hope is that by bringing back this landmark, Chicago’s Southside can once again become a destination for performing arts, which will spur investment and recovery in the community.”
Gary points to revitalization efforts in cities such as Pittsburgh and Columbus as the blueprint for success. Those cities invested in the cultural arts as a mean to spark economic recovery and both now enjoy booming arts districts, bolstered ancillary businesses, such as restaurants, bars, galleries, real estate development and other tourism draws. The added tax revenue refilled those cities coffers, further perpetuating positive business cycles.
CCIP launched a Kickstarter campaign at the end of March that’s aimed at raising $100,000 to polish off the building’s renovations – a small fraction of the project’s $5 million total budget. The campaign is not only designed to drive donations to quicken the theater’s return, but to also raise awareness of the New Regal Theater’s impending reopening in Chicago and abroad.
A successful Kickstarter campaign, Gary said, could help the theater begin its programming within a few months. He explained that if the New Regal Theater can expedite its opening, driven by investment from civic and local leaders, the Southshore neighborhood will be that much closer to a more vibrant and safe neighborhood. Also, an earlier opening in 2015 will more quickly bring the area employment opportunities.
“We also plan to make the New Regal Theater an active community center – there is a significant elderly population in the neighborhood that we will introduce programming for, and we plan to create opportunities for the city’s youth to come learn about music and the arts,” he explained. “A successful Kickstarter campaign can help us reach these goals more quickly. And as we all know, a lot of the kids on Chicago’s Southside may not have another summer to wait for what could potentially be life-saving activities.”
A Rich History
In its heyday, the 2,250 seat New Regal Theater was the crown jewel of the Chicago’s music scene. It was a necessary tour stop for blues, rock and jazz giants, such as James Brown, Billie Holiday, Ray Charles, Duke Ellington and Diana Ross, among many other legends. When it opened in 1927, the theater was one of the country’s most ornate movie houses – the original silver screen still hangs there today.
The theater’s prime location at the intersection of four major arteries (79th St., South Chicago Ave., Stony Island Ave. and the Chicago Skyway) also offers the potential for economic revitalization to spread to other neighborhoods on Chicago’s Southside.
Jerald Gary is an Aviation and Finance graduate of the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign and attended high school at Providence St. Mel in Chicago. In 2014 he was named to Crain’s Chicago Business’ 20 in their 20s. An accomplished drummer, Gary attended the Merit School of Music and After School Matters programs as a young adult, cementing his love for Chicago’s performing arts scene.