Black-owned theater at center of dispute

South Side complex scheduled to reopen on Friday after closing last week

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By CHINTA STRAUSBERG

The owners of an African-American chain of Chicago movie theaters vows to reopen one of their sites this week after temporarily closing last week due to a dispute with their business partner.

Alisa Starks, co-owner of Inner City Entertainment, said the West Chatham ICE Theater on the South Side will reopen this Friday. Starks and her husband, Donzell, have had an ongoing battle with business partner Michael Silver, a prominent Chicago businessman, since 2010, according to sources close to the situation. The couple first linked up with Silver in 2007. The Starks also own a theater on the West Side.

The dispute reportedly began in late 2010 when the Starks fought to upgrade the South Side complex but Silver allegedly blocked their efforts.

"As a result, the theater has suffered over the last two-years," said the source, who asked not to be named.

The Starks reportedly wanted to convert to a digital system and make other capital improvements. Under the partnership agreement, the Starks and Silver own the property and the theater, located at 210 87th Street, which sits on 11-acres formerly owned by Home Depot. The Starks, however, separately own the theater's operations.

According to sources, Silver, who is the manager of the partnership, reportedly fired the black security firm that the Starks employed and hired a white one. There was no cost benefit for such a transition, according to sources. When contacted, Mr. Silver responded, "I never managed the theater. I have ownership interests."

He denied firing the black security guard company and replacing it with a white firm.

"This is a good community and it should be there for the community," Silver said. "As a property owner, I am very committed to Chatham, to the community and continuous improvement programs for the theater. I'd rather not say it. I will show it."

Silver also denied allegations that he blocked the Starks from going digital. "We are committed to a digital program," he said. Silver denied allegations that he was trying to boot the Starks from the property, saying: "I wasn't trying to evict the Starks. We are reopening the theater as of this Friday."

He added that the Starks were attempting to buy out his interest.

"We gave them a lot of months to do that. There was an understanding that they agreed to if they can't purchase the theater, they would allow us to manage the building. That was agreed to," Silver said.

He added that the theater is in need of a continued modernization program.

"It requires capital, maintenance and the outreach programs," Silver said.

Sources close to the situation, however, maintain that the Starks are upset and stunned over Silver's attempts to evict them from their theater and property. That move reportedly came at a time when the Starks were close to a deal to refinance the theater without Silver in the picture. They had an agreement to buy Silver out of their partnership. The couple had set a date to close their theater at the end of September and reopen it without Silver.

Along with the West Chatham ICE Theater, the couple also owns Lawndale 10 Theater at Roosevelt and Homan in neighboring North Lawndale. The Starks have been in business for 15 years.

"We've been in battle for awhile," said Alisa Starks. "We are partners, but we knew he had gone behind our backs and started an eviction process without our knowledge."

Austin Weekly News will have more coverage of this story in next week's paper.

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