Black-owned theater reopens on South Side

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By CHINTA STRAUSBERG

The South Side, black-owned theater at the center of a dispute between the owners and their business partner has reopened.

The West Chatham ICE Theater at 210 West 87th St. temporarily closed two weeks ago but reopened last Friday. Co-owners Alisa and Donzell Starks has had a two-year dispute with their business partner, Michael Silver, over upgrades to the complex proposed by the couple and over the hiring of the theater's security firm, among other issues.

The Starks jointly own their property and theater with Silver but separately manage the theater's operations themselves. The Starks own a second South Side theater as well as the Lawndale 10 Cinema at 3330 W. Roosevelt on the West Side.

The couple also vows to fight the efforts of Silver to evict them from their South Side property. Silver denies that charge.

"It is a little disheartening this time to have an investor make such a drastic decision to impact the business," Starks said.

"We've been in battle for awhile," she adds. "We are partners, but we knew he had gone behind our backs and started an eviction process without our knowledge. But, once we found out, we entered into an agreement to buy him out. The closing was imminent. He had a stay on the eviction and was adamant about taking it all the way. Once the agreement was reached to take him out of the partnership, he put a stay on the eviction."

The Starks had asked the lender for 30-more days to buy Silver out. Instead, their partner slapped an eviction notice on the theater, affecting not only the couple but their roughly 35 employees as well, workers who also live in the community. The couple's mission has been to have minority involvement, specifically African Americans, in their theaters to reflect the community.

The Starks' Inner City Entertainment (ICE) company has been in business since 1997. In 2007, they became business partners with Silver.

Silver refutes many of the allegations against him, namely that he never blocked efforts by the Starks to transition to a digital system, or that he fired the black-owed security firm that couple hired in favor of a white-owned company.

As for the couple's other South Side theater at 62 and Western, Starks insist they still own that one along with Lawndale 10.

"We closed Lawndale and Western in 2007 and brought in this partner (Silver) to help us go forward with Chatham so we never had to close Chatham," she said. "We reopened Lawndale in 2011 with some new market tax credit funding and we're planning to redevelop the Western property and reopen in 2013."

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