For the past four years, the former ICE Lawndale 10 movie theater, 3330 W Roosevelt Rd., has been empty.
If people who live in North Lawndale and East and West Garfield Parks want to see a movie, they either have to go to Galewood's AMC Classic Galewood Crossings 14, Cicero's AMC Showplace Cicero 14, or head to the Loop.
Now, the recently formed Cinemas Entertainment LLC is looking to reopen the space. The company already owns a movie theater in Indiana and it is looking to expand in Illinois.
According to Ald. Michael Scott (24th), the facility will be a family-friendly venue with some kind of a dining component. According to Cinema Treasures, a website that catalogues information about movie theaters past and present, North Lawndale had 13 movie theaters throughout its history. All of them are currently closed and many of the buildings have been demolished.
ICE Lawndale 10 was the newest theater of the bunch. As previously reported by Austin Weekly News, in 1997, Inner City Entertainment and Cineplex Odeon set out to open movie theaters in the majority-black communities where movie theaters closed decades ago.
Aside from ICE Lawndale 10, they opened ICE Chatham 14 in South Side's West Chatham neighborhood and ICE 62nd and Western in Marquette Park. In 2007, the company closed Lawndale 10 and the Marquette Park theaters.
Lawndale 10 reopened in 2011, after ICE co-owners, husband and wife Donzel and Alisa Starks, partnered with Michael Silver. But in late October 2012, this newspaper reported that the partners had a falling out, with the Starks accusing Silver of trying to block their attempt to convert theater projectors from film to digital, and alleging that he fired a black-owned security firm to give the contract to a white firm without their consent.
At the time, Silver denied both allegations. After the spat, Silver tried to evict ICE from the Chatham 11 space. Lawndale 10 was shut down for good in 2013.
According to a report in Crain's Chicago Business, ICE filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in August 2015. Chatham 11 has since been purchased by Studio Movie Grill, and it remains open to this day, but the other two ICE theaters have been vacant ever since.
During Scott's May 22 community meeting, which was held at the Douglas Park Fieldhouse, 1401 S Sacramento Dr., Terri Cox, senior vice president of Matanky Realty Group, which owns the building, said that another company is looking to reopen the theater in July.
In a follow-up interview, Cox said that the new operator is known as Cinemas Entertainment LLC. It already operates a theater in Indiana and it is looking to expand into Illinois and elsewhere in the Midwest.
Matanky Realty approached them about a year ago to see if they would be interested in the three movie theater spaces the company owns: Lawndale 10, ICE 62nd and Western and Park Forest Theater. A couple of months later, they expressed interest in the North Lawndale space "to start with" and that they were still considering the other two spaces.
"They are planning on opening chain of about 15 [theaters]," Cox said.
She declined to share details about the owners, saying only that one of them is an investment banker and the rest are real estate investors. Dennis Deer, a member of the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council's Executive Commitee, told this newspaper that one of the owners was named Henry Fong.
The company's Facebook page, its only online presence, didn't contain any information about the owners. It did have some photos of crews doing extensive interior renovations, as well as some exterior work. Attempts to contact the owners was unsuccessful.
During the May 22 meeting, Scott ofered a few more details.
"[The owner] wants to do a family-friendly thing in the lobby, like Dave and Buster's," he said. "And he's been looking to put in a dining experience."
Under Studio Movie Grill ownership, Chatham 14 has been allowing customers to order food and drinks, and have those drinks delivered to their seats.
Deer said that his organization had some preliminary discussion with the owners, who indicated that the movie theater component would open before the opening of a Dave and Busters-type dining area. He also indicated that they are replacing the seats with "big plush" ones.
Deer also said that the owners pledged to hire locally, though he had no idea how many jobs would be created.
"It's all very preliminary, which is why we want to set up a meeting with Mr. Fong and let him know who we are, because we see ourselves as the community guardians," Deer said.
The exact timeline for the opening is unclear. Cox said that the owner aims to open in July while Scott said it would open sometime this summer. Deer said he doesn't expect it to open until early fall.
Sheila McNary, another member of NLCC Executive Committee and a chair of its arts and culture sub-committee, said that she was intrigued by what she heard so far.
"I think it's a great idea," she said." It shows growth in the community and, hopefully, they will have input from us to be successful, because we all love great movie [theaters]."
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