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Inside The $38M Renovation Of The Ramova Theatre, Bridgeport's Roaring '20s Crown Jewel


Although the newly renovated Ramova Theatre in Bridgeport has only been open since Dec. 31, hometown star Chance the Rapper has already performed there twice, including at a benefit concert celebrating his birthday in April.  

It helps that the Chicago recording artist is invested in the theater too. 

A stained-glass window inside the Ramova Theatre

Chance is a “big” equity partner in the theater, said Andrew Scott, a member attorney at law firm Dykema Gossett, which advised on the renovations. Other notable celebrities like Jennifer Hudson and Quincy Jones also invested in the renovation. Ramova Theatre developer Tyler Nevius wanted to ensure equity stakeholders were diverse and representative of the surrounding community, Scott said. 

“He wanted to give folks in the Black communities and the Hispanic communities the opportunity to have an equity stake in this, and he wanted it to be reflective of the South Side community in which he is operating,” Scott said. 

Scott added that several members of Bridgeport’s Asian American community are also equity participants. 

The Ramova Theatre

The Ramova Theatre opened as a single-screen cinema in 1929 and was a staple in the Bridgeport community until it shuttered in 1985. Almost 40 years later, the development team converted the old theater into a 1,800-person concert hall at a total project cost of about $38M. 

Bisnow toured the theater at an event hosted by Dykema Tuesday.

Nevius' development group, Our Revival LLC, bought up four separate parcels for the project, three of which it merged into one cohesive building. Nevius built out a craft brewery and taproom, bringing in Other Half Brewing from Brooklyn to operate it, and renovated the 18-seat Ramova Grill, reopening the neighborhood institution after it closed in 2012.

The other parcel is a parking lot across the street from the theater. 

The Ramova Theatre stage

The project’s capital stack was layered and included equity, Property Assessed Clean Energy financing, historic tax credits, tax increment financing, a state grant, conventional financing and bridge financing, Scott said.

Fitting all the financial pieces together was a challenging process that began with finding equity partners and continued with firming up public partnerships through TIF funding and state grant money, he said. 

With the capital in place, Scott said the developers then looked to debt markets and historic tax credits to fill in the remaining gaps. Initially, the development team aimed to close on the financing in the second quarter of 2020, but the onset of the pandemic put the closing date on pause for about a year, he said. 

The bar area at the Ramova Theatre

As a part of the renovation, McHugh Construction removed the movie theater seating and in its place built a multilevel concrete floor designed for optimal standing room concert sight lines. The developer restored aged stucco-style walls, archways and columns, bronze wrought-iron faux windows and balconies, a clay-tile roof line and the theater’s ceiling.

The construction company also installed a new speaker system, added high-powered air-conditioning infrastructure and built multiple bars in the back of the auditorium. The venue’s performers also have a greenroom to conduct business and get privacy.

O’Riley Office was the architect on the project, which McHugh built over more than two years. Dykema provided legal services.

A decorated wall inside the Ramova Theatre

“The South Side of Chicago is home to the majority of local artists, but it has had the least amount of high-quality space for them to perform and hone their craft — from an aesthetic as well as acoustic point of view,” Nevius said in a news release. “The city needed this and the South Side needed this.” 

Alderman Nicole Lee told Bisnow in February she sees the Ramova Theatre as an example of an economic driver for an area increasingly on edge about a potential White Sox relocation.  

“We've got a burgeoning arts community,” Lee said. “We've got the Ramova now that will have live performances and other events at their venue. We've got the Morgan Arts Complex, the Bridgeport Art Center, the [Zhou B Art Center]. There's a ton going on.”