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Portage Theater: Chicago Tabernacle Drops Plan To Buy Historic Movie House

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The Portage Theater, a Chicago landmark in Portage Park. The Chicago Tabernacle has withdrawn its plan to purchase the movie house.
The Portage Theater, a Chicago landmark in Portage Park. The Chicago Tabernacle has withdrawn its plan to purchase the movie house.

A church has apparently had a change of heart when it comes to its previously expressed desire to purchase a historic Chicago movie theater in the city's Portage Park neighborhood and convert it into a house of worship.

After the surrounding community lashed out against the Chicago Tabernacle's plans to purchase the Portage Theater, 4050 N. Milwaukee, the church has withdrawn its bid, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. The church is now in "final negotiations" to buy another site.

"This has been a long and arduous process and we are glad to see progress in the search for a new home for our church family that better suits our needs," the tabernacle said in a statement, according to the paper.

WBEZ reports that the church's announcement came just one day before a Zoning Board of Appeals hearing that was to decide the fate of a special use permit they applied for in March. The permit would have allowed them to operate the 92-year-old theater as a church and remove its marquee among a number of key structural changes.

Ald. John Arena (45th) previously alerted fans of the theater to his office's dealings with the ministry and helped stir up a resounding backlash to the plan. A Facebook group -- titled "Save the Portage Theater" -- attracted over 3,500 likes and renowned film critic Roger Ebert urged his 675,000-plus Twitter followers to "help save" the movie house.

"Nothing drives the economy like a cultural attraction such as the Portage Theater," Arena told the Chicago Tribune, noting that he has worked with the tabernacle to find an alternate location.

The church had previously refused to abandon their plan to buy the building, which has been on the market since last August with a listing price of $2.75 million plus property taxes. The theater's current owners' lease of the building lasts until 2015.

The Portage Theater is one of a handful of classic Chicago movie houses recognized in Preservation Chicago's 2012 most endangered list. Check out more at-risk local landmarks below.

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