It’s Curtains for the Performing Arts Center

Last spring a group of the city’s top executives got together to investigate the feasibility of building a new performing arts center to house the Lyric Opera and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Where does the matter stand 12 months later? Basically nowhere, which is about what this column expected. On May 20, Sara Lee chairman and CEO John H. Bryan mailed a letter to the 40 members of his blue-chip committee informing them that the feasibility study is on hold while trustees of the Lyric and the CSO explore other options, “including major renovation of existing facilities.”

The center appears to have lost crucial support from the CSO board, though no such message has been delivered to Bryan and no one seems to know if or when it will be. Said one CSO trustee of the current sentiment: “The patient has died; we’re in the process of engraving the tombstone.” At Lyric Opera, meanwhile, general director Ardis Krainik and her trustees remain staunchly in favor of a center and have notified Bryan to that effect. Krainik is convinced that no amount of renovation could sufficiently modernize the Civic Opera House to meet the Lyric’s requirements.

There’s no telling what prompted the CSO to go sour on the project after seeming so enthusiastic about it a year ago, but the apparent switch suggests a break in communication between the trustees, board president Richard L. Thomas, and executive director Henry Fogel. One trustee said Thomas never formally polled board members before joining the feasibility committee and suggested that Thomas was simply interested in “going along for the ride.” Thomas could not be reached for comment. Bryan’s memo unfortunately leaves Henry Fogel, a sharp administrator and one of the performing arts center’s biggest boosters, with egg on his face. Says Fogel: “I think there was a presupposition among some of us that it wasn’t possible to make Orchestra Hall suitable for the orchestra’s future needs, and it now appears that may not be the case.”

So the CSO board continues to investigate renovation of Orchestra Hall. One source said the board is leaning toward a $25 million plan that would include some enlargement of the present cramped stage space. If the CSO board goes forward with such a proposal, the members most likely will have to do the fund-raising themselves, though Fogel has hinted at a possible deal that would have Bryan’s committee raising funds for Orchestra Hall renovations and a new opera house. Stay tuned.

Store Wars: Record Retailers Prepare for Battle

Almost a year later than originally planned, Tower Records is readying its first Chicago store for opening in late August or early September. Tower, a major force in music retailing on the east and west coasts, will occupy the entire second floor of a new building at the corner of Clark and Belden. How much impact Tower’s arrival will have on the well-entrenched 31-store Rose Records chain remains to be seen, but both are known for the wide range of music they stock. “They [Tower] probably will be doing a lot of promotions leading up to Christmas,” predicts Rose Records co-owner Jim Rose. Tower likes to boast that it is open long hours (usually 9 AM to midnight) almost every day of the year, including holidays. Rose says such long hours would be unrealistic in many of his current locations, but he is taking other preemptive action. The record chain is talking with the League of Chicago Theatres about transforming existing Ticketmaster outlets in six Rose Records stores into satellite Hot Tix locations for the purchase of discounted theater tickets. In September, Rose also will take control of a new warehouse that will allow the chain to at least double the number of stores it can stock, and the company has plans to open new outlets in Chicago and other midwestern locations. In recent years Rose has expanded into Milwaukee, Madison, and downstate Illinois

The Recycling Tour

Dow Chemical Company has discovered a sexy way to talk to kids and adults about recycling: wrap the message in a glitzy MTV-style package of high-energy music and comedy. Dow’s slick Recycle This! arrives at the Arie Crown Theatre Monday for a four-day run at the end of a 100-city nationwide tour that cost Dow about $2 million. Dow had toyed with the idea of sending out a mobile recycling factory instead, but school administrators said that idea was “too boring,” according to one Dow executive. Recycle This! is open to the public but will probably play mostly to school groups and conventioneers attending the National Plastics Exhibition at McCormick Place.

Battle of the Garage Sales

Two small musical organizations, the 7-year-old Basically Bach and the 14-year-old Chicago String Ensemble, are engaged in a battle of garage sales. Unbeknownst to each other, both groups scheduled sales in Wilmette on June 22 (the CSE’s sale starts on the 21st). This is the CSE’s second annual sale; according to general manager Mary Jo Deysach, three players in the ensemble organized last year’s sale and surprised themselves by raising $1,000–a small part of the company’s $163,000 operating budget, but a part nonetheless. The CSE also used the sale as a promotional opportunity, passing out subscription brochures and complimentary tickets. In its first goround with the garage sale, Basically Bach has set no fund-raising goal. Christie Enman, the group’s executive director, is promising salegoers a shot at four couches and a collection of smoking pipes, among other items. Deysach thinks the competition will help both parties: “Bigger crowds show up when there is more than one garage sale going on.”

Club Update

With Ka-Boom! now open for business, more clubs are ready to open this summer. First up this weekend is the Vault, an art museum and underground-music dance club open Saturday nights only at 915 W. Hubbard. The Vault will be operated by the Random Productions team of Leigh Nealy and Tim Portokalis, who also dreamed up the Fashion Patrol, which issued citations for offensive outfits and hairdos at area clubs last fall. On June 25, special events planner Carey Weiman unveils the Prop House, an 8,500-square-foot club and adjacent garden at 1675 N. Elston catering to the over-30 crowd. Weiman is decorating the space with hundreds of Hollywood props and posters and 50 free continuous-play arcade games; music will range from Motown to 50s beach tunes.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Charles Eshelman.