The Crusader Newspaper Group

Former mayoral candidate Ja’Mal Green hoping to buy Cinema Chatham

Cinema Chatham

Former mayoral candidate and activist Ja’Mal Green said he is in talks to purchase the shuttered Cinema Chatham, which closed its doors at the end of January, 2024, the Crusader has learned.

It’s the latest development in the closure of Cinema Chatham, located near 87th and the Dan Ryan, which Green says will no longer be a movie theater under his plans to redevelop the site.

Ja’Mal Green

Green also told the Crusader the property is in foreclosure after accumulating over $5 million in debt. He said owner Jon Goldstein is allowing the bank to handle any offers to buy the building.

The Crusader could not fully confirm whether Green was in talks to buy the Cinema Chatham because Green would not disclose the name of the bank. Cinema Chatham’s owner Goldstein, in a text message, said he could not comment on potential buyers but said, “Hopefully, I can speak about it soon.”

There are also questions as to where Green will get millions of dollars needed to purchase the building, but sources on Tuesday, February 6, told the Crusader Green expressed interest in purchasing the facility at 210 W. 87th St. During a phone interview with the Crusader, Green confirmed that he is in talks to buy the site and redevelop it into another business that will not include the 14-screen movie complex.

“It’s not going to be a movie theatre,” Green told the Crusader. “We’re going to build retail on the land, and it will be a full development project. We have a special purpose for the building, but I can’t say until we lock it down. It won’t be a movie theater, but it will have some elements of a movie theater. The building will be re-constructed.”

Green explained how the talks came about after the Cinema Chatham closed.

“When I saw it happen, I reached out to Emagine Entertainment. Me and Jon had a call. We’re very interested in buying the property more than anybody,” Green told the Crusader.

Green said the talks are in the early stages. But he said during conversations, he learned that Cinema Chatham is at least $5 million in debt. Questions remain as to how the facility accumulated that much debt. The facility had a multi-million-dollar renovation under Studio Movie Grill and another renovation in 2017 for an undisclosed amount.

Saying the property is in good condition, Green told the Crusader that despite the enormous debt that comes with owning the property, he’s moving forward in the talks. Green said he hopes he can buy the property and negotiate the debt down to $2 million, or $3 million.

“They have too much debt for us to deal directly with them. No one is going to pay that ridiculous amount of money [for the property] so the owners are just going to give it back to the bank.”

When asked where he would get the money to buy the property, Green said.

“Folks don’t know that I own residential property. I’m a broker and have several businesses I’m involved in.”

Green said he has not informed Alderman Ronnie Mosley (21st) of his plans to buy Cinema Chatham.

“This is a private sale. If it were a city sale, it would be different,” Green said. “Once it gets to that point, we’ll have a talk.”

Mosley last week during an interview with ABC7 described the facility’s closure as a “blow to the arts and entertainment scene of the 21st Ward.”

In a statement, Emagine Entertainment said, “It is with deep regret that Cinema Chatham, a franchise operator under the Emagine brand, announces its closure. The decision comes because of the business at this specific location no longer being economically viable.”

For some South Side residents, the facility was more than a 14-screen movie theater. Over the years it grew into a community center where residents enjoyed mingling at the facility’s 40-seat bar, eating hot food at booths and tables in the lobby, or renting affordable event space that hosted live bands and entertainment.

When the facility closed last week, the South Side lost not only a movie theater but a one-stop, full-service affordable venue that gave families many entertainment attractions where there are few to be found on the South Side. Parking was free and movie tickets were known to be the cheapest in Chicago.

Today, the beloved venue is closed, but questions remain as to why the facility, which was renovated a second time after the pandemic, failed to regain the popularity it had before the COVID-19 public health crisis.

Afrika Porter, owner of public relations firm Afrika Enterprises, said her company held at least 20 events a year at Cinema Chatham. She told the Crusader things were going great under Studio Movie Grill, but when ownership changed to Cinema Chatham under Emagine Entertainment things got complicated.

In 2021, Emagine Entertainment oversaw a renovation that included large new black and white photos of Black Oscar-winning Hollywood stars in the lobby and on the exterior of the building. New soft drink vending machines offering 300 different beverage combinations were installed, and new concession countertops and desks were built.

Gone was Studio Movie Grill’s fancy menu and luxury service that brought foods like coconut shrimp directly to patrons’ seats as they watched movies. At Cinema Chatham, hot dogs, popcorn and common theater foods were served. Some patrons told the Crusader that unlike Studio Movie Grill, the quality of the food, the long lines at concession stands and broken kiosks made Cinema Chatham less appealing than in the past.

Porter said things began to decline after manager Vanisha White abruptly left the company. Porter said she was let go, but the Crusader was unable to confirm that.

“When they grew, they got rid of some people there in leadership. It was always great coming to that theater,” Porter said.

“Vanisha always helped me set up meetings and events there. Vanisha brought a beautiful spirit and light from the community because she was from the community. When she was no longer there, it just changed the whole dynamics of the atmosphere.

“It was the community space. I’m talking about fashion shows, birthday parties, receptions and so many other events. We built community there. To go from then to now, it was quite alarming.”

Another patron, Carl West, publisher of online news site TBT News, said he visited Cinema Chatham once a week to see a movie.

“I would usually go during the day. Many times I’m still the only person in the theater at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. I know there weren’t enough people going to the theatre.”

West said he would sometimes go to Harper Theater in Hyde Park, but many times he preferred going to Cinema Chatham.

“It was a neighborhood theater, and the parking was free. I tried to go to Hyde Park, but a lot of times they didn’t have the latest movie,” he said.

Cinema Chatham struggled like many movie theaters after the pandemic, when Hollywood produced fewer blockbuster films attracting people to the big screen. Movie theaters also competed against streaming services like Hulu and Netflix, which gained hundreds of millions of subscribers who had grown used to watching films at home.

But there were other factors that kept moviegoers away.

In 2021 and 2022, violent crime spiked in Chicago and other big cities. In the final months of Cinema Chatham, management there implemented a strict policy of not allowing teenagers in the facility without an adult.

“I heard there were a lot of car break-ins at night because they knew people were in the theater watching a movie for a couple of hours,” West said.

South Shore resident Brian McCoy said he stopped visiting the theater when it was no longer owned by a Black couple (Alisa and Donzell Starks). “I never felt comfortable going there. I didn’t feel safe or comfortable sitting down and enjoying some popcorn.”

With the closure of Cinema Chatham, residents on the South Side have few places to go to see movies in Chicago. Now, to see a movie, residents on the South Side must travel to Harper Theater, nearly 7 miles south. That facility is much smaller with just four movie screens.

Unlike Cinema Chatham, Harper Theater doesn’t have a bar, restaurant or an event space large enough to host a birthday or graduation party. In addition to higher ticket prices, patrons must also pay for parking in an area known for drivers getting parking tickets.

For Porter, Cinema Chatham’s closure is a painful loss to Chicago’s South Side.

“We all helped that facility succeed because we gave them so much business,” Porter said. “This [place] meant a lot to me because we didn’t want to go downtown. We wanted to stay in our neighborhood. Parking was free and all the beautiful Black pictures of Hollywood movie stars in the lobby, it made you feel proud.”

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