I.C.E. Chatham 14 Theater is renamed Chatham 14 and is under new management.
The Chatham community’s only movie theater reopened recently after its operators were evicted and — the storied chain of events that led to Donzell and Alisa Starks’ ousting of the enterprise they brought to the bustling strip mall near 87th Street and Wentworth Avenue is the tale of a business relationship gone bad. But the Starks recently told the Chicago Citizen that they plan to take their big screen ordeal to court.
“This is a man that we have known, that we trusted. We trusted that he shared our vision and understood. But it changed,” said Alisa Starks at the Chicago Citizen’s headquarters.
The man she is speaking of is Michael Silver, a capital investor, whom the Starks invited into their business fold in May 2007 when they were strapped for cash. It was during the wake of spiking mortgage interest rates and after the Starks’ relationship with Sony Loews theater management ended because that company filed for bankruptcy.
The Starks’ relationship with Sony Loews was tied to the mortgage of all three of the theaters they owned: Chatham-14 Theater, Western-10 at 62nd Street and Western Avenue and Lawndale-10 on the West Side located on Roosevelt Road. Silver was only involved with the Chatham-14 theater.
“The reason I was brought in was because the lender…was going to repossess the building. So the Starks asked me to provide financial support, to make personal guarantees and to provide capital for the building and become a part owner of the building and the theater operation with them,” Silver told the Chicago Citizen.
When the Starks brought Silver in, the three established business structures that in short gave Silver managing control over the operation. However he and the Starks co-owned the theater building and the land it sits on. Even with the Oct. 19 eviction, the Starks and Silver still co-own the real-estate.
Alisa said she got an inkling in 2010 that the Starks’ relationship with Silver was headed down a rocky path.
Silver and the Starks told the Chicago Citizen they each wanted to make capital improvements to the theater which would have brought the latest digital film technology and upgrades allowing popular 3-D capabilities to the movie house. But both sides say the recession hit the business hard.
Silver explained that once the theater had parted ways with its professional theater operators — Marcus Cinemas and F&F Management– he agreed with the Starks to allow the couple to take over operating. In hindsight, he said, that wasn’t a good idea.
“I wasn’t happy with the financial performance and I wasn’t happy with the basic…theater operations,” said Silver. “And I felt it wasn’t serving Chatham well.”
Earlier this year, Silver began the eviction process in court. As the managing partner he took the Starks to court for outstanding “rent” as the theater operators. Both sides said they didn’t want it to come down to such action.
The Starks said they began to expedite their plan to buy Silver out and were close to a deal as the sides went back and forth to court. The couple had until late September to make a move but Silver said they ran out of time which was evidenced by the big neon green eviction sign on the movie house’s door on Oct. 19. At the time, the theater was preparing for a busy Tyler Perry’s “Alex Cross” film opening.
“He is using his role as managing partner to control some things in a certain way that we’re objecting to,” Alisa Starks said about Silver.
Silver said the couple had at least six months to ante up and buy him out, or altogether step aside. When they didn’t, he put them out.
“They agreed in writing that if they were unsuccessful in buying that interest, they would voluntarily step down and allow a new operator to take their place,” he said. “I was very, very upset because I did not want to disrupt that theater or the Chatham community. But I had no choice but to evict them.”
According to documents available on the Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court’s website, the owner of the Chatham theater property is 210 W. 87th Chicago TH, LLC (Silver and the Starks) and eviction proceedings began in March against I.C.E. Development (the Starks) which operated the theater. According to the electronic docket, the Starks owe at least $725,000. Alisa Starks said the couple needed just shy of $10 million to buyout Silver.
Silver said he wants the theater to be a “community hub” for Chatham. He accused the Starks of paying more attention to the Lawndale Theater than Chatham.
The couple had been praised in the African American community for bringing movie theaters back to local areas. In 1997 they opened the three movie houses and said then that it was a $39 million dream fulfilled.
The Western-10 and Lawndale-10 theaters eventually closed in 2007, but the Lawndale-10 location reopened last year.
F&F Management is now operating Chatham and Silver said he is expecting to make at least $1 million in capital improvements.
John Scaletta, vice president of F&F Management, said that the Chatham -14 theater workers who wanted to stay on had been retained and that all of the African American vendors and contractors — except for the security company — are still intact. He added that all of the managers are still at the theater, as well.
“The Starks did something really, really important. They brought entertainment to the South Side of Chicago when no one else would,” said Scaletta.
The battle over Chatham will move to the courts, the Starks said. Still, Lawndale remains open under them and they look forward to reopening Western in the future.
By Rhonda Gillespie