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Chicago City Council Passes New Performing Arts Venue License

Chicago Theatre News

Breakthrough legislation which makes doing business with the city easier for live theaters in Chicago was published and made effective officially last week at the December 7th Chicago City Council meeting.

The new legislation, ushered through by 46th Ward Alderman Helen Shiller, establishes a brand new Performing Arts Venue (PAV) license specifically for live theaters with under 500 seats.  The legislation expands the areas where theater venues may locate within the city, and cuts much of the red tape that accompanied application for the Public Place of Amusement (PPA) license. Successful passage of the PAV license follows nearly two years of negotiations and unprecedented collaboration between city government and the League of Chicago Theatres, the trade and marketing association for 180 Chicago-area theaters and theater companies.

Mayor Richard M. Daley was committed to developing this new license type, and dedicated a city task force including representatives from his office and top personnel at the new Department of Business Affairs and Licensing, Department of Revenue, Department of Finance, Department of Cultural Affairs, and the Chicago Fire Department.  With additional guidance from Alderman Shiller, the task force crafted a new PAV license which:

  •  Carries a shorter application form - The new PAV application is approximately 6 pages.  The PPA application was more than 20 pages when discussions first began.

  • Brings theaters into more neighborhoods - The new PAV allows any theater up to 500 seats (in aggregate) to locate within 125 feet of a residential zone; currently, only non-profits with 300 seats or less can locate in these zones.

  • Cuts red tape - Only limited, necessary back-up documents are required to apply for a PAV.  Extensive police background checks, complicated financial documents and other cumbersome supplemental materials will no longer be required. PAVs will be required to report management changes to the city within 60 days instead of the current 10 days.

  • Saves applicants time -  PAV applications soon will be available on the members-only section of the League of Chicago Theatres' web site,, and on the Department of Business Affairs' web site,   Previously, applications were available in person only at the Department of Revenue and Department of Business Affairs and Licensing.  Theaters will also benefit from a new online application and renewal process

  • Lowers fees - New legislation calls for a flat fee structure of $55 for all theaters up to 500 seats.   Under the existing PPA, fees are $1 multiplied by the total number of seats. Non-profit theaters still retain the option to request Aldermanic waiver of fees.

  • Doesn't sweat the small stuff - Theaters under 100 seats that don't have a mandatory admission charge won't need to obtain a PAV, although they still require an occupancy card.  Theaters in this category will be allowed to collect voluntary donations.

  • Improves access to Chicago city government - All PAV applications will be handled by the city's new Department of Business Affairs and Licensing, not the Department of Revenue.  Business Affairs will be the sole contact for PAV information, and will assign dedicated caseworkers to usher through theaters' initial PAV applications.  Moreover, the Chicago Department of Buildings has agreed to offer "pre-inspections" of venues - to determine the extent and potential cost of rectifying building code violations - before a company signs a lease.

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