Actor with Chicago roots plans performance venue on the South Side

Actor Harry Lennix III, who stars in ‘The Blacklist’ TV show, is fulfilling a dream he says will honor his Chicago roots: to build a performing arts center for African-American culture on the South Side .

Lennix submitted a zoning proposal to take over a two-story warehouse at 4343 S. Cottage Grove Ave. In a partnership with Chicago developer Keith Giles and entrepreneur Michael Wordlaw, Lennix would transform the former Marshall Field warehouse into a 350-seat theater with a smaller performance hall of about 100 seats.

The venue is said to have a connection to the Chicago Public Schools. “I am a former CPS teacher. I taught music there,” Lennix said. The Northwestern University graduate made a name for himself here at the Goodman Theater and elsewhere before leaving to work in New York and Los Angeles.

“My basic dream is to bring a performing arts space to the South Side of Chicago. It doesn’t have that,” he said in a phone call between takes of “The Blacklist”.

Harry Lennix III
AFP via Getty Images

It would be called the Lillian Marcie Center, a reference to her mother, Lillian, and a mentor, Marcella “Marcie” Gillie on the South Side. Lennix said he had raised around 60% of the funds needed for a project worth around $20 million.

Giles, who has long been active in the South Loop and Near South Side, said he hopes to start construction on the building in early 2021 and complete the project about a year later. He said he was working on tax credits and incentives from federal, state and municipal programs.

In July, the city’s Community Development Commission approved a $3 million grant for the project as part of tax increment funding.

The 15,000 square foot building is a twin of the Briar Street Theater, 3133 N. Halsted St., which itself has undergone a makeover. The home of the longtime Blue Man Group show is listed as a former stable for Marshall Field & Co. horses.

The South Side site would house a museum, Lennix said, while offering performances of “dance, theater, opera, spoken word, etc.” He called on the Chicago firm Nia Architects to help him.

The zoning proposal, presented to city council on Tuesday, would allow for conversion into a theater, with a lounge and rooftop terrace for events. The investors want a special use permit to provide 45 parking spaces on nearby land.

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to correct the Briar Street Theater address.