PARK RIDGE (STMW)– Park Ridge’s Pickwick Theatre holds local and national designation as a historic building, but some very modern upgrades could be on the way.

Larger, modern seats, a digital-projection system for all films and restoration of the 82-year-old theater’s fire curtain — painted by local artist Alfonso Iannelli — are three of the most significant improvements planned, according to co-owner Dino Vlahakis. There are also plans to repaint the famous marquee facing and rehab the restrooms.

The renovations will cost roughly $1.5 million, Vlahakis said. The larger seats will result in the loss of seating in the Pickwick’s main theater and in the smaller rear theaters, but Vlahakis said many moviegoers have complained about the quality of the current seats. The seats in the main theater were installed in the 1960s, he said.

The digital projection will make films appear sharper on screen and will eliminate problems like lines and wear marks that are common with 35 mm film, Vlahakis said.

“When it’s finished, (the main theater) will be the best movie theater to see a move in all of the Chicago area,” he promised.

But if any work is to begin, a special kind of recognition from the Illinois Historical Preservation Agency will be required, Vlahakis said. In order to apply for tax breaks and state grants, Vlahakis needs the IHPA to designate Park Ridge as a “certified local government.” That essentially recognizes Park Ridge’s Historic Preservation Ordinance and the buildings the city declares as landmarks.

Judy Barclay, chairwoman of the Historic Preservation Commission, said the state has not granted certified-local-government designation to Park Ridge because its preservation ordinance does not meet all of the required criteria. Changes to the ordinance are now being drafted by the commission.

“When we started asking about the designation, we were told there were certain things in the ordinance that didn’t quite match their criteria,” Barclay said. “It’s a few minor tweaks we have to do.”

The changes involve clarifications and more flexibility for historic-district designation, she explained.

Vlahakis said with landmark recognition it will be “economically feasible” for the Pickwick to make the improvements that are envisioned.

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