Harrisburg’s Midtown Cinema may well be the best arthouse theater between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
However, the building itself has all the curb appeal of a grocery store, which makes sense as that was its original use.
That convenience store vibe, though, is about to go.
Starting in February, owner Lift Development will embark on a major upgrade that will make over the building’s exterior, along with substantial changes to the interior.
“Our owners are looking to see what ‘s next for us,” said Stuart Landon, the cinema’s director of community engagement. “Six years ago, Lift made a big investment in the theater, moving us over to digital and improving the movie-going experience. This is the next step for us.”
On Monday night, cinema owners and staff briefed supporters on the changes, which will feature a sleek, modern exterior look designed by Midtown resident Rich Gribble, an architect with Camp Hill-based ByDesign Consultants.
The façade will feature a mostly glass exterior topped by a new marquee and new fiber cement board panels. On the east side, a wood-and-metal trellis will extend the building’s footprint, with picnic tables underneath for outside seating.
The design, Landon said, gives a nod to the look of old-time movie film.
“It’s very subtle, nothing too heavy-handed,” he said.
Inside, the lobby and concession areas will be reimagined, improving the flow for patrons, and the three theaters will get new soundproofing and possibly new seating, said Landon. The restrooms may also be renovated, he said.
Renovations are expected to start right after the cinema’s annual Oscars viewing party on Feb. 9 and continue for about three months, wrapping up just as the Harrisburg Jewish Film Festival begins in May, Landon said.
“It’ll be very different, but still warm, with the same feeling that people love now,” he said.
Midtown Cinema’s building dates back to 1940, when it debuted as the Acme Self-Service Market, one of the Harrisburg area’s first supermarkets. It replaced the Reily School building on the site at Reily and Susquehanna streets. The cinema opened in the building in 2001.
Landon said that the cinema will remain operating during the renovations, but with an “adjusted schedule,” since construction work may affect theater use and screening times.
“We’re really excited about this,” Landon said. “The building will better reflect the organization we are and what we want to be.”