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Midtown Cinema renovation passes muster with Harrisburg’s historic review panel

Artist’s rendering of Midtown Cinema’s proposed new exterior

Midtown Cinema is a step closer to a major makeover, as the city’s historic review board has given the project its blessing.

On Monday night, the Harrisburg Architectural Review Board (HARB) unanimously approved plans by owner Lift Development for a substantial renovation of the arthouse theater’s façade.

“We’re very pleased with this result,” said Lift Development principal John Tierney, following the vote.

Tierney said that he expects work to begin next month following the cinema’s annual Academy Awards gala. Construction is expected to take about four months, concluding with the opening of the Harrisburg Jewish Film Festival in June.

The façade will feature a mostly glass exterior topped by a new marquee and new fiber cement board panels. On the east side, a trellis will extend the building’s footprint, with picnic tables underneath for outside seating.

Originally, the trellis was expected to be a mix of metal and wood. However, on Monday, Tierney said that it may be exclusively wood due to higher-than-expected price quotes for the metal component.

The 1940-era building was originally a grocery store and later housed a blood plasma center. It opened as Midtown Cinema in 2001.

HARB had no quibble with the modern-style design, and the city does not consider the building to contribute to the historic nature of the district, according to Frank Grumbine, Harrisburg’s historic preservation specialist and archivist.

“Overall, this project makes [the building] a higher overall quality,” said HARB member Jeremiah Chamberlin.

Several members, though, requested preservation of the existing mid-century-style sign that reads, “Reily. Midtown Center.”

Architect Rich Gribble of Camp Hill-based ByDesign Consultants said that they had a plan for the sign.

“We’d like to take that sign and put it into the new lobby, as opposed to installing it outside, since it’s technically not the name of the cinema,” he said.

Tierney later said that, as part of the renovation, they plan to remove the drop ceiling, opening up the lobby closer to the roofline, which would create enough space to hang the large sign inside.

The cinema plans to remain open during the renovation, though construction work may limit the availability of all three screens and could affect show times.

Midtown Cinema is located at 250 Reily St., Harrisburg. For more information, visit

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