Pickwick Theater is boosting Park Ridge’s economy, experts say, while owners await a deal with new operator – the Chicago Tribune

As the owners of the Pickwick Theater work out an agreement with a potential tenant to take over the theater, Park Ridge officials and members of the business community commented on how the 1928 landmark is drawing people to the city’s uptown neighborhood and functioning as a theater Economic engine and cultural anchor.

The news that the theater’s longtime co-owners Dino Vlahakis and Dave Loomos would stop showing films at the theater sent shockwaves through Park Ridge and Chicagoland last month, sparking fears that something might happen to the art deco building and apprehensions that Park Ridge would lose one of its main entertainment and meeting spots.

The building itself is both a local landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

But beyond ensuring physical continuity, city leaders are considering how the Pickwick contributes to Park Ridge’s economy, whether as a taxpayer, as a consumer magnet, or as a backdrop and host to other community events.

There is the explicit financial contribution that the theater makes each year through tax payments to Park Ridge and the local school districts and the Park District. According to Vlahakis, the property, which houses 24 other tenants in addition to the historic theater, generated a $133,476 tax bill in 2021.

Of that total, $4,264.57 went to the City of Park Ridge, Vlahakis said. Then there’s sales tax, which he said ranges from $300 to $1,000 each month.

If you do the math, Vlahakis said, the Pickwick has made a hefty contribution to the city and school districts during his tenure as owner.

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“Our property tax bill has always been around $100,000, so I’ve made $4 million in property taxes over the last 40 years,” he said.

But Vlahakis and other city leaders stressed that the Pickwick’s value to Park Ridge goes beyond the taxpayer money and the films shown on its marquee.

“We probably attract more people than anything else in Park Ridge,” Vlahakis said. “What else is there in terms of entertainment?”

The theater attracts people, who often “do dinner and a movie” and spend some time — and money — in the area before or after seeing their show, Vlahakis said.

“If we have a big box office hit, you can check out all the restaurants,” he said. “Especially when there is a classic film. They see people in the restaurants because they want to be somewhere where they can park and have dinner and go to the movies.”

Park Ridge Chamber of Commerce President Jackie Mathews said the chamber doesn’t have accurate data on what draws consumers to Uptown.

“The best polls we can do are based on, ‘I’m out in the community and I’m listening to community feedback,'” Mathews said.

“The Pickwick is more than the building,” Mathews said. “Yes, it’s an architectural landmark, but as a business, it’s very central to the Uptown dynamic.”

Mathews said having a theater amidst other uptown pedestrian-friendly businesses creates a “collaborative, mutually beneficial arrangement.”

“Great deals breed great deals,” Mathews said. “So the Pickwick has been thriving and thriving all these decades, allowing people to watch movies, go out to dinner and go shopping.”

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Mathews also noted that the theater collaborates with other community institutions, such as the annual screening of It’s a Wonderful Life alongside the Park Ridge Community Fund and Liberty Mutual Bank, or children’s films during the annual Taste of Park Ridge Festival.

“These are really important moments that people remember and they want to experience the tradition year after year,” Mathews said.

There is also the issue of visibility. Park Ridge City manager Joe Gilmore pointed out that as a landmark where shows like Chicago Fire are clamoring for movies, having Pickwick brings Park Ridge “extra attention, visitors and spending.”

The television series filmed an episode “Completely Shattered” at the theater in the summer of 2022.

A simulated fire erupts during filming of the TV show "Chicago fire" at the Old Pickwick Theater, 5 S. Prospect Ave, Park Ridge, Friday, August 19, 2022 (Michael Schmidt/Pioneer Press)

An example of this was a 2017 block party hosted by TV network WGN, Gilmore wrote in an email to Pioneer Press.

“This event brought significant exposure to the city and several thousand visitors, and one reason Park Ridge was chosen from many potential locations was that [look and feel] from Uptown,” Gilmore said.

And he echoed Mathews’ observation that the theater and entertainment business was important to Park Ridge as part of “a tapestry or orchestra with many different components working together to produce greater benefit.”

The Pickwick held its final performances under Vlahakis and Loomos on January 12th with two jam-packed performances by Blown by the wind. The theater’s general manager, Kathryn Tobias, will be programming films there until April 1, Vlahakis said.

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A deal with a new tenant for the theater space is expected to be finalized in the coming weeks.

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