Movies in the City

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Lines of patrons snaking outside the 90-seat Pickford Cinema in downtown Bellingham prove one thing: Movie theaters can be an important part of any urban revitalization effort. The 12-year-old cinema’s move this month into a renovated 29,000-square-foot, 101-year-old historic building—and reinvention as the three-story Pickford Film Center—could be an important boost to Bellingham’s core.

Michael Falter, the Pickford’s director, says the move doesn’t just show off Pickford’s Sundance Film Festival affiliation, but “builds community for decades” and creates 365 days per year of business opportunities around the nation’s second LEED-certified cinema.

The $3.2 million project, funded by grants and donations, creates two screens (139 seats in the large theater and 77 in the other) and a concession area on the main floor. Second-floor artists’ studios help pay the mortgage and a newly dug 6,000-square-foot basement for future retail space or a film school adds income potential.

The Pickford could have saved money by moving out of downtown, but instead chose the only building with cinema-friendly ceiling heights in the city’s arts district. Falter expects by filling this vacant space—a sight growing all too common there—he can attract new business opportunities and plenty of new downtown patrons too.

At a time when many cities are struggling to attract new businesses, the decision to move into a historic structure could be important to keeping downtown Bellingham vibrant

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