Classic Cinemas, the company that operates the movie theaters at the North Riverside Park Mall, 7501 Cermak Road, on Feb. 10 marked the renovation of its six auditoriums by rechristening the North Riverside Mall Theatre as the North Riverside Luxury 6.

But the name change could just mark the beginning of bigger plans for the mall theaters. Both Classic Cinemas CEO Chris Johnson and North Riverside Park Mall General Manager Harvey Ahitow confirmed that both sides are mulling a proposal that would double the number of screens at that location.

“Our success is the biggest issue,” said Johnson, referring to blossoming ticket sales that followed in the wake of a recent renovation of the six theaters at the North Riverside Park Mall that replaced the old-style auditorium seating with new luxury, power recliners, featuring their own arm rests, foot rests and cup holders. The theater operator also installed new carpeting and blue LED aisle lighting.

The company made the improvements — and lost about 1,000 seats (about 60 percent of the total seating) in the process, without raising ticket prices. Johnson called the model “affordable luxury.”

But the risk paid off.

“[Ticket sales] are up over 50 percent in the same period from this time last year,” said Johnson referring to the final quarter or so of 2014. “We’ve had our host of sellouts, and now there’s the issue of people planning in advance.”

Johnson said the industry average is about 30,000 tickets per screen per year. This year, the North Riverside Park Mall theaters are closer to 50,000 per screen.

“Now that we’ve expanded the audience, it’s motivating us to say, ‘Let’s invest in a place that’s so tight in terms of density in population,'” Johnson said.

Johnson called the North Riverside Park Mall theaters Classic Cinemas’ “biggest opportunity within our circuit.” Classic Cinemas also operates more than a dozen movie theaters in the Chicago suburbs, including the Lake Theatre in Oak Park.

While talks between Classic Cinemas and the mall are in the early stages, Johnson said the vision is to add six more screens to the theater by building an addition on the north side of the mall’s food court wing, where the theaters are located.

Ahitow, the mall’s general manager confirmed talks with Classic Cinemas and said he’s brought the proposal to The Feil Organization, which owns the mall.

“They are open to the idea,” said Ahitow. “We don’t have all the details, but we have a preliminary financial deal structure.

“I’m bullish about it. I’d love to see it.”

When Classic Cinemas took over in North Riverside in 2008, the prior theater operator had been evicted and the theaters were at a low point physically and in terms of reputation.

 But Classic Cinemas, which had a reputation for running efficient, family-friendly operations, turned the mall’s theaters around by more carefully selecting the movies it was showing and by the mall itself more actively monitoring who was coming in and out of the mall.

In 2013, the mall instituted a youth escort policy on weekends. The idea got some pushback from both Classic Cinemas and food court businesses, but has succeeded in mitigating youth-related problems at the mall on weekend nights.

“Historically, theaters in shopping centers have been security issues, especially with youth,” said Ahitow. “The youth escort policy has really worked here.”

Mall seals lease deal with Miller's Ale House

Harvey Ahitow, general manager for the North Riverside Park Mall, announced Feb. 11 that the mall has executed a lease that will bring Miller's Ale House to the north parking lot, near Olive Garden, later this year.

The mall has been in talks with the Florida-based, family-friendly dining chain since at least the summer of 2014. While Miller's Ale House has about 60 locations in 10 states, there's just one other Illinois location, adjacent to Yorktown Mall in Lombard.

Miller's Ale House will retrofit a former medical office building located next door to the Olive Garden restaurant in the northeast parking lot of the mall. According to Ahitow, the plan is for a 6,000-square-foot restaurant, using a portion of the existing building.

"It will look like a brand-new building," said Ahitow of the finished product.

Miller's Ale House's menu is focused on appetizers, sandwiches, salads and burgers with steak and seafood offerings. Their specialty, however, is chicken wings.

"They'll compete very strongly with Buffalo Wild Wings [nearby in Berwyn]," Ahitow said.

According to Ahitow, Miller's Ale House hopes to open its doors sometime in October.

In the meantime, Ahitow said the mall and Sears are still interested in drawing another restaurant tenant to the parking lot north of Sears. A plan to bring Longhorn Steakhouse to that location fizzled when the chain chose to build a new restaurant at the Cermak Plaza.

But officials still hope to attract another chain.

"I've talked to Sears and they still want to do a restaurant there," said Ahitow, "and we'd be all for it."

Developers believe the Harlem and Cermak area can accommodate even more restaurants.

"It's the density in the market," Ahitow said. "The only area where it's more dense is in the city, and there you don't get the free parking."

—Bob Uphues