DDA punches a $55K movie ticket


Grand Rapids will go back to its roots with a new outdoor theater, like the old Beltline Drive In Theatre. Image via flickr.com

Back in the day, drive-in movie theaters provided an outdoor option for the city’s film buffs.

The theaters were so popular with families and young people then that the former Eberhard grocery-store chain offered a weekly coupon that admitted an entire carload to the Plainfield and 28th Street drive-ins for just 25 cents on Tuesday nights. And station wagons were the rage then.

Both drive-ins were owned by Jack Loeks Theaters, now known as Celebration Cinema, and both offered two features for a measly quarter.

Since then, of course, the drive-in has disappeared just like the house calls that physicians once made have vanished.

But the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority is bent on trying to start a new under-the-stars, movie-going trend here with what may become known someday as the “walk-in theater.”

To that end, DDA board members allocated up to $55,000 recently to purchase an outdoor movie screen and related accessories. The board has received three separate quotes for the equipment.

DDA Project Manager Tim Kelly told the Business Journal that one of those related accessories is a high-definition projector. A digital projector is a must because the movie industry has decided not to release any more films on, well, film, which means a lot of small-town movie houses across the country may be going out of business or be relegated to only showing classic films for as long as the celluloid holds up.

DDA Vice Chairwoman Kayem Dunn said the idea to show outdoor movies first surfaced at a meeting of the Downtown Alliance when business owners in the district brought the concept up three or four years ago.

DDA Executive Director Kristopher Larson said it was reinforced at a community engagement reception held in April. “The purchase of an outdoor movie screen was the number-one priority,” he said.

Larson also said a decision was made to buy the necessary equipment, rather than rent it, as owning the gear would let the DDA lend it to other groups who want to show films outdoors, which could help to boost a demand for this type of entertainment during the warm-weather months.

“I think we’d like to be a good neighbor and make (the equipment) available,” said Larson.

The DDA hasn’t gotten far enough into the project yet to determine when and where the movies will be shown, but Larson hinted that several downtown locations are being considered. “One of the items that came up repeatedly was doing something in Heartside Park,” said County Commissioner Jim Talen, also a DDA board member.

Larson said both the Friends of Grand Rapids Parks and Celebration Cinema have expressed an interest in helping the DDA find some programming for its soon-to-open theater. “I have no idea what the first title will be, though,” said DDA Chairman Brian Harris.

Movies have been shown outdoors in the district over the past few years. The Urban Institute for Contemporary Art has done that several times, and Locus Development also had a screening.

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