Movie theaters have been closed for months now, but Marketplace Cinemas has a plan to return in the form of a drive-in.
Drive-in theaters, which allow social distancing and keep audience members separate from each other, have had a revival in the COVID-19 pandemic, with theaters such as the Eden Drive-In and Hound’s Drive-In Theatre in Kings Mountain enjoying brisk business. The last local drive-in, the Bel-Air in Walkertown, closed in October 2000. Indoor movie theaters are currently banned.
Daniel Kleeberg, the owner of Marketplace Cinemas, is working out the logistics and hopes to have a drive-in up and running in the Marketplace Mall parking lot in the next few weeks, subject to approval from the governor’s office and other governmental authorities and verifying that it is allowed by zoning.
The plans are for a 45 foot wide, 30 foot high screen on the side of the Marketplace Cinemas building opposite Peters Creek Parkway, with more than 400 parking spots. The screen will be a smooth surface painted with the same type of paint that is used on drive-in theater screens, he said, and some parking lot lights around the mall will be shut off to enhance the image on the screen, but there will be enough light for people to walk to the restrooms, the outside concession stand and food trucks.
There will also be concessions delivered to cars by golf cart, including canned sodas, bottled drinks and fresh popcorn.
“We already ordered about everything we will need,” Kleeberg said. That includes a premium FM transmitter that will send the film’s audio to customers’ cars. Advance ticket sales, reserved parking and pre-orders of concessions will be available, all with social distancing guidance in effect.
Since there will not be outside speakers, Kleeberg said there should be no problems with excess noise for homes in the area. “We want it to be a fun family-friendly environment for everybody, and people will listen to the movies from inside their cars,” he said.
At first, they will carry what Kleeberg called “blast from the past” movies, but once Hollywood begins sending out new films — starting with Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet,” due on July 17, he plans to carry first-run films, including Disney’s live action remake of “Mulan,” the highly anticipated “Wonder Woman ’84,” and others, along with other special engagement movies. There may also be some live pre-show entertainment. Films will start at dark, rain or shine, and by the time “Tenet” debuts he hopes to have screenings seven nights a week.
Later on, they also plan to have outdoor drive-in concerts, perhaps starting in August, with a stage that will be built. Those concerts will be held during daytime most of the time, he said.
“We are very excited about this,” Kleeberg said. “We are hoping to open the drive-in within the next three weeks.”
The whole drive-in operation is in partnership with Marketplace Mall, he said, and he hopes it will help increase the afternoon and evening shopping at the mall before the movies begin.
Updates on the project, including a map with the parking spaces, will be posted on Facebook in the near future.
“We have had zero screens out of six screens operating for the last eight weeks, no movies at all at the Marketplace Cinemas, and we can’t wait to get the one big outside screen operating,” he said.