The owner of Movieland at Boulevard Square near Scott’s Addition in Richmond wants to use part of its parking lot for drive-in movies.
New York-based Bow Tie Partners hopes to receive approval for a special-use permit from the Richmond City Council to allow the company to turn the parking lot north of its main building into the seasonal temporary drive-in.
The company hopes to get the approvals so Bow Tie can start showing first-run movies at the drive-in beginning in March or April and have them running through late October and early November. Bow Tie filed for the special-use permit this week.
“We are looking at alternatives to keep our operations afloat,” said Joseph Masher, the chief operating officer of Bow Tie Partners. “This would be an alternative. This will be something exciting. It is something innovative. It will have a very cool factor that I think people will love.”
The 17-screen Movieland complex at the northeast quadrant of North Arthur Ashe Boulevard and West Leigh Street would continue to operate even while the drive-in is operating, he said.
Plans call for taking the 180-vehicle parking lot — basically north of the main Movieland building between it and the railroad tracks — for the drive-in. It would accommodate up to 80 vehicles.
Customers would reserve a numbered spot in advance based on vehicle size. Smaller cars would be parked up front, while larger vehicles would be parked at the back.
Shipping containers would be stacked in front of the cars so that a screen could be mounted to them. A trailer would be placed in the rear for the projector. Sound would be broadcast into vehicles via radio transmission.
Prices have not been determined yet. But Masher said the company is looking at pricing by the carload.
Movies would be shown starting just after dusk. “We’re thinking of a double feature each night,” he said.
Moviegoers would be able to preorder popcorn, food and drinks and have them delivered to their vehicles.
Bow Tie also has received interest from organizers of the annual French Film Festival for possibly hosting the event at the drive-in during the April 15-18 festival.
The company wants to see how this season goes before committing to having a drive-in there next summer, Masher said. “When the virus finally goes away, we may need the parking for our indoor theaters.”
Bow Tie’s plans for the drive-in come as the movie theater industry continues to struggle in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Movie theater operators, Masher said, have had to adapt during the pandemic with closed theaters or reduced capacity at the ones that are opened.
For instance, the parent company of Regal Entertainment, the nation’s second-largest movie theater operator which has six theaters in the Richmond region, temporarily shuttered all of its cinema locations in the U.S. in October due to a lack of blockbusters as producers postpone releases because of the pandemic. That came after Regal and other movie theater chains closed for several months last spring and part of the summer.
The Movieland complex reopened on July 1. But attendance since then “has been poor,” Masher said, particularly since many of the more popular movies are now shown the same day in theaters as well as via streaming services.
The company has not yet reopened the four-screen Criterion Cinemas at Movieland, which is in a separate building across the parking lot from the main Movieland building. That smaller theater was used mostly for art, foreign and independent films.
“People are still looking for other sources of entertainment,” he said. “We have a gigantic parking lot, so we started thinking of alternatives.”
Besides, he said, the family that owns Bow Tie Partners had operated some drive-in theaters in the 1960s and ’70s.
“Richmond is one of our highest attendance theaters in our portfolio and we have the parking lot space to do it right now,” he said.
If this proves successful, the company may consider turning parking lots of some of its other movie theater complexes into drive-ins, he said. “Given that most of our theaters are in the Northeast, Richmond is primed to be the best spot for this to start.”
Plans for the temporary drive-in were first reported by Richmond BizSense on Friday.
Drive-in theaters, popular decades ago, have seen a resurgence in the past year because of the pandemic.
“Folks were looking for something to do and a drive-in really fit into that mix,” said John Heidel, who owns the Goochland Drive-In Theater, which has been in business since 2009.
The Goochland Drive-In performed well last year even though there were few new movies released, Heidel said.
The Ashland Theatre last year offered drive-in movie nights in an open field behind the theater at 205 England St. in Ashland.
The Bow Tie drive-in proposal “is an alternative way to keep the projectors on and keeps the revenue coming in,” Heidel said, noting that movie theaters elsewhere are trying to create outdoor events to boost revenue.
“We want the Regals and the AMCs and the Bow Ties to survive and we want people to come back to the movies,” he said. “Having some alternative like this [from Bow Tie] hopefully will help them.”