West Chicago drive-in site won't be redeveloped - for now

One of the last two drive-in theaters in the suburbs has dodged the wrecking ball - at least for now.

The Experior Logistics Group recently approached West Chicago's development committee with a plan that eventually would have razed the Cascade Drive-In and replaced it with a truck terminal facility. But the committee rejected the proposal.

Experior was seeking feedback about its proposal to buy the 54 acres at the southeast corner of North Avenue and Prince Crossing Road that contains the Cascade, a hot dog stand and the former headquarters of Harry Kuhn Construction.

The plan called for the property to be redeveloped to provide parking for 931 semitrailer trucks, a truck maintenance and repair facility, an office building, a restaurant, a fueling center and convenience mart, and a retail building with multiple tenants.

But John Said, West Chicago's director of community development, said the committee turned thumbs-down on the proposal.

"They expressed concerns about truck traffic for the most part," he said, adding that nearby residents opposed the plan for similar reasons.

Jeff Kohlberg, the owner of the Cascade, expressed relief that the plan didn't gain traction. Because he doesn't own the land where the drive-in is located, there's nothing he can do to prevent the property from being sold.

"We want it to continue," Kohlberg said of the Cascade, which has been open since 1961.

Drive-ins like the Cascade are nearly extinct. The only other drive-in in the Chicago area is the McHenry Outdoor Theater in McHenry.

In the meantime, Kohlberg stressed that the Cascade continues to be successful.

"The Cascade is one of the busiest movie theaters in the country," Kohlberg said. "It's not like it's a dilapidated drive-in."

He said he's also made numerous improvements to the 28-acre site. Before the start of the 2013 season, for example, the theater purchased a digital projector.

"We put a lot of money into that theater going digital," Kohlberg said. "We support that theater financially enormously every year."

Of course, it will be up to the property owners to decide the Cascade's long-term future.

Ron Kuhn, whose family owns the theater property and the former construction company site, says the land has been on the market for the past six years.

He said he's disappointed the city didn't support Experior's proposal.

"It was really a good, good plan," Kuhn said. "It took care of the infrastructure. It had commercial for tax purposes. It would have employed over 250 more people."

He said Experior was even willing to let the Cascade remain on site for five more years.

"These people were so good just trying to do everything they needed to do to make the thing happen," Kuhn said.

West Chicago Mayor Ruben Pineda said he understands the Kuhn family wants to sell their land.

But, he said, "I need to make sure and the aldermen need to make sure that the best project goes in there. We want it to have commercial and retail - not industrial."

In the meantime, Pineda said the city is going to do what it can to help market the property to potential buyers.

The Cascade Drive-In in West Chicago is one of the last two drive-ins operating in the suburbs. The owner of the business says he would like for it to continue. Daily Herald file photo
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