Cascade Drive-in could clear a hurdle tonight on reopening
The owner of the Cascade Drive-In movie theater in West Chicago is making progress on plans to reopen, but several hurdles stand in the way of a revival.
West Chicago's city council will vote tonight on a zoning code text amendment that would help pave the way for the theater's second act. The council's development committee and the plan commission both unanimously recommended approval of the proposed ordinance.
The single-screen drive-in has been inching closer to a comeback more than a year after going dark. The theater had operated since 1961, its gravel parking lot once brimming with as many as 1,200 cars on a retro trip to the movies.
But before audiences can relive those summer nights, there are still utility issues to resolve, said Russell Whitaker, an attorney for the owner of the landmark site at North Avenue and Prince Crossing Road.
The owner is looking to continue operating with well water instead of connecting the 28-acre property to the city's water system.
"We do know that there's an issue with bringing water a very long distance to the site, so we assume we'll get a request from them to waive that requirement and stay with the well that's on site," said Tom Dabareiner, West Chicago's community development director.
Such a request also would require city council approval. In addition, representatives of the property owner have indicated plans to build a sanitary sewer lift station, which would need a city permit and staff review.
"They're waiting for this text amendment to pass, and then I believe they want to get started right way with the process that leads to them reopening," Dabareiner said.
The property currently is zoned for residential development. In 2003, the drive-in site was part of 58 acres forcibly annexed into West Chicago by the city council. Properties brought into West Chicago by forced annexation are zoned by default under the city's most restrictive residential classification.
The text amendment would change how the city treats grandfathered projects, allowing "the resumption of a legal nonconforming use that has been discontinued for a period of 12 consecutive months or longer," city documents state.
The only other drive-in in the Chicago area is in McHenry, though pop-up screenings have grown in popularity during the pandemic.
Fewer than a dozen drive-in screens were still operational in Illinois as of October 2019, according to the United Drive-in Theatre Owners Association.
For 30 years, Jeff Kohlberg operated the Cascade until the property's previous owner declined to renew the lease in late 2018. Kohlberg would run the theater again if the Cascade reopens.