Cascade Drive-In theater takes first step in bid to reopen in West Chicago
The iconic Cascade Drive-In in West Chicago is trying to flicker back to life 18 months after the "ozoner" went dark, at that time leaving only one other drive-in in the region still screening pictures for audiences under the stars.
The theater operator and property owner are working to resurrect the shuttered drive-in, much to the delight of generations of fans who spent summers cruising into the Cascade for first dates or family picnics in front of the big screen.
West Chicago has scheduled a public zoning hearing Oct. 6 on the bid to reopen the drive-in at North Avenue and Prince Crossing Road.
"It's certainly a historic use of the property that we've seen the public pine for in Facebook posts and online petitions," said Russell Whitaker, a Naperville attorney representing the land owner. "So with a lot of the infrastructure in place, we think it makes sense to create a productive and tax-generating use of the property."
Before Cascade's closing in 2019, a drive-in movie theater had operated on the 28-acre site since 1961. Jeff Kohlberg ran it for 30 years, until the property's previous owner declined to renew the lease in late 2018.
Kohlberg on Tuesday raised the prospects of being able to reopen the drive-in and celebrate the 60th anniversary of the first family movie night at the Cascade.
"While there are some remaining hurdles, we are working cooperatively with property ownership and hope to complete some renovations that will provide a better experience for our guests," Kohlberg said in a statement.
"Ironically, despite nearly 60 years in operation, we need zoning approvals from the city of West Chicago to reopen the drive-in. We hope that those zoning issues can be resolved in October and pave the way for physical improvements to the property."
Whitaker said in an interview the entities have worked behind the scenes to stage a comeback for "quite some time."
"We're cautiously optimistic that we can get something done with West Chicago," he said.
Local drive-in fans now have to make the trek to the McHenry Outdoor Theater, the last suburban survivor in a dying breed. Less than a dozen drive-in screens are still operational in Illinois. About 300 theaters were active nationwide as of October 2019, according to the United Drive-in Theatre Owners Association.
But outdoor showings are enjoying a resurgence during the COVID-19 pandemic as Walmart, restaurants and even country clubs turn their parking lots into pop-up drive-ins to cater to movie lovers in search of a socially distant night out.
Whitaker said the Cascade's reopening efforts don't directly correlate with the pandemic.
"Given that the infrastructure is here, there's a good opportunity to utilize that infrastructure and have an ongoing business operation," he said.
As it prepared to close, the drive-in sold much of its equipment, including projection and audio systems, to nostalgic fans scooping up souvenirs.
The reopening plans include replacement and upgrades of historic equipment that was at the property, Whitaker said.