Cascade Drive-in reopening still faces 'a number of obstacles' in West Chicago

  • Some of the main obstacles to reopening Cascade Drive-In theater in West Chicago involve utility issues, documents show.

    Some of the main obstacles to reopening Cascade Drive-In theater in West Chicago involve utility issues, documents show. Daily Herald File Photo

Updated 1/25/2021 8:07 AM

Moviegoers are still waiting for the show to start at the beloved Cascade Drive-in, a shuttered theater in West Chicago trying to stage a comeback.

Almost four months after announcing plans for a second act, the property owner is now looking to reopen the drive-in this spring with its longtime proprietor. West Chicago's city council also has approved a zoning code request needed to bring back the outdoor cinema of yesteryear.


"However, there are still a number of obstacles and costs, particularly with respect to infrastructure improvements, that impede the owner's ability to move forward with opening the Cascade Theater," an attorney for the land owner wrote in a letter to the city last week.

The owner of the 28-acre property is seeking city council approval to continue using private, on-site wells as a water source instead of connecting to the city's water system. Connection to the city-owned water main would require thousands of feet of new pipe. And a revived theater will require very limited water service, attorney Patti Bernhard wrote.

"This type of cost simply cannot be borne by any sort of redevelopment associated with a drive-in theater on the property," Bernhard said in the letter requesting the exemption.

The property is being held in a trust, and the owner hasn't been identified.

But according to Bernard's letter, the owner is prepared to "invest hundreds of thousands of dollars" to connect to the West Chicago's sanitary sewer mains and replace a cesspool system that "may present a risk to the public health."

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Utility improvements would include construction of a lift station to pump waste into West Chicago's sanitary sewer infrastructure. At the city's request, the owner would privately maintain the lift station.

As of last week, the city has not seen plans for the sewer work, which doesn't require council approval but does need a permit and staff review, Community Development Director Tom Dabareiner said. In a couple weeks, Dabareiner expects to have a date scheduled to bring the well water proposal to the city council.

Russ Whitaker, another attorney who has represented the owner, did not respond to phone and email messages about a possible timeline for reopening.

The letter indicated the hope was spring.

"The historic and the proposed use of the property as a drive-in theater is unique not only to West Chicago but also the region," Bernhard wrote. "A drive-in theater provides a great service and amenity to residents but is financially constrained by only being open and in use for a portion of the year."

The theater went dark in 2019, leaving at that time only one other drive-in in the Chicago area. But a newly reopened Cascade could capitalize on the demand for socially distanced outdoor screenings seen during the pandemic.

For 30 years, Jeff Kohlberg operated the Cascade until the property's previous owner declined to renew the lease in late 2018. Kohlberg has said he hopes to reopen the theater this year to celebrate the 60th anniversary of its 1961 opening.

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