Keno Drive-In

9102 Sheridan Road,
Pleasant Prairie, WI 53158

850 cars

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KENO FAMILY DRIVE-IN Theatre; Pleasant Prairie (Kenosha), Wisconsin.

The Keno Family Drive-In opened on May 18, 1949, and had a capacity for 850 cars. Initially it was a second run theatre operated by the Standard Theaters Management Corp. chain. It featured a miniature railway and pony rides in the play area.

It was the oldest operating drive-in theatre in the State of Wisconsin. The Keno Drive-In showed movies every night from May to October. It was closed at the end of the 2014 season.

Contributed by Pete Christy

Recent comments (view all 17 comments)

Chris1982 on October 12, 2014 at 11:19 pm

They made it through the 2014 season.

LouRugani on October 15, 2014 at 4:19 pm

Is this the last year for the Keno? Conversion to digital may doom drive-in (April 16, 2013, by Deneen Smith)

Rumors are swirling that the Keno Drive-In, 9102 Sheridan Road, will be sold and turned into a Walmart. No officials have verified those rumors. Rumors of the Keno Drive-in’s demise have sparked a petition drive, a Facebook page, and an outpouring of regret, but little in the way of facts.

The Keno, 9102 Sheridan Road, has been operating since 1949. It opened for its 65th season this spring. Word began to spread on Facebook Friday that this season would be the Keno’s last, and that a Walmart would soon go up in its place.

A “Save Keno Drive-in, No Walmart Here” Facebook page quickly drew 3,000 likes, and an online petition calling on Pleasant Prairie to reject the Walmart had more than 1,760 signatures by Tuesday afternoon.

At Pleasant Prairie Village Hall, staffers were puzzled. “We’ve been getting calls. Apparently something went on Facebook?” said Thomas Shircel, assistant village administrator. “I think there’s a lot of rumors going around.”

Jeff Rey, president of Cinema Management Corp., which has leased Keno for the past seven years, said he was told by the property owner last fall that this year would likely be the last for the drive-in. He said he doesn’t know for sure what plans are for the property — the property owners have not told him — but he said there have been crews doing soil tests and other work. “We’ll see what happens,” Rey said. “We’ve got to keep our fingers crossed, but it doesn’t look good.”

Shircel said that while he cannot comment on informal inquires about the property, he said there has been no paperwork filed by Walmart or any other development on the property. “We have not received any formal application” for any development on the property, Shircel said. He said the land is slated in the village’s comprehensive plan for commercial use, but said “the land is not zoned or planned for a big box user.”

Kenosha County records do not show any recent property sale. According to those records, the drive-in’s owner is Berwick Properties Inc., which is owned by developer and real estate investor Steve Mills. He has owned the property since 1996. Mills could not be reached for comment.

A statement from Walmart said did not indicate plans for the property. “While we don’t have any new projects to announce at this time, Walmart is always looking for opportunities to better serve our southeast Wisconsin customers,” a company spokesman said in an email.

“Right now what I’m doing is more cautionary,” said Shanon Molina, who launched the anti-Walmart petition drive. Molina said there is “talk around town” that the drive-in property is one of several Walmart is looking to develop. “For me personally, I live on 90th and Sheridan and obviously, I don’t want a Walmart on that corner.” She said she also wants to block another Walmart development in the area, saying the company creates low-wage jobs and “is a proven local business killer.”

However Mills did indicate last fall that the drive-in’s days could be numbered. Movie studios are phasing out film in favor of digital projection technology, and old-fashioned theaters like the Keno would have to replace their film equipment with more expensive digital. Mills said last fall it was not clear if he would invest in the digital upgrade. “The decision hasn’t been made at this point in time. Just by the very nature of a drive-in theater, the season is very short. With the circumstances, we’re still going to research on what it’s going to be,” Mills said then. “It’s a bridge we haven’t crossed as yet.”

Rey said he operates another drive-in in West Chicago, Ill. He said the company invested $100,000 installing digital projection equipment there, saying the new projector will go online at the end of the month. “We could have worked out digital if that was their goal,” Rey said, although he said he believed about half the 366 drive-ins left in the country will likely go out of business this year because of the digital conversion costs.

Meanwhile, he said the drive-in will be open as usual this weekend, showing a double feature — the new Tom Cruise science fiction movie “Oblivion” and the comedy “Identity Thief.”

Despite rainy, cold weather this spring, business at the drive-in has been good, Rey said.

“I think people are wanting to get out there because this might be their last chance,” he said. “Unless something unexpected happens, it looks like it will be the end.”

LouRugani on November 9, 2014 at 3:20 am

(Kenosha News, Sunday, November 9, 2014) Is this the end for Keno Drive-In? On final weekend of season, land owner, manager disagree on theater’s fate (By Janine Anderson) Depending on the source, you get a different idea of the future of the Keno Drive-in. Operator Jeffrey Kohlberg isn’t ready to say Sunday is the theater’s official last day, but the landowner says this is pretty much it for the historic attraction. On Friday, Kohlberg, president of the Glenview, Ill.-based Cinema Management Corp., which operates the Keno and another drive-in in Illinois, said he can’t say this is the last weekend. “I don’t want everybody to get down and say it’s all over,” Kohlberg said. “I don’t know when that final decision’s going to be made. It could be in a month; it could be next spring.”

But S.R. Mills of Bear Realty, the company that owns the land, said Saturday it is unlikely the theater will reopen next spring. The land needs too many improvements, he said, and making them isn’t feasible. Kohlberg said the facility also needs costly improvements. He previously told the Kenosha News that proceeds were down about 22 percent this year, and that the lack of digital projection equipment makes it harder and harder to bring in the kind of first-run movies patrons want to see. “I always hope it’s going to be there,” Kohlberg said. “My dad started in the 1950s with drive-ins. We have one in Illinois that’s been here since 1961. I hope no drive-ins disappear. There’s still hope.”

Mills doesn’t see it that way, and his company is in the early stages of planning for some other use on the site. No neighborhood plan exists for that property, or the hundreds of acres around it, he said, and Bear is working with Pleasant Prairie to put one in place. Several plans will eventually be taken to the Plan Commission and Village Board so officials can decide which one to adopt, Mills said. After that, the area could be opened up for development. Mills expects the plan to call for predominantly residential development, with some commercial corners, including the location of the Keno. He said while he is sure the Keno will not be there next year, like Kohlberg, he’s fond of the theater. “We’ve thought, can you get the economics to work?” he said. “If you do it, if you monetize the food and the beverages, maybe you can make it into something.”

He’s not the only one with that thought. Restaurant chain Johnny Rockets is partnering with Indiana-based USA Drive-ins to bring back the retro-style theaters, part of a nationwide rollout of four new Route 66-type diners. They plan to open 200 drive-in theaters over the next four years. Kohlberg believes investment in the property could make it successful. His organization made a go of it with its other theater, he said, installing a digital projector and other amenities that helped bring in patrons. “If it does continue, there’s a lot of innovations we’ve done down (in Illinois) which we might do up there,” Kohlberg said. “Patio heaters, patios with seating so people – when the weather gets kind of cool – can sit and watch the movie outside in warmth. We put a new playground in. All this can be planned for the Keno, too.”

Those improvements are expensive, too. Kohlberg said his firm has considered investing its own money into the facility improvements, which could likely cost upward of $100,000, but no decisions have been made. “I can’t emphatically say it is or it isn’t,” staying open, Kohlberg said. “We’re in limbo right now.”

While the Keno Drive-in management won’t officially say this is the final weekend forever, it was the last weekend of the season. The horror movies on the big screen attracted some die-hard fans who didn’t mind the cold. Cars started lining up around 6:30 p.m., about a half-hour before the box office officially opened.

Janelle Lopez, of Waukegan, was there with Bri Cotto, of Kenosha. “I thought we would go out and catch it,” Lopez said. “It’s a different way to see a movie, and not have to sit in a theater.” Especially in the summer, they said, it’s nice to sit outside and watch children playing as the movie plays.

Shannon Hicks and Matthew Cullen came up from Illinois, though Cullen actually hails from farther afield. He is from California, but is in the military and stationed in the Chicago area. “I’ve never been to a drive-in,” he said. “They are all closed (in California), and I’ve never seen an operating one.” Hicks has been to the theater before and said she enjoys the whole atmosphere of the drive-in.

Ishi Salazar and his daughter, Rosa, haven’t come too often, but enjoy it when they make it out. Rosa enjoys horror films, and her dad thought this would be a good way to close out the movie season. “I grew up with it in California,” he said. “They’re extinct, just about, now.” Rosa also likes the experience. They get to talk in the car, she said, and no one tells them to be quiet. They also like to bring in their own food. Saturday’s choice was take-out from Wendy’s, though Ishi said he always buys popcorn once inside.

koldei on March 31, 2015 at 5:55 am

Drive-in’s days appear numbered Published 3/30/2015

The Keno Drive-in is now without an operator, and any hopes of it reopening this year appear dead.

Just weeks before a public hearing on a new plan for the site at 91st Street and Sheridan Road, owner Bear Development terminated its lease with Cinema Management Corp. The Glenview, Ill.-based company was on its last year of a nine-year contract to run the drive-in.

DavidZornig on April 13, 2015 at 7:53 pm

April 10, 2015 Chicago Tribune article on the Keno. Copy & paste to view.

NYozoner on April 13, 2015 at 9:03 pm

Status is definitely now closed. Extremely unlikely to reopen, as property owner has terminated the lease with the company which operated the drive-in, and has publicly stated that it will not re-open. Ever. Plans have been submitted to redevelop the property for retail.

Drive-In 54
Drive-In 54 on April 14, 2015 at 7:37 am

That is sad to see it had to close. That is what happens when the drive-in theatre operators do not own the property where the drive-in theatre sits on. I know a few drive-ins like that. The operators own the equipment (screen towers, concession stand, etc.) but not the land.

LouRugani on April 14, 2015 at 11:00 am

No Wal-Mart at Keno site; Plan Commission denies request to change land plan (Kenosha News, April 14, 2015)

PLEASANT PRAIRIE — The village’s Plan Commission on Monday night voted unanimously to deny alternatives to amend its comprehensive plan, including one that involved a proposal for a “big box” retailer at the site of the Keno Drive-In by property owner Steve Mills of Bear Development to change the comprehensive plan to allow for a 150,000-square-foot Wal-Mart supercenter. T The hearing was preceded by an informal two-hour “open village forum” which drew as many as 100 people, many supporters of keeping the drive-in open. Mills said that while his family enjoyed the drive-in, he acquired the property so it could be developed and said making the drive-in viability would require upgrades that would be “prohibitive financially.” Mills said people who want to support it should put together a non-profit organization, hold fundraisers to prove to donors that it can be viable. “But it’s not the responsibility of me or my family to provide that,” he said. Mills said he would be willing to support the community’s efforts if there was interest.

Eli Shai Riley, who attends LakeView Technology Academy, said he and a group of students have a proposal that would include the Keno Drive-In and want to work with Mills. Riley, Austin Skundberg and Nathan Davis described a plan to have a slightly downsized Keno Drive-In bolstered by restaurants. “We hope to work with Bear Realty to develop the best plan for everyone,” he said.

Joe Mangi, former Kenosha Unified School District superintendent, lauded the village for keeping the community family-oriented, though he said he did not want to see the village without the Keno.

“Why would we give up a 70-year-old jewel … for a big-box store?” he said. “It’s Pleasant Prairie. It isn’t Everywhere USA. Wal-Mart creates blight wherever they go. They’ll knock out the Piggly Wiggly. … They are like an amoeba. We have eight big-box stores in our community already,” he said. “We’ve got only one Keno Drive-In, and that is part of our history.”

Drive-In 54
Drive-In 54 on February 14, 2016 at 6:16 am

Here is you tube video about the death of the Keno Drive-In HERE

LouRugani on February 15, 2016 at 10:20 am

It’s very well done … but they list the wrong name on the theatre.

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