Keno Drive-In

9102 Sheridan Road,
Pleasant Prairie, WI 53158

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LouRugani
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.

LouRugani
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.”

Chris1982
Chris1982 on October 12, 2014 at 11:19 pm

They made it through the 2014 season.

androidodnetnin
androidodnetnin on April 15, 2013 at 9:08 am

http://signon.org/sign/no-walmart-in-the-village

Guess what Pleasant Prairie, your Outdoor Theater (which opened in 1949) is scheduled to close after this summer; guess who is looking into purchasing the empty lot – Walmart. Walmart Stores, Inc is reportedly looking at multiple locations in Pleasant Prairie to build a store.

Pleasant Prairie is prime real estate between two major cities for new, small businesses to set up shop. Studies have proven that Walmart is a small business killer, no one can compete with the cut throat competition that is Walmart. This will not encourage new business growth in the Village.

phoebe1971
phoebe1971 on April 10, 2012 at 3:54 pm

It’s March of 2012 and the the drive in is still alive!! I live a block away and cannot wait til summer!!

MrDriveIn
MrDriveIn on December 3, 2008 at 2:06 pm

Any comments or questions regarding any drive-in theater in Wisconsin, please check out my website at
www.drive-inthruwisconsin.com Or contact me at I will give you complete and accurate information about Wisconsin drive-in theaters, just ask. Thanks, Charles Bruss

DonRosen
DonRosen on October 10, 2006 at 3:22 am

I went to the Keno recently. A small, but really nice drive-in. The last one in this area. Unfortunately, the movies “The Wicker Man” & “Accepted” stunk.

Hermie
Hermie on May 22, 2006 at 8:03 am

This is one of the last few drive-ins left in the southeastern Wisconsin/northeastern Illinois area.

The problem is that they sit on land that has risen in value so much, that either the real estate taxes will kill you, or the offers to buy the site are just to tempting.

The Keno has avoided this by quite frankly, sitting on land that was not as desirable as spots north and west. With a number of housing developments being built in the area, within the next couple of years the Keno may not last.

DonRosen
DonRosen on March 6, 2005 at 7:19 pm

The screen has a huge whole in it. What’s up?

CharlesBruss
CharlesBruss on March 19, 2003 at 2:29 pm

The Keno drive-in opened on May 18, 1949. It now stands as the oldest drive-in in the state. The theatre usually opens in early May and goes until a week or so after Labor Day. I always have a great time here and the food in the concession stand is awesome. Check out my website to find out how you can help with my Wisconsin Drive-in book project. www.drive-inthruwisconsin.com.