Kansas City’s I-70 faces uncertain future

I-70 Drive-In Theater signThe Kansas City (MO) Business Journal ran a nice long article yesterday talking about the drive-in theater situation in the KC metropolitan area. Business is booming at all three surviving drive-ins, but two of them are facing the decision on whether to go digital or close when film runs out. Those two, Kansas City’s I-70 and the Twin in Independence MO, are both owned by Darryl Smith.

The article doesn’t mention this, but before Smith’s time, the I-70 was one of the first drive-ins to carve up its lot to add extra screens to give patrons more choices. Now they’re seeing the downside of having so many projectors; to replace the four at the I-70 plus the pair at the Twin will cost the better part of a half million dollars.

That decision would be easy if business was drying up, but instead, “July sales for the I-70 Drive-In were close to twice what they’d averaged over the last five years.” But will that be enough to cover such a huge expense? Smith is hoping that Honda’s Project Drive-In will tip the answer his way; the I-70 is one of the drive-ins competing for votes to win a new digital projector.

The KC Business Journal story included a fun side note about the Boulevard across the border in Kansas City KS. Not only was it an early converter to digital, the Boulevard claims to be the first┬ádrive-in to install a 4K projector. Since it was installed over a year ago, “attendance has shot through the roof, similar to the figures drive-in theaters reached in the 1960s. … The projector has more than paid for itself, even though the theater operates only Thursday through Sunday from April to October.” Let’s hope that Smith reads that part of the story and finds the cash to keep his drive-ins running for decades to come.

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