Movieland owner plans to build drive-in movie theater in its parking lot

The Bow Tie Cinemas property at Boulevard and Leigh with the Movieland theater in the distance. (BizSense file photos)

With its theaters mostly empty and parking lot even more so, the owner of Movieland at Boulevard Square in Richmond is thinking outside the multiplex for its next venture.

Bow Tie Cinemas and parent company Bow Tie Partners is seeking to build a drive-in movie theater in the parking lot of its Richmond theater complex at 1301 N. Arthur Ashe Boulevard.

Joe Masher, Bow Tie’s COO, said this is the first time the company has tried a drive-in concept.

“Richmond Movieland is one of the highest attended theaters in our portfolio, so we thought it’d be good to try it out there before trying it anywhere else,” Masher said. “We have a very ample parking lot so we’re looking to take a section of it and turn it into a drive-in theater.”

In order to operate the drive-in, Bow Tie will need a special-use permit from the city because,  although the land is zoned for entertainment, Masher said they need a variance to allow for outdoor entertainment.

Bow Tie applied for the SUP earlier this week, and Masher said they’re hoping to have the drive-in ready to run from about March to November.

He said the drive-in would have room for about 80 cars, and its construction would be relatively simple.

“For the screen we’d be stacking some shipping containers up and building a screen on the front of it,” he said. “We’d then build a construction trailer for the projector.”

Movieland has been in business in Richmond since 2009.

Customers would be able to reserve spots and pre-order food ahead of the showings. Ticket prices would be determined by the number of people in each car, Masher said.

If all goes well with permitting and construction, Bow Tie will look to have drive-in showings every day of the week. Masher added that they’ve received some interest from the French Film Festival for possibly hosting the event at the drive-in this year.

Masher described the drive-in as a pop-up, but isn’t ruling out leaving it up in a post-pandemic world.

“We’re planning to operate for the drive-in season this year and we’ll see where it goes after that,” he said.

Bow Ties’ SUP application is not yet listed on the city’s Planning Commission agenda. Masher said they’re hoping to go before the city as soon as possible.

The pandemic pivot comes as Bow Tie has been entertaining offers for the potential sale of the entire Movieland property, which encompasses about 17 acres, including the movie theater and its 11 acres and an adjoining 6-acre, mostly wooded site.

Sources have said that the New York-based movie theater has been in talks with a buyer that has a “non-conforming” use in mind for the site, a possible allusion to a casino.

Masher declined to comment on where things stand with the land.

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Derek Woolwine
Derek Woolwine
5 months ago

Sounds awesome. It would be great to have an outdoor seating area as part of it as well, kind of like outdoor concerts.

Alan Wilson
Alan Wilson
5 months ago

Capitalist ingenuity is a wonderful thing.

Michelle Reynolds
Michelle Reynolds
5 months ago
Reply to  Alan Wilson

It would have been ingenuity if they did it in summer 2020. But taking a full year to come up with and act on this idea doesn’t feel like genius to me…

Matt Faris
Matt Faris
5 months ago

@Michelle: Let’s see. Ingenuity is defined as: Clever, original, inventive. I can’t think of any other existing business in the area who has proposed doing this in their parking lot. Are there others?

Last edited 5 months ago by Matt Faris
Zach Thomas
Zach Thomas
5 months ago
Reply to  Matt Faris

Well most businesses in the city don’t have the luxury of a giant parking lot to serve their customers in. I imagine many restaurants would have jumped at the opportunity had it been an option.

Matt Faris
Matt Faris
5 months ago
Reply to  Zach Thomas

Zach, I certainly agree that restaurants would be a good fit, buthere are dozens of lota that could pull this off. Shopping centers (especially onse with restaurants and big box stores) alone would be able to do it. My point was that the term ingenuity has nothing to do with time.

Roy Allison
Roy Allison
5 months ago

Sounds great to me, like the good old days. I’ll be there!