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.”
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.