By Teddy Jacobsen, Colorado Community Media
COMMERCE CITY | The last remaining drive-in theater in the metro area is set to close this summer after more than five decades in business.
Commerce City’s 88 Drive-In Theatre will likely be replaced by a warehouse. Theater owner Susan Kochevar said tough economic circumstances have forced her to step away from the business.
“I love that place and I love this community,” Kochevar said in a city council meeting on June 5. “But what happens to drive-ins all over the United States is what’s happening to mine.”
There are about 300-350 drive-in theaters operating across the United States, according to various drive-in operators and advocates, who note a gradual decline in the business in recent decades. Colorado has about a half dozen or so operating, including in Fort Collins, Pueblo and Buena Vista.
Kochevar said the 88 Drive-In Theatre has been in her family since 1976 (it’s been operational since 1972), but it is no longer financially viable. The theater needs work, she added. For one, the screen needs to be replaced and that would cost around $100,000.
“I’m faced with writing it down and being bled dry or selling it,” Kochevar said, “and I really don’t want to see it left empty.”
Kochevar said she put the lot up for sale in 2018 and eventually sold it in 2021 to industrial real estate company, First Industrial Realty Trust, which has asked the city to rezone the property so that it can construct warehouses.
“Kids are not going to have the same feelings or perspective with a family in a car to go and watch a movie,” Commerce City resident Guillermo Serna said at the meeting.
The site at 8780 Rosemary St., on the corner of East 88th Avenue and Rosemary Street, is in Irondale Neighborhood. The change is consistent with Irondale’s 2018 Neighborhood and Infrastructure Plan, which pushes to increase industrial uses in most of the neighborhood.
“Changing from the movie theater, I think is what’s causing pain, heart pain, for people,” Councilmember Susan Noble said at the meeting. “But I certainly understand the area. Irondale is industrial.”
At the meeting, First Industrial Realty Trust Regional Director John Strabel said the proposal for a warehouse could support three to four businesses, such as UPS delivery.
“It’s designed to be multi-tenant, smaller 10-, 20-, 30,000-square-foot units with smaller truck and UPS distribution going out of it,” Strabel said.
Construction is anticipated to start in the months ahead and the warehouse could open in spring 2025.
Strabel said the current construction plan includes keeping the 88 Drive-In sign on the property.
City Council made no final decision and voted to continue the discussion of First Industrial Realty Trust’s proposal on July 17.