National contest could help determine future of Keno Drive-In

BY MELINDA TICHELAAR
mtichelaar@kenoshanews.com
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An unusual national contest could be the best final hope for the Keno Drive-In.

But as fans of the drive-in try to whip up support on Facebook to win the theater a new digital projector, the business’ operator said the future remains uncertain.

Honda is going to give five drive-ins digital projectors worth $80,000 at the end of the summer through a promotion dubbed “Project Drive-In.” The winning drive-ins will be the ones that get the most votes on projectdrivein.com. Fans can vote once a day on the website and by texting “Vote112” to 444999.

“It’s a long shot, but we’ll keep our fingers crossed,” said Jeffrey Kohlberg, president of Cinema Management Corp., which leases the drive-in at 9102 Sheridan Road from local developer Steve Mills.

Movie studios are moving away from shipping film copies, so within the next year or so, the drive-ins need to install digital equipment to stay in business. Kohlberg also runs a drive-in in West Chicago, Ill. That theater does have a digital projector and Kohlberg said the difference in quality is striking.

“It’s a wonderful thing,” he said. “The picture is clearer and brighter. At the Keno, it would really be amazing since the projection booth is really close to the screen.”

Kohlberg’s family has been in the drive-in business for decades and he said he wishes he had bought the Keno Drive-In property years ago.

Now, the future depends on answers to a complex set of questions:

Will the theater beat the odds and win a projector from Honda?

Will studios cut off film copies this fall, or keep sending them out for another year?

Will Mills decide to sell the property for another use?

Would Pleasant Prairie approve new plans for the site?

Is running a business just six months out of the year financially feasible?

Kohlberg and Mills’ son, S.R. Mills, said a decision on whether to keep the theater open would be made after talks later this fall.

“At this point, we’re not sure,” S.R. Mills said. “We are going through some analysis to estimate various costs with keeping the drive-in. We do anticipate making that decision soon.”

Kohlberg said he understands that for the Mills family, it’s a business decision.

“If I owned the property and someone offered me $5 million for it, I’d have a hard time turning it down,” Kohlberg said. “But if it were a considerable amount less, it would be a different story. Not everything is measured in dollars and cents.”

Speaking of dollars and cents, Kohlberg said last year was the theater’s best ever, and this summer is almost equal.

“There is a lot of caring and love for the place,” he said.

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