Topic: Tyler, TX: new *drive-in* to open soon
From: Addison, TX
Registered: Jan 2005
posted June 05, 2007 12:58 PM
Tyler Morning Telegraph article
Drive-In Parks Itself In Tyler
By GREG JUNEK
In June, Tyler-area moviegoers will have an additional venue in which to see first-run films, but this one will be under the stars.
James Chenault said he and his business partner and brother-in-law Jim Phillips will open Sky-Vue Drive-In, 10713 U.S. Highway 69 North.
Construction is under way on the theater, said Ronda Phillips, Chenault's sister and Jim Phillips' wife. The theater, built on leased land, will represent an investment of about $250,000. It will be the second drive-in theater in the Tyler area.
Many years ago, Tyler had several drive-in movie theaters, she said. All of them closed, with the exception of the Apache Drive-In on Texas Highway 31 East.
Depending on how construction progresses, movies could be unspooling at the new drive-in by mid-June, she said, adding the partnership hopes to open the theater with "Shrek The Third."
"We're hoping that our movie screen will be in the first week of June," Mrs. Phillips said.
The concession stand is about halfway finished and the projection booth is about 75 percent complete.
"After we get the movie screen, we're hoping it will be about 10 days after that that we'll be able to open," she said.
Sky-Vue Drive-In will have a screen that will measure 35 feet by 70 feet. The grounds will have space for 180 vehicles, and the movie sound track will be carried over a low-power FM frequency.
Drive-ins are a different market than walk-in theaters, and the theater should not have a problem getting first-run movies most of the time, Chenault said.
"If we were a walk-in theater it wouldn't even be feasible (to open a small, locally owned theater), because you can't compete against Hollywood or Carmike," he said.
But people who go to a drive-in theater will go for a different experience, and those same people will also be walk-in theater patrons, he said.
Drive-ins for many years have been thought of as relics from a different age.
According to information from the Web site, driveintheater.com, the first drive-in opened in the 1930s, and, after a slow period during World War II, drive-ins boomed in the 1950s, with nearly 5,000 screens in operation.
But the 1960s and 1970s saw many drive-in theaters close. The trend continued through the 1980s, with less than 1,000 screens operating by the early 1990s. Reasons included the convenience of cable television and the VCR.
Drive-in closures leveled off during the 1990s, and some even added screens, according to drivein.com information. In 1998, about 800 screens were operating.
Chenault and Mrs. Phillips said the theaters are becoming more numerous in the Lone Star state.
"There are now 20 drive-ins in the state of Texas," Mrs. Phillips said. "In 1999, Texas had eight drive-ins."
The Sky-Vue Drive-In will be modeled after the 1950s-style drive-ins, except it will have larger restrooms and handicap access, Chenault said.
Chenault's experience in movie theaters began more than two decades ago, and he has known Phillips for many years. He and his sister said they do not worry about the theater being a family partnership.
"Actually we all get along really, really good, and that's why we decided to go into it together as a family," Mrs. Phillips said.
Ronda and Jim Phillips own Five-Star Builders in Lindale.
Chenault and Phillips will own the theater, and Mrs. Phillips and Chenault's wife, Lala, will be managers.
The family concept will transcend to the types of movies that are shown.
"It will be new movies, it will be a family theater," Mrs. Phillips said. "No R-rated movies. We will only show PG -13 and lower."
Mrs. Phillips said prices will be $6 for adults and $4 for children 12 and under. She said the partners believe people will find the prices economical enough to afford a family night out at the movies.
"I think the kids are really going to get a kick out of going to the drive-in and doing what their parents did, or their grandparents," she said, adding that perhaps younger people will realize that "we're not such old fogies; that we really did have something fun to do."
Chenault said theaters have always intrigued him. His first job was as a projectionist at the Rose Garden drive-in theater on East Fifth Street.
After a stint in the U.S. Air Force, he returned to Tyler and was able to work 40 hours a week as a part-time projectionist at the Gas Light Cinema, Times Square Cinema, Southloop 4 Cinema and Cinema 1&2. Full-time projectionists would often want a night off, and he would be their substitute.
He managed the Gas Light Cinema for about two years, leaving in 1993. Then, Chenault and a good friend, Jim Lamb, who managed the Southloop 4, sold their cars and bought projection equipment and re-opened the Mission Theater in Sulphur Springs.
"Jimmy Phillips helped a lot in Sulphur Springs' opening," Chenault said. "Jim and I couldn't have done it without Jimmy."
The theater was doing well, but Lamb died suddenly in 1996.
After that, Chenault sold the theater and attended nursing school. He is now a charge nurse at Mineola Community Care.
But he wanted to re-enter the theater business, and said he knows the new drive-in will do well.
"The other drive-ins that are built across the nation are doing bang-up business," Chenault said, adding the Galaxy in Ennis is the nearest drive-in theater to Tyler, with the exception of the Apache. It was built in 2003.
"They have four screens; they've been adding on ever since they opened," he said. "You have to get there about an hour early to get in."
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