Drive-ins were once a major part of the movie theater landscape, but most of them have closed over the past few decades as indoor multiplexes have taken over. In the Denver area, only one remains: the 88 Drive-In Theatre in Commerce City. Business there, it seems, has never been better. It's so good, in fact, that Susan Kochevar, whose family has owned the outdoor movie house since 1976, is in a traffic-related tussle with the city.
Kochevar says she gets visitors from all over the world, who come to see blockbuster films by starlight; the theater, at 8780 Rosemary Street, is currently showing Hercules, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Transformers: Age of Extinction.
But those visitors -- who line up in their cars along Rosemary, especially on Friday and Saturday nights while they wait to get into the lot -- are causing traffic tie-ups. That's because many movie-goers come in off of 88th Avenue and onto Rosemary, where they have to take a left turn across traffic in order to get into the theater's lot. Earlier this year, the city installed "No Left Turn" signs to keep traffic from backing up along the roadway.
Kochevar describes the situation as business as usual and says it wasn't until recently that the Commerce City police department decided it was a problem. "We have been there forty years -- no accidents, no safety issues, nothing," she says. After the traffic signs were installed, the police took to ticketing motorists who were trying to turn left. "The city manufactured a 'traffic dilemma' and has caused me to spend the entire summer trying to fight them off, essentially," she adds.
"The only idea the police chief will entertain is his own; he wants me to rip up part of my drive-in in order to accommodate the traffic. That will ruin me," Kochevar says. She had been planning to raise money via a crowd-funding campaign in order to upgrade the theater to a digital projection system, but that effort is now on hold.
The city sees things differently. "We've tried to work collaboratively and proactively with the business owner to address that site-specific traffic," says Commerce City spokeswoman Michelle Halstead. "To be fair, we've seen a traffic increase happen over the last three to five years. In 2013, we upped our efforts to be more proactive with the business owner to try to reach resolution; heading into this season, we really tried to work with her to identify low-cost or no-cost solutions, because she is clearly not the only business that generates a significant amount of traffic."
"We met with her and took those signs down as a good-faith effort because there was a commitment to do other business-driven solutions to manage traffic," Halstead continues, adding that Commerce City police chief Troy Walker sent a letter to Kochevar on July 14 that articulated that point. "We were having a continued problem, and we weren't able to address it through several meetings and have no resolution. We put those up for the traffic issue because of the safety issues that we were experiencing, specifically the backup and blockages of public-safety offices like the fire station."
Negotiations haven't worked out, however, so on Monday, August 4, Kochevar took a petition with nearly 12,000 signatures to Commerce City's city council meeting. The petition asks the town to "stop the police chief from harassing 88 Drive-In Theatre. The police chief is demanding that the 40-year old Drive-In shall modify their business property to make-up for the city's road maintenance inadequacies."
No action was taken at the meeting, but the police argued at the meeting that Kochevar hasn't been willing to work with the city on the congestion and shared a video of the traffic issue in action, including theater patrons blocking a railroad crossing.
Councilwoman Jadie Carson expressed her own discontent with the situation, saying she visited the 88 Drive In recently with her family and waited more than two hours to get into the lot. She also said she may have seen some patrons smoking pot there. Kochevar said that while she does her best to keep alcohol off the property and has signs posted to that effect, she doesn't challenge customers who choose to smoke inside their own vehicles. Ultimately, the city council seemed interested in helping facilitate a resolution for the traffic problem and asked Kochevar and the police to try to work together.
And while the next step is unclear when it comes to the theater, Kochevar, who lives in Westminster, is moving forward on another front: She's running as the Republican nominee for state House District 29 in Jefferson County, against Democratic incumbent Tracy Kraft-Tharp.
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And her platform revolves around reducing regulations and taxation for small business. "The value of hard work is something I learned at an early age when my parents bought a drive-in movie theatre. I learned to serve customers late into the evening and then get up early to pick-up trash in the morning," she says on her Facebook page. "I want to simplify our lives so that we can spend less time filling out regulatory paperwork and instead spend more time with our families and friends enjoying life in Colorado."