Could Commerce City Shut Down 88 Drive-In, Metro Denver's Last Drive-In Theater?

Could metro Denver's last drive-in be headed for extinction? That's the contention of the folks behind the 88 Drive-In Theatre, who cite a letter from Commerce City Police Chief Troy Smith suggesting that if traffic and safety concerns aren't resolved, the powers-that-be could suspend or revoke its business license.

88 Drive-In lovers have responded in force, with more than 8,000 signing a petition to "Save the Last Metro Denver Drive-In Movie Theater." The signatures are due to be presented at a Commerce City Council meeting tonight. More details below.

See also: 88 Drive-In Theatre Is Open for Business, All Is Right With the World

The aforementioned letter, addressed to 88 Drive-In owner Susan Kochevar and dated July 14, is shared on the 88 Drive-In Facebook page (which features most of the photos seen in this post). In it, Police Chief Smith writes that the missive is a followup to a previous discussion "regarding the dilemma created by the operation of the 88th Avenue Drive-In. As we have discussed, the manner in which the Drive-In currently admits vehicles onto its property causes significant traffic congestion."

The bulleted problems mentioned by Smith include:

• Vehicles blocking the entrance to the fire station

• Vehicles stopping on some active railroad crossings

• Aggressive driving -- vehicles veering into the wrong lane to get around the backup

• Vehicles blocking driveways

• Vehicles stopping along the street where parking is clearly prohibited

• Obstruction of through traffic on 88th Avenue and Rosemary Street
"The safety concerns created by these traffic problems cannot be overstated," writes Smith, who notes that he and South Adams County Fire Department Chief Ron LaPenna are "gravely concerned about our fire responders' ability to provide critical public safety services in this quadrant of the community. The risk to life and safety that results from vehicles stopping on railroad tracks or veering into oncoming traffic requires no explanation."

The document cites problems dating back to 2013 and failed attempts to set up meetings to address them beginning in April. In June, after the city put up "No Left Turn" signs on Rosemary, such a sit-down took place, and the signs were subsequently removed "as a show of the City's good faith." But Smith contends that "the possible resolutions discussed in the meeting, which included several no or low cost options to queue the traffic congestion on your property, were either disregarded by you or determined to be untenable," and a July 1 get-together to address the matters was canceled.

With that in mind, Smith writes that Commerce City "intends to take the following actions immediately." They include:
1. The "No Left Turn" signs will be reposted and traffic will be diverted to State Highway 2 to access the Drive-In from Northbound Rosemary Street.

2. If the cars entering your business obstruct either 88th Avenue or Rosemary, your business will be cited for violation....

3. Vehicles that block or are stopped too close to driveways or the fire station will be ticketed.

4. Vehicles that are parked illegally to view the movies will be ticketed.

An 88 Drive-In release characterizes Smith's letter as being "rife with inaccuracies and threats. As for the 'dilemma' highlighted by Smith, the document stresses that "the Drive-In has been at this location for 40 years without incident. To the extent any 'dilemma' exists, it is due to the abject failure of Commerce City to plan appropriately for the traffic at this intersection."

Also weighing in is Kochevar, who took over the operation of the drive-in from her parents. "There used to be over 4,000 drive-ins in the country," she states. "Today, there are less than 400. Apparently, Commerce City would like one less."

To fight against this prospect, Kochevar and company launched an online petition to save the 88. Its pitch reads:

Ask the City Council of Commerce City 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.

88 Drive-In Theatre is the Denver area's last drive in movie theater, and it's been family owned and operated since 1976.

Please help support this family business and community tradition, before the theatre is forced to shut down!

The petition has a goal of 9,000 signatures. At this writing, more than 8,060 have signed on in support.

Tonight's Commerce City Council meeting gets under way at 6 p.m. at the Civic Center complex, 7887 East 60th Avenue. For more information, click here.

Meanwhile, tonight's featured films at the 88 include Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Hercules and Transformers 4. Presumably, all of them will screen as scheduled. But whether that remains the case over the long term remains to be seen.

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts

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