A drive-in success story in Scottsbluff

Published: Jul. 20, 2021 at 10:06 AM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - People who live in Nebraska’s panhandle are now enjoying the nostalgia of going to a drive-in movie theater. And the theater is the direct result of the pandemic.

We caught up with Billy Estes recently. He is the executive director of Friends of the Midwest Theater and the Skyview Drive-In. “The drive-in theater happened because of COVID,” Estes said. “I couldn’t sit around last March when we were forced to close the Midwest Theater downtown. We had to figure out a way to engage with our community, and present film in a safe manner. We did a temporary location at Legacy of the Plains Museum. We were there about 11 weeks. Then, we moved out here to the location that is next to the Western Nebraska Regional Airport.”

Estes and his team looked at several locations in the community that would work for a drive-in. The location needed to be flat for cars. “We were talking with landowners, and this piece of property owned by the county and managed by the Airport Authority was offered,” Estes said. “Now we have a 15-year agreement to keep the drive-in here, and keep it running.”

The first attempt at a drive-in happened in March of 2020, and Estes said they parked 96 cars that evening. They had to turn 100 cars away. That’s when they thought they were on to something. There also was a need for people to be able to get out and do something safely during the pandemic. “Our first film we showed here was ‘Field of Dreams’, because it was a ‘you build it and they will come’ kind of moment,” Estes said. “The screen is made of four shipping containers stacked together. We put a metal screen on the front surface, and it sits on some big, deep concrete pillars and can handle 110 mile-per-hour winds.”

If you are looking to experience a bit of nostalgia, try the Skyview Drive-in in Scottsbluff. There are plans to build more permanent structures, like a permanent concession stand at the facility. “This is definitely a pandemic blessing, if there is one,” Estes said. “It’s not something we would have set out to do.” But circumstances and community support appear to have made a unique attraction a success in Scottsbluff.

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