Keeper of the Plans

Pledge drive started to buy projectors for Starlite Drive-In

A night at the Starlite Drive-In

Some of the sights and sounds associated with a night at Wichita's drive-in movie theater (April 2016).
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Some of the sights and sounds associated with a night at Wichita's drive-in movie theater (April 2016).

A growing contingent of Starlite Drive-In fans are not giving up on the theater just yet.

Last week, a deal to sell the drive-in to theater owners in New York and Oklahoma hit a snag when it was discovered the Starlite’s costly digital projectors had already been sold.

But supporters of the Save the Starlite movement have started a pledge drive to attempt to resuscitate the deal.

They’re asking for financial pledges to help purchase new projectors — contingent upon a deal to save the Starlite going through.

The goal is $200,000 — and as of Tuesday, more than $18,000 had been pledged.

In a video posted Monday, Wichita council member James Clendenin said he is currently mediating negotiations with another person that is “seeking to purchase the Starlite Drive-In.”

Clendenin said he asked for the pledge drive to happen, because it shows a potential buyer that the community is willing to support the drive-in.

No money will be exchanged until a deal has been finalized — it’s a pledge of money that could be donated if the Starlite were to be saved, at which point the money would be collected and spent on projectors.

Clendenin said “everybody’s being silent” about it, but a potential deal is still being negotiated.

To pledge to the drive-in efforts, visit www.facebook.com/StarliteDriveInPledgePage, email savethestarlite@gmail.com or call Ryan Dean at 316-361-7926.

What is the current status of the drive-in?

As far as is publicly known Tuesday, a deal to sell the drive-in land to a developer who would turn it into an industrial warehouse area is still set to close at month’s end.

However, that developer, who remains anonymous, is willing to walk away from the deal for the right price.

Rick Cohen, owner of the Transit Drive-In in Buffalo, N.Y., and Blake Smith, co-owner of Tulsa’s Admiral Twin Drive-In, had publicly offered $750,000 cash for the Starlite — and were in negotiations on the property at 3900 S. Hydraulic.

Cohen told the Eagle last week that he had upped his offer to $850,000 — and the deal was set to proceed at that price.

That deal was scuttled when it was discovered the Starlite’s current owner, Chuck Bucinski, had sold its two costly Barco DP4K-32B projectors for about $25,000.

Those same projectors cost nearly $200,000 new in 2013.

Though that particular arrangement is dead, it appears the effort to save the Starlite is not over yet.

“There’s a big difference between wanting to save the Starlite and needing to save it.,” said Leif Jonker, a leader of the Save the Starlite movement. “Over the last few weeks I’ve heard so many people’s stories about what the Starlite means to them and how it impacts their lives, particularly those with special needs. The drive-in is one of the very few places in town they can enjoy any kind of public activity.

“It’s not just nostalgia or sentimentality that’s driving our efforts. Saving the Starlite is important. It needs to happen.”

To stay up-to-date on the latest developments with Save the Starlite, join the Facebook group at www.facebook.com/groups/savethestarlite.

Fans of the Starlite Drive-In gathered at Chapin Park on Saturday to hold a rally that they hoped would convince the current owner of the business not to sell it to developers.

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