Selectmen approve trial run for drive-in theater in Westport

Westport Selectmen Jennifer Tooker, James Marpe, and Melissa Kane. Taken Jan. 24, 2018.

Westport Selectmen Jennifer Tooker, James Marpe, and Melissa Kane. Taken Jan. 24, 2018.

Sophie Vaughan /Hearst Connecticut Media

WESTPORT — The Board of Selectmen unanimously approved the trial run for a drive-in theater in town.

“During this time of COVID 19 distancing and cautioning, we would like to take this opportunity to create a seasonal drive-in theater in the Imperial Avenue Parking Lot,” said Marina Derman, a member of the Remarkable Theater, at a meeting on Wednesday. “We think this is a wonderful opportunity to give some entertainment to the town that is sorely needed, and employ our individuals with disabilities, and also provide natural social distancing — which a drive-in does.”

The Board approved the drive-in theater for a period of four screenings with a plan to review the item again.

“I think we, the Board of Selectmen, need to come back and take a look at this,” First Selectman Jim Marpe said. “Just to ensure that everything we considered and thought we considered is in place and working well.”

Derman said her team looks to implement the theater in the next few weeks and continue through Labor day.

“I think we would like to start with two screenings a week and maybe get up to four screenings a week by the end of the summer,” she said.

Showing movies will be the main focus initially, she said, while other features such as concessions may be added over time.

“We would like to start very safely, very carefully, start with a success then build on it as we go” Derman said.

Doug Tirola, creative programmer of the Remarkable Theater, said the goal is to have the films go no later than 10:30 p.m. so everyone is out of the lot no later than 11 p.m.

“We’re looking for movies in the 90 minutes to 100 (minute) range,” he said.

The film’s soundtrack would be broadcast through car radios with around 68 cars allowed per screening. Signage for direction, police to manage the traffic flow and bathrooms are also expected to be in place.

“We don’t want to run these till late at night,” Derman said. “We will try to be respectful to neighbors at shutting it down at a reasonable hour.”

She said it may make sense to partner with restaurants downtown who can prepare special meals for moviegoers before they arrive to view the movie.

“That keeps us from having to worry about food quality,” she said. “And it allows people to choose what they want support our restaurants.”

The selectmen, in approving the plan, said they would see how things went after the first few shows before renewing the approval.

“My gut is that this is a wonderful thing to do for the town,” Selectwoman Melissa Kane said. “I love the potential relationship with restaurants and I love that you can bring people together, that they can be safely apart, and enjoy an experience together.”