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Theater owner reviving drive-in

July 23, 2007|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

HAGERSTOWN - When Alan Ackerman took over the Hagerstown 10 Cineplex in May of last year, he knew he would have an uphill battle.

The theater had been closed for five months and seemed unable to compete with the bigger and brighter Regal Valley Mall Cinemas, Ackerman said.

"Even three months after we opened, you could have asked almost anyone where they go to the movies, and they would have said 'the Regal.' People talked about the 10 like it was an artifact."

Ackerman said he knew he would have to get creative to stay afloat. He added a cafe, arcade games and a pool table. He also started hosting events such as video-game tournaments and live concerts.

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"As an independent owner, I can do these different things. And it's important, because a lot of people just don't want to drive out here to Leitersburg to go to the movies. You have to give them a reason," Ackerman said.

Ackerman said his latest project, reviving the cinema's drive-in theater, has the potential to be a huge draw. An outdoor screen 80 feet wide by 40 feet tall that shows current movies all summer long will give moviegoers in Western Maryland a one-of-a-kind experience, Ackerman said.

"There is one other drive-in in the state of Maryland, and it's down in Essex," Ackerman said.

A drive-in theater was in operation behind the Hagerstown 10 Cinema from 1966 to 1984. Remnants of the concession stand and drive-through box offices are still standing in the cinema's back lot. Ackerman plans to reopen the drive-in theater in the same place. He said it will play 35 mm and digital films, include parking for 500 cars, and have its own concession stand and bathrooms.

Ackerman said he had hoped to open the theater by this summer, but the county has required him to submit a site plan for the project, which he said will delay the opening until next spring.

"I've had to start from scratch," said Ackerman, who noted that the new site plan is identical to the site plan for the original drive-in submitted in the 1960s.

"Nothing has changed. I don't understand why they wanted me to go through this process," Ackerman said.

Washington County Planning Department Director Michael Thompson said a new site plan was required for the project because many regulations have changed in the 23 years since the drive-in closed. Thompson said roughly half of the 20 agencies that have to approve the plan have done so.

"Approval can take, on average, from 60 to 120 days. I don't see anything out of the ordinary that would delay this project," Thompson said.

Ackerman obtained a temporary permit for an inflatable outdoor screen last summer. He said 75 to 100 cars pulled in nightly to watch mostly classic movies. Ackerman said a showing of the movie "RV," starring Robin Williams, drew 300 cars. He thinks it was because the film was still relatively new when it was released on DVD.

"We did good, but I learned that in order for this to be really successful, I need to be able to show current movies," Ackerman said.

Ackerman said he gets 100 to 200 calls per week from people asking when the drive-in will open.

"I think we can get a lot of people out here. I'm just waiting on the permits," Ackerman said.

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