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Elko Speedway gets OK for new drive-in movie theater

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The drive-in movie theater is making a comeback – at least in Elko New Market, Minnesota.

Vita.mn reports that the Elko New Market City Council has approved plans for a large outdoor movie theater at the Elko Speedway.

The opening of the drive-in will come about 18 months after the closure of the Cottage View Drive-In in Cottage Grove. After the Cottage View showed its last film in October 2012, the Vali-Hi Drive-In in Lake Elmo became the only outdoor movie theater in the Twin Cities area.

Elko Speedway owner and President Tom Ryan told Vita.mn that he hopes to open the outdoor theater by Memorial Day. Using the screen he purchased from the old Cottage View Drive-In, Ryan says the Elko Speedway drive-in will show first-run family-friendly films every year until early September.

Ryan calls the drive-in theater "a natural fit" to his Elko Speedway seasonal racetrack. He tells Vita.mn that films will show Thursdays-Saturdays in the spring, and every night during the summer months, Ryan says.

Elko New Market is located about 30 miles south of Minneapolis off Interstate 35 in Scott County.

The only other drive-ins left in the state are Starlite 5 Drive-In in Litchfield, the Long Drive-In in Long Prairie, the Verne Drive-In in Luverne and the Sky-Vu Drive-In in Warren.

The website Drive-Ins.com has a listing of 87 drive-ins that operated in Minnesota at one time or another.

Ryan tells Vita.mn that the idea is "good business" and they have the room to construct the outdoor facility. Plus, he adds lots of people have "very good memories of going to drive-in theaters when they were kids growing up."

Drive-ins and small-town movie theaters have been challenged in the past few years since the movie industry has been phasing out film prints and implementing the use of digital projection. Adapting to digital, however, can cost theater owners $70,000-$80,000 per projector.

The owners of the Cottage View Drive-In said the cost of digital conversion is one of the factors that drove them out of business. As a result, the owners closed the drive-in after 46 years in business and sold the land to Wal-Mart so the company could build a new Supercenter store.

The most recent statistics from Drive-Ins.com say there are only 442 drive-in theaters left in the world – including 350 in the U.S. and 53 in Canada.

The site says when drive-ins were at their peak in 1958, somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 drive-ins were in operation in the U.S.

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