Loudon County could get a drive-in movie theater.
Gordon and Susie Whitener, of The Whitener Company in Knoxville, approached Loudon County Commission on Monday in hopes getting input on the possible project for Centre 75 Business Park. The Whiteners have property in Philadelphia.
“It’s just something I’ve really had a dream about really since I was a very young man,” Gordon said.
“And we both grew up in very small towns and we have a passion for small town and community and really entertainment and ways to bring people together,” Susie added.
Jack Qualls, Loudon County Economic Development Agency executive director, said the commercial property under consideration has been used for growing soybeans.
“Right now our land lease with our ag lease is $5,300 a year and they’re farming 150 acres,” Qualls said. “This would essentially be 10 acres — a parcel that’s on the front. This does not include the 1.67 acres, the commercial lot on the corner that’s next to the liquor store.”
Qualls asked commission to consider a lease. Details are not complete but could be shared with commissioners in December or January.
Loudon City Council will also need to look at the contract. Jeff Harris, Loudon mayor, said there has been “overwhelming support” from council.
“I believe it is an awesome idea and will help to make Loudon a destination spot for tourists to visit,” Harris said. “I also believe other opportunities to utilize a facility like this will open up as well. Which could include church services, concerts and graduations. I think it will also increase patronage to other local businesses, too. I appreciate Gordon and his wife Susie investing in our community.”
Qualls estimated the potential investment at $2 million-$2.5 million.
Gordon said he hoped to move on the project “quickly” and “in a perfect world” would aim for opening late spring or early summer. Bringing in an engineer to look at the site would be the next step if a lease is approved, he said.
With indoor theaters struggling due to the pandemic, he said now is a great opportunity to construct a year-round drive-in.
“Actually, I think that’s one of the reasons that we sort of sped up the idea is that movie theaters are certainly under duress and we just felt like now is a good time to explore this project,” Gordon said.
“The streaming ability through a jumbotron obviously gives us a lot more flexibility in programs that we can show, given the rights with big games like Super Bowl. I mean, you’d have to go through rights and stuff, but we’d have the opportunity to do things that you can’t do at a traditional drive-in,” Susie added.
David Meers, commissioner, said the project could be a draw for surrounding counties.
“I think it could provide the city of Loudon and Loudon County, also Monroe County, also Roane County, the metro area, it could provide entertainment, because COVID has provided — we’re having to deal with COVID, we’re having to deal with a different environment,” Meers said. “I think that was something we have to look at very seriously.”
Kelly Littleton-Brewster, commissioner, said the county must consider the financial implications.
“I know it’ll bring in tax revenue, too,” Littleton-Brewster said. “People will be going there watching, and it’ll be holding events there, like (Gordon) said. He could do a graduation during the day. I think it would be a great asset. It’d bring people off (Interstate) 75; it’ll bring people from area counties and cities.”