Mary Pickford Theater Drive-In Seeks Forgiveness and Suspension of the Collection of Site Rent Through May 31, 2021

CATHEDRAL CITY — With one vote, the City Council on Wednesday could extend a previously approved special- use permit for the Mary Pickford Theater Drive-In and forgive and suspend the collection of site rent through May 31, 2021.

That one vote could could have a significant impact on the Theater, its employees and the community. That one vote could waive $2,714.19 of past rent for the drive-in theater, keep Theater workers employed, provide Cathedral City families a safe escape from the emotional toll of the pandemic, and give D’Place Entertainment the hope of recovering some of its $93,069 startup investment.

On Aug. 26, 2020, the City Council approved a special-use permit to allow the Mary Pickford Theatre to create a pop-up Drive-In movie experience in Downtown Cathedral City.  The drive-in is located just south of Highway 111 and east of West Buddy Rogers Avenue.

After nearly a year of no income, D’Place Entertainment, the operators of the Mary Pickford Theater, are forced to contemplate permanent closure, according to Economic Development Director Stone James. Despite best efforts, the drive-in theater2 has not generated enough revenue to cover start-up and on-going wage expenses.

D’Place Entertainment is fighting to avoid permanent closure of both the drive-in and indoor theater.

James recommends approving the extension of the previously approved Special-Use Permit for D’Place
Entertainment’s Drive-In movie theater and forgiving and suspending the collection of site rent through May 31, 2021.

COVID-19 has affected nearly all domestic businesses, according to James. Some businesses are managing to survive by modifying service and product delivery models. Home delivery, curbside pick-up, or even virtual delivery methods (e.g., online yoga class) are enabling some businesses to stay afloat. Some restaurants, such as pizza or restaurants with drive-thru restaurants, have experienced an increase in year-over-year sales volumes.

Unfortunately, the movie theater industry has been decimated. With indoor operations having been virtually prohibited since the pandemic began, even indoor theaters lucky enough to have space to offer drive-in theater viewing options are collapsing under the weight of the pandemic.

In a report to the City Council, Jones writes that the effects of the pandemic are impacting the theater business in the following ways: decreased volume of new movies, dramatically lower total-earned revenues per movie, and dramatically lower number of daily showings. In a non-pandemic year, theaters typically pick from 15 different movie releases per month (during the January, February and March time frame). According to Ted Hane from D’Place Entertainment, theaters are now seeing seven or fewer movies per month. In a non-pandemic year, block buster movies like “Wonder Woman” would earn $200 million in the first five days following their debut. When the new “Wonder Woman” movie debuted in December 2020, the movie earned $15 million in the first seven days.

In a non-pandemic year, theaters typically show five movies per day per auditorium. In the case of the Mary Pickford Theater, their 14 theaters showing five movies per day would yield 70 daily opportunities
to attract movie goers. Given outdoor brightness levels within the Coachella Valley, the Mary Pickford Theater drive-in theater can only show one movie one time per day. In movie showing volume alone, this marks a 98.6% decrease in daily films shown.

That one vote takes place when the City Council meets at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 24.


Image Sources

  • Drive-in Theater: Discover Cathedral City