Fans of McHenry Outdoor Theater, the only remaining drive-in in the suburbs, can rejoice that its owner has long-term plans for the future with a bunch of upgrades and improvements.
Scott Dehn, who has operated the theater for years, announced Feb. 20 on Facebook that about two months ago he exercised his option to buy the property at 1510 Chapel Hill Road in McHenry.
“The threat of redevelopment is now nonexistent,” wrote Dehn, whose company Golden Age Holdings LLC, is listed as the property owner by the McHenry County Treasurer’s office.
Dehn said he’s planning to install a new screen for “the brightest and most crisp resolution” ever projected at the theater; add stone, gravel and rock to the parking lot and grade it to eliminate potholes; and add speakers to the exterior of all buildings.
After complaints from patrons, smoking will not be allowed in the main parking lot and instead will be allowed only behind the concession stand, where the public does not park, Dehn said.
The McHenry theater has been in existence since the 1940s and became the last of its kind in the suburbs in March 2019, after the Cascade Drive-In in West Chicago ended its 57-year run.
The theater is open every Friday and Saturday from May through October, rain or shine. Opening day will be May 1, Dehn said.
The 43-year-old Dehn, who first started operating McHenry Outdoor Theater in 2006, has been referred to as its owner in media coverage over the years. In reality, Dehn said, the theater was owned by Rhyan Holdings LLC, while Dehn is the owner of Golden Age Cinemas, the company that leased and operated the theater, he said Wednesday.
Dehn, who lives in McHenry, said he's had an option to buy the property from Rhyan Holdings since about 2016. He decided to pull the trigger about
two months ago because he'd saved enough money and was nearing the end of the contract, he said.
“Things have been going really good and the community has been so supportive of this place,” he said. “I had a purpose and a goal in keeping people coming to the theater, and to be able to buy it and to prevent something from happening to this theater.”
While there was no specific threat to the theater, people now can be sure that it will be sticking around for a long time, he said. His goal is to help kids and families create lasting memories at the theater, just as he did growing up, he said. “As long as I got a breath in me, this place is staying.”
The theater employs about 18 people, all part-time, typically high schoolers, recent college graduates and teachers on summer break, he said.
Dehn also said that at the end of last season, he replaced the roofs on all the buildings, meaning the concession stand, projection booth and box offices. He plans to add a kiosk in the concession stand to sell McHenry Outdoor Theater-branded apparel and other items by Memorial Day weekend, at the latest.
Dehn also leased and operated for many years Liberty 1 & 2 Theaters in downtown Libertyville, which closed in January. The Libertyville theater is owned by Rhyan Holdings LLC, which put in a request for a demolition permit, and the Village Board has to review the matter.
• Daily Herald staff writer Mick Zawislak contributed to this report.