April 21, 2021

McHenry Outdoor Theater buys adjacent property, plans to add screens

Purchase protects against possibility of development, associated light pollution, owner says

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The McHenry Outdoor Theater finalized the purchase of about 9 acres of adjacent property this week, providing the potential to add two more screens within the next three years, to increase its capacity by up to 400 more vehicles and to host multiple shows at one time, its owner Scott Dehn said Thursday.

The move also protects the land next door from becoming developed and creating light pollution that diminishes the viewing experience at what the Daily Herald this year reported as the only drive-in theater still operating in Chicago's suburbs, Dehn said.

Hollywood's latest flicks won't be the only entertainment offered at the outdoor theater anymore, either, especially once the two new screens are installed on the newly purchased land, he said. The business already experimented this year with concerts and stand-up comedians before it closed for the winter season.

"This past summer, we were given license to be creative, because of where we were with COVID-19 and no new movies. We had some comedians and musical acts, so I learned we don’t have to just do movies. I’m really excited," Dehn said. "It would be cool to be able to do a comedian at theater one, and then new movies on theater two and older movies on theater three. So many more options to offer."

Upgrades to the outdoor theater had already been planned, Dehn said. Work to the concession stand is on track to be done in time for the May opening and the existing screen is set to be replaced.

Those plans were put in place earlier this year when Dehn bought the outdoor theater property, he said. He had been leasing it since 2006.

The theater saw busy nights this summer even though it was selling tickets for half of its current 600 car capacity because of COVID-19, Dehn said. Some vehicles even began pulling up onto the neighboring property, the one he just bought, without paying admission to get a poor screen view, which the theater this year did not crack down on but will try to prohibit in the coming season.

"When we opened for the season, we had way more cars than we could accommodate. Some of them were parking in that field back there," Dehn said.

He said about 200 more cars will be able to pull in for views of each new screen areas when they are installed on the newly bought land.

The theater and new property were annexed into Lakemoor with the recent purchase, but there are no plans to change the name from McHenry Outdoor Theater, he said.

Sam Lounsberry

Sam Lounsberry covers local government, business, K-12 education and all other aspects of life in McHenry County, in particular in the communities of Woodstock, McHenry, Richmond, Spring Grove, Wonder Lake and Johnsburg.