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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Drive-in theater comes to Spokane County Fair and Expo Center

Spokane cinephiles who have missed the moviegoing experience will soon have a drive-in option not far from home.

The Spokane County Fair & Expo Center has rented the parking lot north of Avista Stadium to a New Mexico-based company to operate a drive-in theater. The first showtime will be Friday, with a playing of “Sonic the Hedgehog” beginning at dusk.

The company, PUMA LLC, contacted the Spokane County fairgrounds earlier this summer, expressing an interest in renting the parking lot as a drive-in theater, said Rachelle Buchanan, marketing and sales manager for the facility.

“It’s pretty exciting, to at least have this through the fall,” Buchanan said.

Allen Branch, one of the drive-in organizers, is a commercial real estate agent by trade. He went looking for real estate that could host a drive-in similar to the one the company has been operating in Albuquerque since June.

“I went to Google Earth, and found the biggest piece of space I could,” Branch said.

The New Mexico venture initially included a planned partnership with the Duke City Gladiators, an arena football team that would have started play this season in the same Indoor Football League that the Spokane Shock now belong to, Branch said.

Two more showings are planned for this weekend, and visitors will be able to partake in the final weekend of the Fair Food drive-thru currently underway on the fairgrounds following the cancellation of the 2020 Spokane County Interstate Fair due to COVID-19.

Workers Wednesday afternoon were assembling a towering 60-foot screen on the east edge of the parking lot beneath the smoke-filled sky.

Visitors will enter the fairgrounds through the entrance near Avista Stadium, and from there will be directed to one of three areas in the adjoining parking lot. Prices range from $30 to $75, based on proximity to the screen. Those attending can listen to the movie by tuning their car radios to 97.9-FM.

Spokane County will not receive any of the ticket proceeds, Buchanan said. It will only receive a lot rental fee from the company.

Theaters in Washington remain closed under Gov. Jay Inslee’s health orders. They may begin showings during Phase 3 of the reopening plan, with 25% capacity. Drive-in theaters are allowed under certain conditions.

Visitors to the Spokane drive-in will be required to remain in their vehicles unless visiting the concession stand or two restrooms, according to the company’s website. Smoking, pets, guns and alcohol are prohibited.

Several local drive-in theaters have seen a resurgence in popularity as indoor screenings have been put on hold during the pandemic. The last permanent drive-in in Spokane shut down in 1994.

Branch said he hoped to include holiday-themed movies this fall. Private parties and rentals have been popular at the company’s venture in Albuquerque.

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