Canby Leaders Dedicate Fairgrounds Drive-In

City and county leaders gathered Thursday night to mark the official grand opening of Canby’s new drive-in with a ribbon cutting ceremony and a free screening of E.T. the Extraterrestrial — but it was also much more than that.

“We’re here to celebrate ingenuity in the face of challenge,” Canby Area Chamber Director Kyle Lang said, standing below the 60-foot-long screen Thursday night. “Many times when we hear people speak about government, ingenuity, inventiveness, insight and expediency are not always words that rise to the top of the list, but this group of folks is here to prove you wrong.”

In the face of the coronavirus, which wiped clean a normally busy schedule for the fairgrounds and events center that normally welcomes upwards of 260,000 visitors per year, it would have been easy to “simply hunker down and allow things to advance at their own pace,” Lang said.

Canby Area Chamber Director Kyle Lang welcomes visitors to a dedication ceremony Thursday. Photo by Tyler Francke.

But that wasn’t good enough for Executive Director Laurie Bothwell and Events and Marketing Coordinator Tyler Nizer, who have spent months repositioning the 112-year-old fairgrounds property to host events that fit within the county’s phase 1 coronavirus guidelines, including the Taste of Fair food court, the drive-thru Cutsforth’s Cruise-In, the soon-to-come Scare Fair and, of course, Fairgounds Features.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think a fair manager would be trying to figure out how to build a movie theater,” Bothwell joked Thursday. “Tyler and his team have done a great job. I want to thank our sponsors from the bottom of my heart for helping us stay sustainable.”

Those sponsors include ZCS Engineering & Architecture, Columbia Distributing, Emerick Construction Co., Wilson Construction Co., Canby Landscape Supply and Canby Excavating — most of whom had also assisted with the earlier plans to build a permanent, larger theater in the yellow lot and helped realize the temporary drive-in when revenue projections forced a pivot.

Community leaders, chamber members and sponsors gather to cut the ribbon Thursday night. Photo by Tyler Francke.

“What we have here is an example of organizations — the city and the county and the fairgrounds and businesses — [choosing] things that can be instead of things that can’t be,” Canby City Council and Clackamas County Fair Board member Greg Parker said. “I have been inspired in this community, as businesses have adapted to a wildly different landscape, and that’s what we’re seeing here.”

Fair Board President Ted Kunze recalled the 2019 Clackamas County Fair, when his organization unveiled its new master plan for the historic fairgrounds and events center.

“One of the things we talked about during the master plan was thinking outside the box,” Kunze said. “Well, I tell you what, when we did the master plan a year ago, we never thought we’d be talking drive-in theater. But what a wonderful thing this is and what a wonderful plan it’s turned out to be.”

Fair Board President Ted Kunze speaks at the dedication ceremony Thursday. Photo by Tyler Francke.

The fair board sees a lot of potential for Fairgrounds Features, he said.

“Hopefully, it takes off,” he said, “and the community, the county, the metro area — everybody — embraces what’s going on here and we continue to grow. Because, at some point in the future, in the yellow lot or somewhere at this facility, I’d like to see us have a real drive-in.”

The drive-in will be open Friday, Saturday and Sunday with a super-powered double feature: The Avengers, the 2012 blockbuster from Marvel Studios, and The New Mutants, the thirteenth and final installment of the X-Men film series.

Tickets are $25 per vehicle and may be purchased from the Canby Cinema 8 in person or online. Concessions are also available at the theater the day of your showing.

Drive-in patrons enjoy a free screening of E.T. the Extraterrestrial following Thursday’s dedication. Photo by Tyler Francke.

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