Finances Force Fairgrounds to Pivot to Temporary Drive-In

The lack of revenue from a spring and summer of Covid-canceled events has forced the Clackamas County Fairgrounds to pivot in its quest to bring a much-anticipated drive-in movie theater to town, the Canby Now Podcast has learned.

Originally planned as a permanent addition to the yellow lot on the grounds’ northwest corner, a temporary screen will now be erected on movie nights between two poles near where the livestock barn is set up for fair week.

“It will be where the cows and pigs have been in the past,” said Fairgrounds Marketing and Events Coordinator Tyler Nizer, who has taken the lead on the drive-in project this summer.

Though a permanent screen in the yellow lot is still the goal, Nizer said funding for construction and some of the other start-up costs became an issue.

Some of the donated materials await installation at the site of the permanent drive-in theater, but the fairgrounds needs revenue to move forward. Photo by Tyler Francke.

“There are some large costs that come with the permanent screen,” he said. “So, we decided to move forward with the temporary one and get some revenue coming in while we keep working on the permanent one. We just want to make sure we’re making the right move.”

The theater does have a name, selected from dozens of submissions solicited from the community: Clackamas County Fairground Features. The lady who suggested the name, Mary Jeffrey, will be given a free pass.

The move did not come as a complete surprise to Councilor Greg Parker, who’s also a member of the fair board, and who updated his fellow councilors on the project Wednesday night.

“As I told the county fair board when we first initiated this three months ago,” Parker said, “‘Be prepared for disappointment, because we’re trying to do something a lot of people have never done before.'”

Parker noted that the fairgrounds had funds set aside to cover the initial engineering and received many of the materials through donations from local companies, including Wilson Construction Co. and BBC Steel.

The soon-to-be temporary site of Fairground Features, the Clackamas County Fairgrounds’ drive-in theater, is seen on Friday, Aug. 7. Photo by Tyler Francke.

“It just turns out it takes a lot of cement to hold a piece of metal way up in the sky, and keep it from falling on people and hurting them,” he said. “The staff did the best it could; now we’re going to do a switcheroo and hopefully, within the next month, we’ll be getting some movies going on out there.”

The temporary screen will be 60 by 30 feet — the same size as the permanent one — but made out of flexible, heavy-duty canvas instead of steel. The temporary setup will accommodate about 120 cars, less than half of the 400 the yellow lot will eventually hold.

No opening date has been set. The screen material is still on its way and is expected to arrive by the end of next week. If that’s the case, the fairgrounds hopes to hold a soft opening for sponsors on the 15th to test the waters, and potentially open to the public Aug. 21.

“But everything would have to align for that to happen,” Nizer admitted.

The fairgrounds is working with Canby Cinema to procure the movies to be shown. Nizer said the drive-in, which has been dubbed “Fairgrounds Features,” will show new movies as soon as they can, but the Hollywood screening calendar has — of course — been wrecked by the coronavirus this summer, and new releases keep getting pushed back.

“As soon as we’re able to play new runs, we will be playing new runs,” he said.

One more new thing that is coming to the fairgrounds soon: A Taste of the Fair food court in the red lot, which is located outside the fence on the other side of the fairgrounds.

Open to both the public and drive-in audiences, the area will feature vendors from past Clackamas County Fairs, served via modified drive-thru. Movie theater concessions (popcorn, soda, etc.) will also be offered at the drive-in.

The proposed layout for the permanent drive-in theater, which is still in the works. Courtesy the Clackamas County Fairgrounds and Event Center.

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