LOS LUNAS — The Los Lunas drive-in theater has been completed but it has yet to open as Valencia County is still currently red under the state’s tiered COVID-19 system.
It’s not that the drive-in theater is inoperable under the current health orders, but the number of cars are limited due to mass gathering restrictions. Currently, when a county is in the red, a maximum of 10 cars can gather — in this case for a drive-in theater.
Los Lunas Parks and Recreation Director Jason Duran, who helped spearhead the project, said the money made from 10 cars at the price the village wants to charge wouldn’t be enough to cover the cost of licenses for movies. For now, the plan is to open when the county moves to yellow or green, and the test-positivity rate is at or below 5 percent, Duran said.
“You can only have 10 cars in a place,” Duran said. “And the movie(s) cost us a certain amount of money to play. So that’s what limits us really. But, we also want to keep people safe as well. So we don’t want to jump the gun on anything. And, you know, the No. 1 concern is keeping the community safe and making sure that we’re abiding by the governor’s orders.”
While prices aren’t set in stone yet, Duran estimated that if the theater were to operate under the 10-car limit, the price for a single car would range from $30 to $40. But if the theater opens up when the county is in the yellow or green — which has limits of 25 and 100 cars, respectively — ticket prices will be significantly cheaper at just $15 a car.
Nora Sackett, press secretary for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, said drive-in theaters don’t fall under close-contact recreational facilities or outdoor recreational facilities, the former which is inoperable under health orders and the latter which can operate at 25 percent capacity. Instead, the drive-in theater falls under “all other businesses” and it is "still subject to the mass gathering vehicle limit of each level.”
For Duran and the village, and considering the pandemic’s financial strain on many, the goal has always been to get the price down as low as possible.
“We want to make it as affordable as possible. We’ve tested everything out — we’re ready to go,” Duran said. “ It looks amazing. We’re ready to show the movies; we just need the go ahead.”
The drive-in theater, located at the former Badlands BMX Park on N.M. 314, was completed at the end of November. The construction came with delays, too. The project was supposed to be completed by Labor Day, but issues with constructing the screen arose. The contractor working on it had pulled out and the village needed to find someone else. Eventually, they did.
While dirt resided where the theater is now, asphalt millings helped level the surface where cars will be parked when the theater opens. Most materials and labor came from the village itself — and with the exception of the screen — there weren’t many outside expenses, Duran said.
“That came at a cost of just a lot of labor that we have. So that was done with just a lot of our parks and recreation staff,” Duran said. “And they helped out immensely. Our park staff actually ran a lot of our electrical, along with that open space staff. So they were both involved in that.”
The screen is 40-feet wide and 20-feet high and came at a cost of $40,000, Duran said. The money used for the screen was funds budgeted for canceled events the village usually holds through parks and recreation department.
“We think [the screen] is a good size,” Duran said. “We’ve seen it over there; we’ve looked at every angle when we’ve turned it on. And it’s a great view from every angle that we have, anywhere — if you’re in the back or if you’re in the front, side.”
Originally, the plan was to open the drive-in theater to give people a chance to get out — when many places are closed, including indoor theaters — during the pandemic. But health orders changed the plans, Duran said.
The village — and specifically the parks and recreation department — have shifted with the ebbs and flows of the state’s health orders and, when it opens, plan to not only show movies but local high school sporting events, too, when seasons begin to start.
Duran said the drive-in theater will also be a project the village has a long-term future for even after the pandemic subsides and life goes back to normal.
“This is just the beginning,” Duran said. “I’m looking at possibly installing a playground in the area and bleachers where people can actually, you know, come in and watch a movie on a bleacher outside … So there’s a ton of opportunities that we can have with this drive-in theater. And that’s why we’re very adamant about doing something like this.”