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After two years of idling, drive-in theaters are revving up in Nebraska
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After two years of idling, drive-in theaters are revving up in Nebraska

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A drive-in movie theater at Falconwood Park is set to show movies again beginning this weekend after being closed since 2019.

Drive-in movie theaters are poised to make a comeback in the Omaha area.

A mix of family and date movie classics are scheduled at Falconwood Park in Bellevue and the new Quasar Drive-In Theater near Valley.

A third outdoor theater will return at RiverWest Park along the shores of the Elkhorn River near Waterloo in late May.

Falconwood Park kicked off its drive-in theater season with a double showing of 1980s classics “Dirty Dancing” and “Footloose.” 

RiverWest Park will reopen its outdoor theater, which director of operations Bill Novak called a camp-in theater, for a May 29 showing of the 1995 John Candy movie “Summer Rental.”

“The flood just wiped us out,” Miller said. “We had 9 feet of floodwater. It ruined all of our equipment, including our speakers and screen. We had to refocus on rebuilding our venue.”

Novak said the floods cost his park $100,000 in losses and forced the 62-year-old to dip into his retirement account.

“Basically, I’ll be working for a few more years,” he said.

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The reception area at Falconwood Park is one of the areas that was revamped after the flood.

At RiverWest Park, the outdoor theater is part of the park’s overall admission fee. The June 5 showing of “Lady and the Tramp” will be free to all thanks to a sponsor coming on board for Elkhorn Days.

“People can actually camp in front of the screen,” which measures 12 feet by 20 feet, Novak said. “A lot of people love to bring their family and tents.”

At Falconwood Park, viewers in up to 200 vehicles per showing will enjoy a 50-foot screen for some of the biggest blockbusters of the past five decades. The new screen is an 18-foot upgrade from the previous screen.

Miller said the new screen is paired with a high-end projector that illuminates the screen at twice the brightness of the previous projector.

“We talk about how, in a way, the flood was a blessing for us,” Miller said. “We have rebuilt everything in a way with how we wanted it. It’s nicer, better and cleaner.”

In addition to the public showings, Miller said, the Falconwood Park theater is available to be booked for private and corporate showings.

The dual-screen theater, near 300th Street and Nebraska 36 north of Valley, marked the realization of six years of planning at its grand opening Thursday with a double feature of the 1970s classics “American Graffiti” and “Grease.”

“This is the end result of two really stubborn people that have set their mind to do something,” joked Jeff Karls, who owns the theater with his wife Jenny.

Persistence has been the couple's strong suit over the past year. Having received approval from the Douglas County Board in 2018, Mother Nature and the logistical complications posed by the pandemic postponed the drive-in's opening.

Originally, the $2 million-plus drive-in theater was intended to open last summer. But 10 inches of rain in the first half of 2020, followed by a labor shortage and a materials price hike, kept pushing back Quasar’s opening date.

“It wasn’t a very competitive construction market,” Karls said. “Nobody had ever built a drive-in theater.”

The couple was motivated by the prospect of families and couples spending warm summer nights outside watching a movie, with young kids free to play with others.

“When we toured the country to look at other drive-ins and talk with other owners, we didn’t really care what was on the screen. We were there for the atmosphere and to meet new people,” Jeff Karls said. “The kids never lasted around the car for more than about 15 minutes. They were off throwing frisbees or footballs around with what we called the neighborhood kids.”

Up to 540 cars will be able to view the dual screens, which are 35 feet tall and 85 feet wide and are situated back-to-back. Movies will be shown using 4K projectors.

Karls said there won’t be any hidden areas where cars can park. He said the open nature of the drive-in lot is part of fostering a family-friendly atmosphere.

“We want to promote a family environment that’s fun and safe for everybody to be,” he said.

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