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Transit Drive-In going ahead with fifth screen

LOCKPORT – Transit Drive-In, the region’s most popular outdoor movie theater, is going ahead with a major makeover that will include the construction of a fifth screen, opening as soon as mid-June.

Owner Rick Cohen told the Town of Lockport Planning Board on Tuesday that he has made a verbal agreement with the state Department of Transportation to install a 600-foot-long, two-lane service road parallel to South Transit Road and move the theater’s main entrance, marquee and main ticket booth.

The DOT demanded such changes as a condition of allowing Cohen to build another driveway off South Transit Road, which is Route 78. Cohen also had to adjust the location of the new screen to make sure it’s more than 500 feet from the runway of North Buffalo Suburban Airport, a general aviation facility on the other side of the road. Otherwise, the Federal Aviation Administration could have blocked his project.

Timothy W. Arlington of Lockport’s Apex Contracting, who designed the project for Cohen, said the FAA gave him informal approval over the phone Tuesday.

Cohen said the changes in his layout will add another $75,000 or so to a project that was already estimated to cost $500,000 to $600,000. Counting the cost of the land he bought on the southern edge of his property to build the screen and parking for 220 more cars, it pushes the total cost close to $1 million.

“I’m not thrilled with the extra expense, but it is a safety improvement,” Cohen said after the Planning Board scheduled a public hearing on the plan for 7 p.m. April 19 in Town Hall. A positive vote that night, combined with approval April 18 from the Niagara County Planning Board, would clear the way for the project, as long as the DOT and FAA give their official nods, too.

A DOT spokeswoman did not return calls seeking comment Tuesday.

The point of the service road is to take lines of cars off South Transit Road as they wait to get into the theater.

On summer weekends, especially when a new Hollywood blockbuster is premiering, the traffic can be heavy, and dangerous to workers as well as those driving past the drive-in.

Arlington said the main entrance and marquee will be moved about 600 feet to the south in conjunction with the service road. “This enables us to have queueing of 120 vehicles,” Arlington said. That’s three times more than the current driveway can accommodate.

Cohen, whose facility already is open for the season, said he hopes to start work by the end of April, with a target date for completion of June 17, which is opening night for “Finding Dory,” Disney’s sequel to “Finding Nemo.”

The point of the extra screen is to have two screens showing the big movie of the week, making it available to more customers and preventing traffic backups that occur when people find the hot movie is sold out and need to confer about whether to see one of Cohen’s three other double features or simply go home.