Wi­chita City Hall seeks to save Star­lite Drive-In

The Wichita Eagle - - Front Page - BY DION LEFLER AND MATT RIEDL dle­fler@wi­chi­taea­gle.com mriedl@wi­chi­taea­gle.com

Wi­chita City Hall joined the fight to save the Star­lite DriveIn on Fri­day, call­ing on the owner to pause ef­forts to turn it into a ware­house com­plex.

Mayor Jeff Long­well and City Coun­cil mem­ber James Clen­denin posted that plea on the city’s Face­book page.

“We are ex­tremely dis­ap­pointed in the po­ten­tial loss of a long­time, iconic qual­ity-oflife amenity for our com­mu­nity that means so much to so many,” the post­ing said. “We plead with the seller to put a hold on the sell­ing of any as­sets of the drive-in this com­ing Tuesday and in­vite the city, com­mu­nity, phi­lan­thropists and po­ten­tial in­vestors or de­vel­op­ers to the ta­ble to for­mu­late a so­lu­tion that pre­serves a drive-in in our city.”

Owner Chuck Bucin­ski has been work­ing to per­ma­nently close the drive-in the­ater and sell its as­sets, in­clud­ing two $100,000 pro­jec­tors par­tially paid for in 2013 by a com­mu­nity fundrais­ing ef­fort.

Bucin­ski is plan­ning to sell the land for re­de­vel­op­ment, prob­a­bly as a ware­house/dis­tri­bu­tion cen­ter with a small strip of re­tail along the south edge of the prop­erty on MacArthur. The drive-in is at 3900 S. Hy­draulic.

Long­well said the city is hop­ing to meet with the seller, buyer and com­mu­nity sup­port­ers of keep­ing it a drive-in.

“We’ll see if it gets any trac­tion,” he said.

Clen­denin said the idea is to “come up with any avail­able so­lu­tion that ben­e­fits ev­ery­one.”

Sup­port­ers of the Save the Star­lite move­ment ap­plauded the ges­ture but say they want the city to re­scind a zon­ing change that re­moved a prop­erty re­stric­tion re­quir­ing to it re­main a drive-in the­ater.

“It’s a good move, but it’s not all they need to be do­ing,” said Leif Jonker, a leader of the com­mu­nity group. “We need to know if there was a deal in place be­fore the zon­ing meet-


The City Coun­cil ap­proved that change in Au­gust.

Bucin­ski, who in­her­ited the the­ater from long­time owner Jim Goble, in­di­cated at the time that he needed the zon­ing change for es­tate-plan­ning pur­poses.


Ear­lier this week, an eleventh-hour ef­fort by a New York-based drive-in owner to save the Star­lite fell short.

Rick Co­hen, owner of the Tran­sit Drive-In in Buf­falo, N.Y., had pub­licly of­fered $750,000 cash to buy the drive-in, which he in­tended to re­open.

Greg Kite, pres­i­dent of the His­toric Preser­va­tion Al­liance of Wi­chita and Sedg­wick County, had of­fered to front the costs of Mc­Curdy Auc­tion can­cel­ing the sched­uled auc­tion if Bucin­ski changed his mind.

Over the week­end, at­ten­dees at a “Save the Star­lite” rally held at Chapin Park were told that there was a slight chance the Star­lite could be saved.

Bucin­ski’s at­tor­ney, Ja­son Reed, had con­tacted Co­hen about his of­fer to buy the drive-in and asked for his high­est pos­si­ble of­fer.

On Mon­day, Reed wrote back to Co­hen, say­ing: “Based on the of­fer made, the par­ties are not go­ing to be able to pro­ceed for­ward.”

Those close to Goble, the Star­lite’s owner from 1998 un­til his death in 2015, say he willed the drive-in to Bucin­ski, who did not have the money to buy it out­right — de­spite Goble field­ing of­fers from Co­hen and an­other drivein owner to pur­chase the Star­lite.

The as­sump­tion was that Bucin­ski would keep the Star­lite open as a drive-in, or if not, that he would sell it to some­one who had that same in­ten­tion, Co­hen said.

A video trib­ute to Goble and long­time man­ager Jim Quick that aired dur­ing the the­ater’s 2016 sea­son con­firmed as much: A slide on the video read that “It was very im­por­tant to both of th­ese men that The Star­lite con­tinue op­er­a­tion as a drive-in. Jim Goble made spe­cial ar­range­ments to en­sure this the­atre’s sur­vival. So, with your sup­port, the Star­lite will be here for many years to come.”

Bucin­ski told his em­ploy­ees he was clos­ing the drive-in be­cause of ris­ing costs, which were es­sen­tially squeez­ing him out of busi­ness.

Co­hen, who was a close friend of Goble’s, has dis­puted the Star­lite could have been in fi­nan­cial dis­tress, say­ing it was one of the best-at­tended drive-ins in the coun­try.

“Its at­ten­dance num­bers were the envy of al­most ev­ery other drivein op­er­a­tor who looked at them,” he said. “Prof­itabil­ity here was not an is­sue.”

Bucin­ski him­self said the Star­lite was “one of the nicest drive-ins in the coun­try” in an Ea­gle in­ter­view in April 2016, shortly af­ter tak­ing over as owner.

Bucin­ski at that time said he was look­ing for­ward to “keep­ing the sta­tus quo — Jim Goble and Jim Quick would have wanted it that way.”

At that time, Bucin­ski told the Ea­gle “as long as the town of Wi­chita con­tin­ues to come, con­tin­ues to sup­port, we’ll be here for many more years to come.”

Bucin­ski has not com­mented on the Star­lite sit­u­a­tion since the the­ater was closed — and since then, the drive-in’s Face­book page has been deleted and its web­site has been locked.

One of the mort­gage hold­ers as­so­ci­ated with Goble’s es­tate said the prop­erty had been val­ued at around $1 mil­lion. Sedg­wick County had the prop­erty ap­praised at $560,810 in 2018.

The iden­tity of the Star­lite’s buyer has been a tightly guarded se­cret.

Some on­line have spec­u­lated QuikTrip Cor­po­ra­tion bought the land, though a QuikTrip rep­re­sen­ta­tive called that “noth­ing more than an un­sub­stan­ti­ated ru­mor,” ac­cord­ing to Jonker. He said the QuikTrip rep added that she wished for “the best of luck with your en­deavor to save the the­atre.”

The two-screen out­door the­ater, which was one of only four still op­er­at­ing in the state — the only one in south-cen­tral Kansas — suc­cess­fully nav­i­gated the tran­si­tion to dig­i­tal pro­jec­tors in 2013 thanks to an ex­ten­sive com­mu­nity fundrais­ing ef­fort.

It opened as the Rain­bow Drive-In in 1953 and be­came the Land­mark Twin in 1974.

The last movies to play on its screens were “Search­ing” and “Crazy Rich Asians” on Oct. 13.

File photo

Movie-go­ers pre­pare to watch a triple fea­ture at the Star­lite Drive-In in 2016. The the­ater’s fu­ture is un­cer­tain.

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