Friday, April 3, 2015

Saving the "Keno" could be a win-win if done right

The people trying to save the Keno Drive-In Theater on Sheridan Road have an uphill battle but, if done right, maybe there is potential "win-win" for the greater Kenosha community.

You'd have to living under a rock not to know that the property's owner is looking to develop and sell the land for other commercial use, possibly a Wal-Mart Supercenter.  The theater is old as is the outdated and soon-to-be-obsolete projection equipment which could cost up to $100,000 to upgrade. Plus theaters have been dying off in droves over the years although more recently some efforts to preserve old movie houses have been successful.  (Not the case in Kenosha where the efforts to revive the old Kenosha Theater have languished for decades, another case of Kenosha being "a day late and a dollar short.")

First, you can't and shouldn't fault the owner, Steve Mills of Bear Realty, from pursuing the maximum value for his property.  It's his right.  And while I am not necessarily thrilled at the prospect of a Wal-Mart Supercenter there, the fact is that it's become more difficult for communities to lawfully keep out so-called "big box" stores.  Plus, Wal-Mart has been scaling back the size of its stores for economic reasons.

Personally, if something else was going there, I'd rather see a Target because at least Target keeps up its property,  The Somers Wal-Mart began to look messy a month or so after it opened.  The Zion store is even worse. (On the other hand, most smaller Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market grocery stores I've seen have been much cleaner and nicer.  There'd probably be less angst among some people if the grocery store was what was being proposed, especially as the area is underserved.)

That said, what is to become of the Keno?  Some very interesting ideas have been tossed around in the past few days -- again, maybe "a day late and a dollar short" -- but they are worth considering.

One idea is relocating the theater elsewhere.  I don't think anyone has come up with a business plan that shows just how that could be accomplished and be successful but it's worth considering.  

Then there's the newly hatched ideas of maybe putting the relocated theater together with an auto industry living history type museum.  This is intriguing and is at least worthy of more exploration.  It will take money, vision and a place to host it.  What about the old Dairyland Greyhound Park?  It's off Interstate 94 and thus ostensibly could attract more people.  On the other hand, would it be too far away for the Keno's current clientele?  

The Dairyland property has been dormant too long.  The ill-fated casino project kept it from being considered for alternate development.  The theater and auto industry museum complex would probably only occupy a fraction of the available land there.  I've often thought that the Hard Rock folks could still have opened a hotel and entertainment venue there even without a casino.  There are many possibilities to discuss but is anyone seriously interested in having that conversation?  And, if so, are they going to have it and be prepared to act before Kenosha, again, is "a day late and a dollar short?"


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