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Future of the Hi-Way Drive In theater in Santa Maria remains unclear

Future of the Hi-Way Drive In theater in Santa Maria remains unclear.
The current owner and buyer are asking the City of Santa Maria’s Planning Commission to change the zoning of the property from commercial to residential.
Posted at 6:17 PM, Oct 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-07 22:21:20-04

The Hi-Way Drive In Theater has been an iconic form of entertainment in Santa Maria, but the property has been for sale for several years. It may only be a matter of time before it shuts down for good.

“Oh my goodness, it’s the only one we have around here, it’s nice,” said Dee McBride, who frequents the Hi-Way Drive In Theater.

For many residents in Santa Maria, just pulling up at the Hi-Way Drive In Theater is a trip down memory lane.

“Ever since I was a kid, I remember there was a new movie coming out and we could go see two movies at once and it was awesome,” recalled Jeremy Espinoza, who is a loyal customer at Hi-Way Drive In Theater. “I loved that it was open late, no theaters are open that late […] the nachos were great.”

For a couple of years now, the 8.89 acre property has been listed for $3,330,000. Marty Indvik with Lee & Associates confirmed with KSBY News that the property is now in escrow.

The buyer at this time is People’s Self-Help Housing, a non-profit organization, which made a zoning request to the City’s Planning Commission.

“The proposal is just a change from commercial to residential, there’s a subdivision concept, so it is for a project of 49 single-family home,” explained Chuen Ng, Community Development Director, City of Santa Maria. “There is no detailed site map to go with it, the commission is interested in more details before making a decision.”

In a letter obtained by KSBY News, Dian Gran, the owner of the Hi-Way Drive In for more than 40 years said the following: “It used to be an economically viable business operation [...] The release of movies on those streaming services at the same time as distributors along with the newest difficulty of hiring, retaining ad affording a workforce has caused the unfortunate demise of my business.”

“We heard some comments they would prefer to see it remain as a drive-in theater, we also heard some comments that affordable housing would be a good use of the property,” said Ng.

Gran also stated in the letter that was read during Wednesday’s Planning Commission meeting that “there has been no interest in it as a drive-in theater […] The only interest and value in my property is for a residential purpose.”

While the future of the drive in is on the line, customers try to cherish their visits.

“I’m going to look tonight to see what’s playing, and if it’s not raining, I'm definitely going,” said McBride.

Future meetings to discuss the zoning of the property where the drive in theater is located have yet to be scheduled with the City’s Planning Commission.

For the time being, movies are still playing at the Hi-Way Drive In Theater from Wednesday through Sunday. For more information on showtimes, click here.