Southington can be proud of the tremendous support provided to so many charities, non-profit organizations and civic groups, including ones give food and clothing to those in need.
One of the most impressive has been the result of the Southington Drive-In project.
Recently, individual checks totaling $2,000 and more were presented to about 20 nonprofit and civic groups that assisted during the 2017 season.
The drive-in movie theater opened in 1955 and was so successful that it became one of three surviving outdoor theaters in the state.
Residents fondly recalled summer evenings spent with speakers clinging to the car windows, foiled wrapped burgers at the notorious concession stand and the playground that keep children amused.
The elected members of the Town Council back in 2004 were faced with a dilemma after the owners of the theater decided to close in 2002 and were close to selling the property to a developer. Obviously, after several years of being on the real estate market, the theater was becoming a prime location for the construction of new homes, possibly 50 to 60 of them.
So, the council voted unanimously to purchase the drive-in property with intentions to retain it as open space and expand Recreation Park that sits adjacent to the property. As a member of the council at that time, I regard it as one of the best decisions for the citizens made during my 10-year tenure.
In 2010 a group of volunteers gathered under the auspices of the Southington Drive-In Committee to begin the process of re-opening the drive-in. The committee is composed of Council-woman Dawn Miceli, Councilman Mike Riccio, Mike Fasulo and former state Rep. Dave Zoni. Ron Newman volunteered to be the theater manager.
The rest is history. Miceli reported that nearly $200,000 has been raised after eight seasons. The money was not only “raised” but $2,500 of it was distributed to those organizations that volunteered during one of the drive-in showings. These volunteers served as concession stand helpers, greeters, security and cleanup staffers.
Miceli proudly stated how the committee sought to utilize the theater with volunteers and businesses that could donate materials or handle projects at a reduced rate. Projects of such help included repairing the huge screen and maintain the communications of the movies since the speakers and stands are things of the past.
He also said a marketing tool used before the movie has helped the local business a community. “Our neighboring businesses are thankful because attendees patronize those places prior to the movie, including delivery of pizza to Chinese food,” said Miceli, a popular civic leader.
When a community like Southington can possess the commitment to salvage a piece of history for the benefit of generations of its citizens to come, it should remind other towns and cities that restoration and salvaging a piece of history is better than removing it.
Actually, the vote to purchase the drive-in with taxpayer money, was to retain the property for citizen use like a public park and to discourage the start of another development. While developers at the time, believed the intent was solely to stop the building of more homes, the council stood firm and felt it had the support of the community. It did.
The drive-in operates during the summer months and allows out-of-town patrons but at an extra fee.
The recent construction of an adjacent town pavilion allows for a concessions stand and the weekly volunteers provide the manpower to guarantee a pleasant evening under the stars.
Southington should be proud.