Cottage Grove city council approves new Walmart at old theater siteArea News
-- After 47 seasons, closing credits are finally set to roll on the Cottage View Drive-In.
By: Jon Avise - South Washington County Bulletin, Pierce County Herald
COTTAGE GROVE, Minn. - After 47 seasons, closing credits are finally set to roll on the Cottage View Drive-In.
The Cottage Grove City Council on Wednesday gave its approval to Walmart’s plan to build a SuperCenter store atop a portion of the drive-in movie theater site. It is a move city officials say will spur retail growth in the city – but it is one that, after nearly a half-century, will bring an end next month to a summertime staple of south Washington County.
Walmart has agreed to purchase roughly 24 acres of the 52-acre Cottage View property held by drive-in owner Gerry Herringer’s Apache Chief Theater Company after the council cleared the way for a 178,000 square-foot pharmacy, retail and grocery store to be constructed on East Point Douglas Road near County Highway 19.
The council’s 5-0 vote seals the fate of the outdoor theater – one of just a handful that remain across the state -- that has stood alongside Highway 61 in south Cottage Grove since it opened to moviegoers in 1966.
The theater, open only weekends after Labor Day, will close early next month; an exact date for the drive-in’s closure was not immediately available. Bloomington-based Mann Theaters operates the Cottage View.
“I look at this as a smaller piece, one piece of a bigger [development] plan for that area down there,” Mayor Myron Bailey said following the vote. “This has been a long time coming.”
Bailey and other city officials have asserted the store will help drive retail development in the area that surrounds the Cottage View -- known as the East Ravine -- that the city has long identified as its next zone for major commercial and residential growth.
The discount retailer first submitted plans for a store to the city in March. The Planning Commission recommended approval of the plan late last month after its review was delayed multiple times while the city and company sought to answer questions raised about the proposed store’s impact on nearby homes, surrounding roadways and storm water run-off issues.
“It’s a pretty big development in a new area opening up for growth,” said John Burbank, a senior city planner. “So, there was a lot to look at.”
For Herringer -- whose family business owned three drive-in theaters in the Twin Cities metro at one time but who has said the Cottage View is no longer economically viable – the council’s approval Wednesday was bittersweet.
Amidst escalating property taxes and mounting maintenance needs, Herringer has said he has sought a buyer for the theater property for years. Twice, developers had neared deals to transform the old drive-in site into retail hubs before backing away, the last in 2007 as the nation’s economic recession set in.
“I should be happy as a clam,” Herringer said in an interview at Cottage Grove City Hall after the council voted to approve a zoning change and site plan, among other items that cleared the way for the city’s first Walmart. “I’m reservedly happy. When you really design [the Cottage View Drive-In] and build it – physically -- and nurture it and hang with it for 40-plus years through some difficult, lean times, you’ve got to have feelings.
“I’m sorry to all the attendees who have been so loyal,” Herringer continued, “but the economics –- it takes a lot of work.”